September 27, 2022

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Your Dream House

How ’90s interior design software laid the foundation for today’s life sims

How ’90s interior design software laid the foundation for today’s life sims

In 1994, my mom, a working interior designer, decided to jump on the home computing bandwagon and get 3D Home Architect (opens in new tab). The Broderbund program was part of an awkward, curious wave of computer-aided design (CAD) software adapted for the burgeoning home market (opens in new tab)—the average joe looking to redecorate and remodel in an exciting new digital world. I was already familiar with floor plans and architectural drawings from watching my mom at her drafting table. My mother made a valiant attempt to get used to the program, but as a diehard traditionalist, she eventually returned to working with her trusty pencil and paper. Suddenly 3D Home Architect, which my parents didn’t consider a videogame (and therefore not something to worry about), was all mine.

It was a cultural appeal, asking users to imagine one’s life as available for expansion through computing.

Dr. Laine Nooney

Decades later, I’ve sunk oceans of time into arranging furniture in Animal Crossing and laying out my free company room in Final Fantasy 14. In games, especially life sims, interior design can be a dangerous road to a place where time stops. But in the beginning, the world of digital home design was a very different animal: easy-to-use consumer CAD programs that shaped a generation of home computer users. 

(Image credit: Broderbund)

“When these products first came out in the 1990s, people wanted to play with them because they literally allowed you to do things on a computer that were impossible before… it felt like being part of the ‘future’,” says Dr. Laine Nooney (opens in new tab), who specializes in the historical, cultural, and economic analysis of the videogame and home computing industries. Like me, Nooney has strong memories of their mother playing with 3D home design and landscaping programs in the mid-to-late ’90s when their family was going through a period of upward mobility.