AI and Interior Design: How Digital Tools Can Help You Decorate Your Home

Learn how to use artificial intelligence for interior design, plus how professional designers are utilizing the latest technology.

<p>David Greer</p>

David Greer

Although the term dates back to the 1950s, artificial intelligence saw a massive spike in interest in 2022 coinciding with the launch of ChatGPT. According to Merriam-Webster, artificial intelligence (AI) is “the capability of computer systems or algorithms to imitate intelligent human behavior.” Artificial intelligence analyzes data and uses algorithms and machine learning to do things like automate processes and enhance activities.

There are several familiar examples of artificial intelligence at work in our homes and daily lives. For example, AI in thermostats optimizes heating and cooling settings for better efficiency and comfort, and AI-enhanced robot vacuums can maneuver obstacles and learn floor plans for a thorough cleaning. Target uses AI to generate personalized recommendations on their app, and an AI washer and dryer launched in 2023 learns your care preferences.

ChatGPT, however, is an example of generative AI. This artificial intelligence not only analyzes data but creates something new with it, such as a computer-written essay. When it comes to home design, we’re starting to see imaginative AI-generated interiors as well as ideas for real-life spaces. Artificial intelligence is becoming an important part of the conversation around interior design, offering everyone from professional designers to homeowners and renters new ways to approach styling their homes.

<p>Courtesy of Emily Cathcart</p>

Courtesy of Emily Cathcart

How to Use AI for Interior Design

AI tools create ideas based on user input. To generate home design ideas, room type and style preferences, like modern, Scandinavian, or boho, are the most common input factors. For some AI tools, image generation comes mainly from text prompts using varying degrees of design lingo, product and style specifications, and color requests typed into a text box. Other platforms allow you to upload inspirational pictures or images of your own space as the basis of the new AI image. A simple example: uploading a photo of your bedroom and telling the AI tool to reimagine it in a Mediterranean style.

According to Leslie Carothers, the power of AI lies in the ability to rapidly explore design ideas and find products to support your style. Carothers is a pioneer in the digital space for the home industry, whose accolades include creating the world’s first AI-generated sink and bringing virtual and augmented reality to designer showhouses and industry events. “AI gives you lots of ideas really fast,” says Carothers. “And if you are on some platform that uses AI to sell furniture, for example, then you can buy your furniture as well.” For those interested in interior design, Carothers also points out that AI is simply a fun way to explore styles and test your creativity.

Here are some of the handy ways you can use AI for decorating and designing your home.

Virtually View a Product in Your Home

You’re probably familiar with this technology that has been assisting design for a while. Augmented reality (AR) creates view-in-room mobile shopping experiences, where you can use your phone’s camera to view a space, and AR technology will show you how an item, such as a desk or rug, might look in that room.

Use a Photo to Generate Similar Ideas

If you’re looking at a space wondering, “What have other people done with a spot like this?”, searching home design sites or the internet generally with phrases like “Arts and Crafts dining room” is one option. However, AI allows you to be more precise. For example, with the Pinterest app, you can search with a photo of a spot in your house, and the app's algorithm will search for similar objects, colors, and styles that it identifies in the photo. Results will often be similar but unique to the photo you shared and inspire ideas that fit with your home. Alternatively, you can upload a picture of any space you like (not necessarily your home) and discover related ideas.

Create 3D Models

Some AI platforms, like Homestyler, can create a 3D model from a 2D floor plan. Whether you’re prepping for a big move or just want to rethink your home’s flow, this AI-generated visual aid can help you get a better sense of space.

Generate Design Ideas for Your Space

Much of the excitement around AI and interior design revolves around creating custom room designs. Numerous AI platforms, including RoomsGPT, Room AI, and ReImagineHome, allow you to upload a photo of a space and render images of it in a different style. The most basic of these tools uses the photo and a style prompt to reimagine the space. More advanced AI platforms and tools have you gather specs like floor plans and dimensions for more accurate recommendations on products, or allow you to submit more sophisticated prompts that indicate desired characteristics you'd like to see in the renderings. Some platforms even accommodate changes and regenerations so you can alter an AI-generated idea you like. And if you don't love the designs, some platforms, like DecorMatters, have communities where you can post a space you want to redo and see what the hivemind designs.

If you're having a hard time visualizing what this technology and process looks like, check out this approachable YouTube video by Lydia Patel, an Airbnb host, demonstrating how multiple AI platforms can reimagine two different rooms.

Shop for Specific Products

AI makes an excellent shopping assistant. Google’s “search by image" allows you to upload and search with a photo. Not only can the search engine often identify the exact item pictured, but it will also suggest similar objects based on the style, color, and other details. SpacelyAI is an example of an AI design platform with a tool intended to identify shoppable furniture products in photos. On some AI platforms, the rendered images include mass-market products intended to be easily shopped, with some even allowing you to switch out recommended products to find the look you like most.

Spark a Conversation with a Designer

Carothers suggests taking your AI-generated designs to the next level with help from a designer. She highlights the current trend of designers offering a menu of services, including virtual sessions for a specific room or project. In this case, coming in with a good idea of design direction can help make the most of your appointment. One option is for the professional to offer input on how to tweak a design to best fit your style or home. Another idea from Carothers: working with the designer to identify what elements of the look can be store-bought and what pieces the designer can source for a more custom, personalized space.

<p>Courtesy of Emily Cathcart</p>

Courtesy of Emily Cathcart

How Professional Designers Are Using AI

Design pros are also using AI, though they are likely to utilize more sophisticated tools and platforms to manipulate the output and design specifically for a room’s proportions. “I felt inspired to learn how to use it so that I could provide even better service to my clientele,” says Emily Cathcart of Emily Cathcart Designs + ECD Cabinetry. “I have found Midjourney to be a great way to generate ideas and brainstorm a new project.”

Cathcart notes that being able to rapidly generate ideas helps people get excited about the possibilities of their projects. AI also offers clients added peace of mind, says Carothers. Designers can share vibrant visuals quickly after a meeting so clients know if the designer listened to them, which helps both parties feel confident they’re on the same page.

AI can also inspire out-of-the-box ideas. “In one bath design, I used the inspiration of an alligator on a rock,” says Cathcart. The prompt not only resulted in a design with reptilian-inspired coverings, but it also impacted the structure and use of the room. “The idea was the alligator could go lay on the rock to rest. It turns out it's a resting and lounging spot for humans, too!” According to Cathcart, these AI-generated ideas are then “edited and re-edited until they are mastered into a functional and eye-catching design.”

Designers can also use AI to create entirely bespoke products that don’t exist in the real world yet. In February 2024, the first AI-designed sink will be showcased at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. Carothers designed the sink in Midjourney, and copper artisans behind the luxury brand Thompson are responsible for bringing it to life. “We're using the tools of new tech to support centuries-old artisan craftsmanship,” says Carothers.

Evaluating and Identify AI-Rendered Room Images

Both Cathcart and Carothers see AI as a useful tool for designers, but they caution potential clients to be aware of AI-assisted designs. “When selecting a designer, always, always, always look for transparency in a designer's images. For example, all of my AI works are labeled as AI-assisted design,” says Cathcart.

“When vetting a designer, ask the question, ‘Were these actually produced?’” advises Carothers. Whether evaluating the beautiful images seen on an Instagram feed or in their portfolio, and whether they were produced with generative AI or traditional design software, it's increasingly important for you to find out what work the designer has experience with executing. The image quality of digital renderings means it's not always obvious what spaces were really completed and photographed, rather than simply a design exercise.

The Future of AI and Interior Design

As an emerging technology, what does the future of AI home design look like? For starters, because AI actively learns, increased use and exposure to products, styles, and trends should develop more nuance and expand the outputs available to users of AI design tools.

You can also expect to start seeing more AI in the home realm—sooner rather than later. “I haven’t yet seen friends outside the design industry using these tools widely,” says Jamie Gold, a wellness design consultant and author. “I think it’s because there’s a learning curve and platform requirements that might be a hurdle for many everyday individuals, especially for non-digital natives.”

Gold expects to see big names, from home brands like Kohler to platforms like Houzz, using AI in the next few years. “What I think it will take for widespread adoption is for the brands people know and trust to start incorporating AI into home-related content in a way that’s user friendly and truly helpful,” says Gold.

Gold also anticipates useful integrations of AI in home design and products. “I want to see practical applications, like my fridge being able to tell me that I’m out of organic blueberries or I’m low on sourdough when I’m at the store, or my smoke alarms letting me know to change their backup batteries without that hideous chirp,” says Gold.

Looking further into the future, Carothers looks forward to seeing designers expand their practice, not only offering personalized interiors but even custom product lines designed with AI. She foresees some brands or manufacturers developing ways to work with designers, and possibly even directly with consumers, to turn an AI-imagined product into a reality.

Can AI replace designers?

No, artificial intelligence isn’t going to replace professional designers any time soon. While AI can provide plenty of design ideas and inspiration, and can even assist with shopping, AI isn't capable of the things you’d normally hire a professional for.

AI doesn’t take into consideration the specifics of your home’s plumbing and electrical, for example. It can't solve problems or plan for accessibility, nor can it currently choose elements based on factors such as sustainability or easy maintenance. AI also can’t take into consideration the rest of the home’s style. “Real design is about rhythm, harmony, balance, proportion and scale, and how all those things relate to the landscape,” says Carothers.

While many people hire a designer for a personalized look and unique pieces, AI shopping is fairly limited and Carothers notes that most AI tools are pulling from the same libraries of products, “so the consumer is really buying from the same e-commerce lifestyle players.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, “AI cannot execute the design,” underscores Carothers. It can’t manage a project, it doesn’t solve problems, and it doesn’t come with a network of trusted people to complete the work.

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