a new package that takes the pain out of planning your new home or office
Making the best use of a room is close to an art form. Professional interior designers make a vocation out of squeezing a quart of furnishings into a pint-pot space.

The services of a professional are beyond the means of most home-owners. Moving to a new house or office means fiddling with pieces of graph paper and scale plans, or putting all the furniture into the room and shifting it around until it fits.

But a number of computer packages are available to automate the paper- and-plans stage. Interior layout software is, in effect, a cut-down version of computer-aided design, customised especially for the home and small business market.

FloorPlan Plus 3D is one of the newer releases. It is not the cheapest package around, but it is powerful. In addition to flat plans of a room or building, it can produce a three-dimensional screen image. This can be viewed from any angle, and shaded to give furnishings a solid feel.

FloorPlan Plus 3D lets the designer choose several options for walls: exterior, interior or even office cubicle, for floor coverings, and for windows and doors. There is even a separate roof editor for designing a loft conversion. Complicated calculations, such as measuring the area of an irregularly shaped room, are easy. Despite its power, the package has a clear Windows interface and anyone, even without a knowledge of design packages, should quickly feel at home with it.

The feature that sets FloorPlan Plus 3D aside from general drawing software is the library of fittings and objects. A drawing package could handle the outline of a room easily enough. But drawing a dozen cabinets for a kitchen would be a chore.

FloorPlan has libraries for bookshelves, cookers, fridges, beds and sofas; it also has a good range of office hardware including PCs, printers and even two types of fax machine. All objects can be scaled, to fit the dimensions of the real thing, and rotated, to fit a space. The objects also work in the 3D mode, giving a much better idea of how a room would look. New objects can be made using a sister package, 3D Design Plus, but that does require an understanding of three-dimensional design.

FloorPlan Plus 3D links to Estimator, a package that prepares materials lists for jobs. It is compact enough to run on a laptop - an obvious benefit to building professionals - and at pounds 60, about cheap enough for the amateur to justify in order to plan a large job.

FloorPlan Plus 3D is available on two PC floppy disks or one Mac disk. It is distributed in the UK by Fastrack at pounds 60 (estimated street price inc VAT)

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