The downside of these free room planners is that they are biased: most are marketing vehicles for products such as kitchen cabinets, windows, doors, flooring, and more. But if you can get past the sales pitches, you can have some decent planning software. Let's review and rate these room planners, starting with the worst first:
Pros: Since Marvin is a door and window company, you do have doors and windows to play with--perhaps more than in other online room planners (but not by much).
Cons: Once again, no 3D views. Objects (cabinets, appliances, etc.) do not automatically fit against each other. In other words, it's possible to have overlapping cabinets, which is impossible in the real world. Finally, it isn't even clear which windows and doors you have selected.
Pros: It's Google. And because it's Google, users flock here. Tons of usable designs are available, and plenty of peer support on forums, too.
Cons: It's Google. And because it's Google, they have taken the "spaghetti on the wall" approach to SketchUp--same as they do with virtually every other product. They design it and release it to the word, letting it sink or float on its own. Long story short: zero customer service. Initially confusing and complex, Google SketchUp is definitely not for the person who wants to have a room plan up and running in 30 minutes or less.
Pros: Brand-name product tie-ins. Easy to use.
Cons: No good quick-start templates available. Only user-generated templates are available, and the quality is somewhat lacking.
Pros: This online planner helps you get a virtual plan built really fast. Objects automatically fit against each other and even "right" themselves when mistakenly turned backwards.
Cons: This application, which is Flash-based like most of these planners, loves to crash. And crash it will. My browser, Firefox, is fairly immune to crashes, so you might have better luck with Google Chrome or Internet Explorer. Also, it's just a kitchen planner, rather than a generic room planner.
SpruceBox founder Matthew Berman tells us that, "SpruceBox is about visualizing products, materials, and finishes all together; helping homeowners discover their palette; and getting the conversation started."
I asked Berman if SpruceBox would begin to allow consumers to design their own room layouts. He said that, as SpruceBox grows, it will "offer different configurations that help them take the next step and continue to bring them closer to their actual space."
Still in Beta, SpruceBox looks like a promising tool.