It's no surprise that there's an app for pretty much any home-design function or problem you can think of. But many of them just aren't very good. Here are some smartphone and tablet computer apps that are getting positive buzz and that we have tried out.
Most of these apps have great features that can be discovered only if you know all the ins and outs of how to use them. So read the directions that come with most.
Home Design 3D by LiveCAD: Perhaps the easiest and coolest mobile 3D modeling app, this program starts with you dragging your finger across the screen to create a 2-D floor plan and then adding furnishings and architectural details. Click the "3D" button, and voila! You can tour the space you just created in three dimensions. Use it to model your own home or create fantasy spaces. It's available for a price on iPad ($7.99) and iPhone ($3.99), but a free version will allow you to explore it without some of the functionality, such as saving a layout.
Houzz: The original Houzz is a Web site that is easy to get lost in: It goes on and on and on, sort of like a never-ending photo-laden shelter magazine. You start ogling some of the 250,000-plus submitted photos of lovely interiors and exteriors, and next thing you know, three hours have passed. Now imagine that as an app. It's great for getting inspiration, learning about design and even getting in touch with the professionals who created the spaces you're salivating over. You also can search for photos based on geography. The app is free and available for iPhone and iPad. (There's a separate Houzz Kids Rooms app, also free.)
Mark on Call: Toss the graph paper and little cutouts of furniture that have been the tools of design enthusiasts for planning the layout of a space. Created by interior designer Mark Lewison and officially called "Home Space Planning Design Tool," this app for iPhone and iPad puts the graph paper on your screen in the shape of any floor plan in your home; then it allows you to edit its dimensions with precise measurements and fill the space with a variety of pre-set furnishings. It also can create a shopping list for you. The app can be unwieldy on the iPhone's small screen, but interestingly, that version is better in many ways than the iPad app, which can be buggy. The iPad and iPhone versions, $1.99 each, must be bought separately.
My Measures and Dimensions: Ever buy, say, a table, get it home and realize it won't fit through your door? This app, which probably is most useful to design professionals, lets users take photos of various spaces and then overlay exact measurements and distances between objects. For instance, you can mark up the photo so you know that the living room door is 3 feet wide and the sofa is 4 feet, 5 inches from the club chair. It's available for Android ($4.99) and iPad and iPhone ($5.99). A lite version is available for $2.99, but you might as well spring for the extras on the pro version.
Paint apps: There are a slew of paint and color apps available, many from the paint makers themselves. They are all similar. There's Sherwin-Williams' ColorSnap (iPhone, BlackBerry and Android); Glidden Color Concept (iPad); Benjamin Moore ColorCapture (iPhone and Android); and Olympic ColorClix (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone).
All are free and allow users to match colors by snapping a photo, explore complementary color combinations and browse examples.
Our favorite is Behr Color Smart Mobile. The app for the paint brand carried by Home Depot resembles the others, but the interface is cleaner, and on the iPad, it brings the lookbook capability to a larger, gorgeous format (iPhone, iPad and Android.)
Remodelista: Sure, it has a pretentious subtitle ("Sourcebook for Considered Living"), but the app version of the popular blog is full of stylish photos of impossibly pretty spaces. Most of us will never live in such a home, but we can look, right? That's half the fun. It's $2.99 on iPhone and iPad, but first try out the free version, which has ads and limited functionality.