New Dimensions in Home Design

From 3D renderings to virtual tours, building and buying homes has gone high-tech.

By Kate Robertson

To build your custom dream home, once the only option was to tell an architect what you envisioned, then they’d draft blueprints. Maybe they would also draw a rendering of the outside design of the home, using vanishing point technique, to give a 3D perspective. Perhaps, for major commission, they’d even create a scale model, taking weeks of meticulous work to build.

Gone are those days. For the past several years, home builders and designers have used 3D technology, which allows you to make choices beforehand and easily see exactly what you will end up with, every step of the way. During the design phase, 3D software can give clients a better sense of the space and help with colour and material choices.

An image of a 3D “dollhouse” perspective of an Invermere, B.C. design. Image: Highland Mews

Log-home producer Pan-Abode International uses SketchUp, which allows the designer to change things like colours, ceiling styles and interior wall finishes until the client is happy with the result. “For customers, the biggest woes come from the first conceptual drawing of their Pan-Abode home. For many, [the vision] has been in their heads and various inspirational images they’ve been collecting, and it all comes together,” says Pan-Abode’s vice president Kelly Marciniw.

Another advantage of today’s technology is the ability to build a home or cottage from afar. Discovery Dream Homes West has been using technology as a tool and doing virtual meetings for more than 15 years. “The biggest thing I see that has changed is that it’s getting easier to use for the clients,” says Jason Sharpe, senior design manager and project coordinator. “An online meeting used to require a lot of assisting the clients to get set up. Now it’s pretty much just clicking a link. Our software gets updated every year, so things like quality of images, or renderings, is always getting better.”

Designers work with clients to create 3D, 360-degree design animations, complete with furniture placement, material options and colour palettes. Image: Discovery Dream Homes rendering

The architectural design tool that Discovery Dream Homes West uses for everything from designs to blueprints is ArchiCAD. With a land survey, they can show location and setbacks to be used for planning. The data can even be used to produce a sun study to show how daylight will impact the house at all hours. “We typically use the longest and shortest day of the year as examples,” says Sharpe. “We can also try to focus on passive solar energy to help with the constantly changing requirements.”

From ArchiCAD, BIMx file can be created, an interactive 3D building model that can be experienced similarity to a first-person video game. The client can do a virtual walk-through of their prospective home, complete with furniture, art and textiles. When a project nears completion, Twinmotion, a real-time 3D immersion software, can also show clients images, panoramas and 360 virtual reality videos.

Another dramatic change to 3D visualizations happened when virtual reality (VR) equipment entered the scene a few years ago. VR headsets add another dimension, meaning people can actually feel and experience the visualized space. “We have two home models available to explore via VR,” says Pan-Abode’s Marcinw. “One of our customers works in the movie industry and his team built the VR Pan-Abode world on a video game platform for us, utilizing the 3D colour models for our team.”


Virtual Reality (VR) headsets provide an experience to visualize a space, as if you are actually in the
home. Photo: Pan-Abode

More basic technologies like e-mail, Dropbox and Google Drive are used to facilitate communication and share files and 3D renderings. The smartphone can also be a powerful tool. “If an out-of-town client is having a hard time deciding on a detail, I can be in the space holding my phone, directing them and pointing at things,” says Craig Mohr, owner of Vineyard Developments, a custom design and build firm in Kelowna. “Whether it’s a landscape detail, or a question that I have when we’re putting together cabinetry… I’ll just get them on FaceTime, and they can make a more informed decision based on what they’re seeing.”

Of course, some people aren’t super tech-savvy, or they just prefer to touch and see. “In these cases, we’ll use a lot of Pinterest, where they’ll save pictures and e-mail them to me. I’ll also make a lot of suggestions, and I’ll take pictures and e-mail, or I’ll tell them to go to the paint store in person and take a look at the chips that I’m recommending,” says Mohr.

Although many designers and builders have completed an entire project without ever meeting the client in-person, like everything else, the home-building industry has been affected by the pandemic. Things like site visits, showhome walk-throughs and manufacturing tours have all been impacted. “We don’t have any drop-in visitors anymore,” says Marcinw. “Pre-booked appointments and video chats have gone up a lot.”

In the past 30-plus years, technology has allowed home designers to move from the 2D realm into a world of 3D renderings, at the push of a button. The innovative new technology just keeps on coming. In the not-too-distant future, it will likely be commonplace to access 3D visualizations using holographic imagery and to have homes built with 3D printers. In the meantime, the current technology being used by builders helps avoid the disappointment of a home design project gone awry.


  • Know your budget.
  • Know your site plan and understand and setbacks and easements.
  • Look at Pinterest or in decor magazines for home ideas you like.
  • Think of your past homes or spaces you’ve spent time in: what did you love or hate, or think was clever or beautiful?
  • Decide on your “must-have” rooms and features: consider the ideal number of bedrooms and bathrooms, an attached or detached garage, mud or laundry rooms and home offices.
  • Next create your wish list of features you would like if budget allows: a massive soaker tub, a wine cellar, a playroom?
  • For major living areas where you’ll spend much time (and money), such as the kitchen, consider creating 3D plans. This will help avoid costly mistakes and allow you to perfect the most important spaces.