It is not unusual to order a piece of furniture and realize, once it arrives, that it is completely wrong for your room. A red couch that looked amazing in the showroom may turn out to overwhelm your small space. And the last thing you want to do is invest in a heavy piece of furniture you have to pay to return.

To help visualize that couch in your living room, furniture sellers and interior design firms have been rolling out new apps and online programs that allow you to try furniture at home using virtual and augmented reality.

The new tools generally come in three flavors: 3-D features that enable you to virtually place furnishings in your room using the camera on your cellphone; styling apps that let you snap a picture of your space, clear it of all furniture and drop in new options as you shop online; and interior decorating services that do it all for you, selecting furnishings on your behalf and creating 3-D renderings of your room from photos you provide.

To see how well they really work, I tried out a few from the comfort of my bedroom and living room — both of which need a refresh, if not an entirely new look. Some were trickier to use than others, but each one offers a glimpse at the future of online furniture shopping and interior design.


For $69 per room, this online interior design service offers two surprisingly lifelike 3-D renderings of your space. The process is easy. You provide feedback on the room you want to design, including a rough budget, and take a quiz to help determine your style, selecting photos of rooms you are drawn to. (Because Modsy is an online software program, you can use your cellphone or computer.)

Then, you snap eight photos of your room (one from each corner, and one from each wall) and upload to Modsy. In 10 days or less, you receive an email indicating your renderings are waiting for you in your Modsy account. If you like an item in your room, you can add it to a shopping cart. A personal shopping service coordinates shipping and delivery, ensuring that you have to enter your address and credit card only once.

The style quiz, which determined I was a “mod enthusiast,” was fairly spot on: “You go for Danish Modern design and streamlined furniture, but incorporating some traditional pieces for comfort strikes the perfect balance.”

The 3-D renderings I received were not only surprisingly realistic, but also fun to explore, showing each room outfitted with two sets of new furniture to scale and presented at various angles, including top-down and 360 views. And while a few pieces of furniture were not my first choice, most of it appealed to me.

The first bedroom design had a similar layout to my current setup, replacing my simple teak bedroom set with a Tate upholstered bed (from Crate & Barrel) and Culla night stands (from Article) for a “soft midcentury look,” according to Modsy’s design description, which was emailed to me when the renderings were finished. A Marbled wool rug (from West Elm) anchored the space while an Aspect walnut desk (from Crate & Barrel) was paired with a deep blue Helvetica chair (from West Elm).

The second design, which was bolder with richer blue and white tones, flipped the bed to the other side of the room — a layout I had never considered but now would consider trying — replaced the desk with a dresser, reading nook and added a Dowel mirror (from West Elm).

The few hiccups I encountered were easily resolved by tapping on a service bell icon for help with my design and dashing off a note about my issues: a couple of items, including a table lamp I was interested in, were not itemized in my list of products to buy; and I was not in love with the sectional that Modsy suggested for my living room or the art on the wall.

For $199, you can get unlimited revisions and access to a Modsy designer via phone, chat or video. I opted for the cheaper version, which allows for one revised design per room and unlimited use of the “style editor,” which allows you to swap products and adjust layouts yourself.

While using the bell service was a breeze, I found the “style editor” a bit clunky. It was not available on my phone. And when I tried to swap out a piece of art in my living room design using my laptop, I encountered a glitch that did not allow me to scroll down to see more options. As a result, I could access only a handful of alternative artworks, none of which appealed to me.

Jacqui Wimberly, a Modsy publicist, pointed out that the style editor is an experiment. “There was such a high demand from customers to be able to make changes on their own that Modsy decided to release it in the beta state while they continue to work on a full-fledged editing feature,” she said.

In the end it didn’t matter, as the Modsy designer I reached via the service bell icon was willing to swap it out for me.


If you would rather create your own renderings for free, Hutch may be the app for you. Hutch, which debuted this year for iPhone and Android users, lets you be the designer by snapping a photo of your room and decorating in 2-D.

Within an hour of submitting a photo of your room, Hutch virtually clears out all furniture, children’s toys and clutter so you can fill it with furniture sold via the app. You can create your own look by selecting from furniture and accessories sold by Hutch’s partners or choose from a list of completed designs called “filters” to superimpose a specific look onto your room, complete with a price list of the furniture used.

hutch app

Don’t like the Deco Inlay nightstand (from Anthropologie) under the “flea market finds” filter? You can easily swap it out with a Marotta end table (from Wayfair). Tapping an item sends you to the seller’s website to find dimensions or to buy.

While the filters were easy and fun to play with, I was disappointed by the lack of options when trying to create my own look. Though I was designing a living room and bedroom, there were no options to customize other spaces like a dining area, children’s bedroom or playroom. And while I wanted to put a TV console under the window in my living room, the only categories available were sofas, coffee tables, lamps, art, curtains and rods, bouquets, and side tables.

A few of the categories, including side tables, table lamps and chairs, only offered one option: sold by Hutch, all of which were out of stock. And for nontraditional spaces, you may have to use your imagination or try a couple of different angles before you find a filter that fits your layout.

Beatrice Fischel-Bock, Hutch’s chief executive and co-founder, said more rooms are in the works and that she will have her team look into what must have been a glitch I experienced when personalizing my living room. “We have thousands of products in the system,” she said. “You really shouldn’t be seeing just one. There should be at least 10 backup options.”

By November, Hutch plans to let you play with layouts to make it easier to design nontraditional spaces.


Apple’s latest operating system for iPhones and iPads rolled out on Sept. 19 along with a flurry of new apps that leverage Apple’s new augmented reality development platform. Houzz, the home renovation and design site, was among them, with a new version of its 3-D shopping feature, “View in My Room 3D,” which lets you immediately place three-dimensional images of furniture, for free.

houzz app

Say you are shopping online for a floor lamp for your dining room. A tap of a button below the item lets you view the lamp in your room by accessing your phone’s camera and superimposing a 3-D image of the lamp on the screen.

(Ikea, Wayfair and others rolled out similar features in the App Store with Apple’s latest operating system. Wayfair’s version also works on devices supported by Tango, Google’s augmented reality platform.)

Houzz’s new version comes with a catalog of 500,000 products in 3-D. It eliminates a quirk of the previous iteration, which required users to pinch and zoom furnishings into place – an arduous task in my experience, that resulted in inadvertently shrinking items down to the size of a pea whenever I tried to fit them to my space. Now the app eliminates that frustration by automatically sizing images to scale. A new version of “View in My Room 3-D” was released on Sept. 26 for Android users.

Seeing the images at scale removes the guesswork involved in figuring out whether that coffee table will actually fit in your cramped living room. You can also now walk up to that coffee table to get a better sense of its texture. Multiple items can be viewed at once on the screen, with each automatically added to a shopping list so you don’t have to leave the app to buy. Just don’t try to virtually hang a ceiling lamp in your room. The app does not yet support ceiling lamps in 3-D.

If all you want is to get an idea of how a specific piece of furniture will look in your room, Houzz is a good, fast option. For those who want to play around with different looks, Hutch will help you do that for free. For those of us who want more hand-holding while decorating a room, Modsy is a solid, low-cost alternative to seeing an interior designer in person.

Michelle Higgins, The New York Times

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