Home Designer Essentials 2019 Review

Home Designer Essentials is a pared-down version of others in Chief Architect's line of home design software, but it is solid landscape design software for Mac.


Our Verdict

Home Designer Essentials has the tools you need to create your dream landscape, but you'll need to invest substantial time and effort into learning them.


  • The photo importing option makes it easy to see what plants will look like with your specific home.


  • The interface is complex and somewhat difficult to learn.
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Home Designer Essentials is a pared-down version of others in Chief Architect's line of home design software, but it is solid landscape design software for Mac. Costing about $60, this is an economical option, but includes tools that encompass the whole house, not just the landscape, which makes it our best value pick.

It will take time and effort to learn, especially if you are a novice to the software. But once you do, it provides the tools you need to build a virtual yard plan before you invest any real money or time into it.

This Mac landscape design software is not intuitive. When we first opened it, we weren’t sure were to start. It felt like a program for an architect, not a novice user. It’s hard enough to use that many people may get discouraged before they get the hang of it. But if you stick with it and get a feel for it, the program has a lot of tools that make it worth the effort.

It has extensive libraries for objects and plants that will help you enhance the interior and exterior design of your home. The object library has thousands of objects, and the plant library has more than 3,000 plants to choose from.

In case you are just doing landscaping and do not need to reconfigure your home's floor plan, there is a tool that allows you to import a photo of your home. This is one of the nicest tools in this software. It will let you layer in digital plants, pathways and other elements over the top of it, so you know what your finished landscape will look like. Seeing your ideas incorporated into an actual image of your home is very helpful.

The interface of this software is quite advanced. On the main window alone, there are 50-plus buttons. You can hover over each button to see a brief description of its function, but this doesn’t always clear it up. Prepare to spend a good amount of time getting to know all the features.

Also, you have to perform searches to learn how to do the simplest tasks. For example, we searched how to add a swimming pool. The resource showed that it takes five-plus steps to do so. The process for editing in the 3D view isn't intuitive either. It involves setting a camera in place to get it going, and you need to do a search to learn how to do it.

The downloadable templates for this software are useful, but you don’t get many. Nevertheless, you can map out your own designs, and there are tools to make the process easier, such as the extensive selection of images in plant and object libraries. You can just drag and drop the trees and plants you like into the places you want.

You do not get a slider tool with Home Designer Essentials, which is a tool you may miss. Many competing products can show what your trees and other plants will look in five, 10 or 15 years and beyond. If you are just looking to give your property a facelift for putting it on the market, this is less important. If you are planning to stay in your home, you may want to look for Mac landscaping software that has the slider tool.

Despite its learning curve, this software has one very compelling factor – price. It only costs about $60 and you get tools not only for your landscape, but your whole house as well. If a more comprehensive solution is what you need, this is a great option at a low price. It’s not the cheapest among the software we reviewed, but it’s more than worth the money for what you get.

Though Home Designer Essentials is not at the top of the class, it offers many of the essential tools for crafting the landscape you want. However, the interface is complicated with buttons that take time to learn, and you have to do a search to figure out how to perform simple tasks.