DESIGNING ONLINE Software helps arrange the furniture before buying

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Do-it-yourself home designers used to have only graph paper and a ruler for tools, but you can find better tools these days on the Internet. The bad sites aren't that bad, and the best ones are getting better. jordansfurniture.com

A new software package by Hookumu Inc., a Salem, N.H., developer, could turn out to be one of the very best. It is due to debut by the end of this month on the Jordan's Furniture website. I got to test the package last week at home, and found it to be pretty snazzy: easy, efficient, and eminently customizable.

This is sophisticated software, not intended for sale to you or me. The targets are merchants who would install it on their websites and offer the service to boost business. Steve Street, founder and president of Hookumu, said Bose Inc. has been using Hookumu software for a couple of years. On the Jordan's version, you start with template rooms, but if one of the dimensions doesn't fit your space, just click and drag a corner to where it should be. Same thing for the end table or plant or rug: Just pick it up and move it. If you don't see the furniture you have or want, a window onscreen offers plenty of choices in furniture styles, according to taste and room. The menus also give door and window styles, rug styles and shapes, and other options.

Measuring is simple, too. One click is your starting point, the second is your ending point. As you slide the mouse, the distance displays as you go.

When you think you're satisfied, you can ask for an analysis that points out potential drawbacks, such as wear from direct sunlight, or a piece that might be too close to the fireplace for safety. You can save pages, create new ones, print them, or e-mail them. Street said the next version, already in development, will offer real-time sharing of a floor plan - in which I move the sofa on my screen and you see it move on yours - by the end of the year.

I encountered a few glitches or slowdowns during my trial, but Street attributed them to designers working on the package as we used it. Software I was running in the background also may have contributed. Even so, I was convinced he has a winner. bhg.com and Gardens website. I looked at it a couple of months ago y and thought it was decent, but seeing it again after sampling Hookumu felt like watching black-and-white TV after having gone color.

No matter which room you select from the palette, for example, it's rectangular and 20- by-12, even the bathroom. You can set your own dimensions, but you still get a rectangular room until you start putting in other walls, an exercise I found confusing and counterintuitive.

As it happens, I'm hoping to redo my kitchen, so I started plotting out my current floor plan. I managed to do it, at least in very rough terms, but the experience was tedious, and since I didn't need to finish, I didn't. The site also has its share of pop-up ads, one of which temporarily kept me from getting where I wanted. closetmaid.com

If you want pop-up ads, however, another choice is closetmaid.com, where you can learn some things about closet design, if you're not in a hurry. This site needs to be streamlined.

When I wanted to look at "glamour photos" of completed closets, I had to go a couple of levels deep before I saw any, and another level to see a legible image. Even though I have a DSL line, I had plenty of time to look for birds out my window while waiting for each to load.

At least three features of the site could be useful, though:

1. If you encounter questions while planning your closet, chat-room-format help is provided 13 hours a day. I tried it and found it clunky, but with a little patience I did get helpful information.

2. When you've finished planning your closet, you're given a shopping list of parts you need and a list of stores that sell them, or links to installers if you don't want to proceed yourself.

3. There is a six-minute animated and narrated tutorial for using the custom-design tool that, while elementary in spots, seemed helpful. I say "seemed" because the custom-design option isn't available to fools like me who prefer Macintosh to Windows, so I wasn't able to test it. Given that Macs are acknowledged as the premiere design platform, that was galling.

I tried to use the cookie-cutter closets that I could access, but the measurements of the one closest to mine were off by so much that any shopping list would have been useless. I could play around with it, but it didn't feel it had delivered much more than I would have gotten with graph paper and a ruler.