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Choosing new flooring? Experiencing painful indecision? Well, I sympathize. In fact, I just about tore my hair out last spring while trying to decide what should replace the disgusting cheapo vinyl in our kitchen. Here's why it's so stressful: a new floor is a big commitment, and you'd better choose correctly. Wish you'd gone with the hazelnut hardwood instead of the java bean laminate? Too late! Unlike a coat of paint, you can't just redo your floor in an afternoon. Then there's the expense factor. Phew. Flooring is darn expensive, especially if -- like us -- your sub-floor is uneven.

Before you give up in frustration, check out a really awesome interactive design tool. Flooring manufacturer Mannington's My Virtual Decorator is free and it's compatible with both PCs and Macs. It's easy to use and the photos look pretty real. Best of all, while the basic Virtual Decorator can be used online, the My Virtual Decorator program can be downloaded to your hard drive. Once it's on your computer, you can click in your own photo for use in mock-up designs. To get the proportions right, though, you'll need to use a photo that incorporates some special tags that you can print out from your home printer.

The photo of my kitchen (above) shows what correct tag placement looks like. Once it's up you can decorate the scene however you like, changing the color of the walls, and, of course, trying out all the different flooring types and colors.

There are other interactive flooring tools on the Web. Armstrong, Mannington's biggest competitor, has a great website, too, and a similar virtual decorating program called Design a Room. However, Armstrong lags behind in the technology department: they are working on a program like Mannington's that allows users to incorporate their own photos. However, as of this post, it's not available yet.

Warning! These design programs are major time-wasters. If, like me, you're prone to procrastination and you love to play around on the Web, you might want to set yourself a daily time limit!



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