There's a whole generation of budding interior designers that have been raised on The Sims, a video game where a rashly-picked paint colour for the bathroom belonging to virtual Mini-Me can be fixed with a click of the "Undo" button. For these digitally-native designers, the reality of redecorating, with knives jammed under paint pot lids and reams of colour swatches to flick through, must feel like a chore. But, thanks to augmented reality tools, the future of DIY interior design will increasingly offer the freedom of digital trial and error.
Leading the charge is Dulux, whose free Dulux Visualizer app uses AR tools to let you experiment with different colours and combinations, virtually laid out across your home walls before applying any real paint.
Available for iOS and Android devices, it uses a smartphone or tablet's camera to map your room 30 times a second, intelligently picking up your walls and isolating items like furniture or clutter. With the walls recognised, you can select three colours at a time from a pool of 1,200, and have the app virtually redecorate your room on screen in real-time. An eye-dropper tool lets you handpick a shade from within your room (or from a saved photo), with the app then letting you order testers of each shade (it'll soon let you order full tins of paint too).
"We're in the early stages, but augmented reality tools allow people to take a chance," said Marianne Shillingford, Creative Director at Dulux. "You get to try things out and share them with your friends -- I think we share lots of our decision making before making a commitment. With things like transitional fades [a risky technique for an amateur decorator . ed] now very popular, it'll allow people to be more creative."
But smartphone and tablet apps are just the beginning -- with virtual reality and wearable technology increasingly prevalent, such experimental digital decorating dry-runs could eventually be sat directly in front of our eyes.
"The conception of this was about six or seven years ago, but the technology wasn't there -- we're talking pre-iPhone," explains Stewart Longhurst, Global Head of Digital Projects for Dulux.
"It's the last two years that we've been able to take advantage of this new step forward in the abilities of augmented reality, and there's absolutely room to use wearables. Maybe not Google Glass -- it's currently not quite up to it. But if you had a full-lens spectacle vision with overlays, that's absolutely something we could work with. If in a couple of years time it's pretty mainstream for people to wear AR glasses, then from there you start thinking about gesture controls and more too."
Virtual reality poses a slightly different challenge however, as it requires a digital rendering of the environment set for decoration beforehand. But a "hybrid of Oculus Rift and Google Glass" would be ideally suited for the task, believes Longhurst.
As with all things tech, it will take early adopters of augmented reality headsets and wearables to really encourage the likes of Dulux in this space (the traditional, decorative market and DIY consumer base "is a little more conservative", admits Longhurst). But Dulux (along with the likes of IKEA) is already flexing its muscles as it looks to get ahead in a market that clearly has massive potential use for augmented reality.
"It's possible that one day we will be at a stage where we don't have little swatch books at all, but you've currently got the colour accuracy debate [Discrepancies between what the eye can see and the variations that individual displays produce .ed]. But for many people this will be accurate enough, and it will only continue to improve."