By BUILDER Magazine Staff.
Photo: Courtesy Fireplace Design Solutions

The hope behind Fireplace Design Solutions is that letting customers create their own fireplace renderings will make them more likely to buy. Home buyers are more likely to move from considering an upgrade to buying if they can see how it will look. That can make product-specific design software a useful sales tool. One of the best we've seen is Fireplace Design Solutions (FDS), an interactive 3-D program from Napa, Calif.-based Cultured Stone ( The program is a successor to StoneCAD, which was created in 1997 for architects. The new version is simple enough for customers to get comfortable with in a few minutes. FDS was created by Bob Staehle, an architect in Walnut Creek, Calif., whose company, VIZfx, creates multimedia presentations to help architects get projects through the approval process. The program follows an intuitive design sequence: After choosing a basic fireplace outline, the user can quickly explore different options--including surrounds, ceiling heights, hearth configurations, and mantle designs--then outfit them with different types and colors of stone facing, hearths, and mantles to create photo-realistic renderings. After completing the design, one click exports a complete materials list to an Excel spreadsheet. The user can then fill in the unit price for the materials, along with the labor costs.

According to Staehle, the plan is to give the program to professionals and to charge homeowners a nominal cost (probably in the $20 to $30 range). At this writing, there is still a debate about how many fields the homeowner version will create in Excel. Staehle thinks there's an argument for giving homeowners the ability to fill in all material and labor costs. "We're showing them that there are a lot more costs involved than backing a truck up to the site with some stone." However he says that the company is listening carefully to its builder and designer customers and might pare back the numbers in the consumer version.