It doesn't matter whether you're looking at a back-of-the-napkin sketch, architectural floor plans, or even a fancy HGTV-style 3D rendering. The dilemma is the same for any homeowner trying to visualize a major remodel: It’s not until the project is finished that you know what it’s actually like to stand in the space. By that point, of course, it’s too late to make any meaningful changes. 

This was the quandary I found myself in during the renovation of my 19th-century brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y. The initial design, refined through multiple trips to the drawing board, called for an L-shaped kitchen on the parlor level of the house, with large French doors opening onto the back terrace. But then my contractor had to remove the entire back wall of that level to fix several unexpected structural issues (at considerable added expense). Once my wife and I saw the light-filled opening, we wondered whether we should go for a full glass wall and a smaller galley-style kitchen. (Follow the progress of my project by going to the Home Renovation Survival Guide.)

Our architect provided 2D drawings and 3D elevations of both designs, but staring at them wasn’t getting us anywhere. So I decided to commission virtual models from a Canadian company called Cadsoft, which I had first encountered at the 2016 Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas.

The process involved sending floor plans for the two different design options, as well as specs for the kitchen appliances, countertop material, flooring, and cabinets. About a week later, Cadsoft uploaded models for each design to Sketchfab, an online community where architects, designers, and other creators can share content that can be viewed in both 3D and virtual reality, or VR, formats. Here's a look at Plan A and Plan B.

My wife and I started by looking at the 3D models on a computer. We were able to move around the space fairly easily, getting 360-degree views using the mouse. Right away, we had a much clearer sense of the two plans and were able to better assess their pros and cons.

Get a reality check on virtual reality with our reports on: Google Daydream VR, Lowe's VR Holoroom, and other virtual reality headsets.

The VR Experience

Then we went for a truly immersive experience and looked at the renderings using a virtual reality headset. It allowed each of us to move virtually through the space. (We used the Samsung Gear VR headset, though you can also view Sketchfab models with Google Cardboard, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift.)

The VR experience vividly revealed the differences between the two designs. Having a full expanse of glass on the back wall was definitely dramatic, but it required moving the sink against a side wall and took away from the amount of workspace. I found that I liked being able to look out the window while standing at the kitchen sink in the virtual rendering of the original design (Plan A), especially compared with the view of the backsplash that the glass-wall design (Plan B) offered.

In the end, we settled on a sort of hybrid plan, keeping the L-shaped kitchen but creating a continuous expanse of glass with the rest of the back wall, using a combination of windows and accordion-style doors. I think it’s going to be the perfect combination of form and function—and we never would have arrived at it without the benefit of virtual reality.

If you’re stuck on your own design dilemma, check out the technology for yourself. You can work with an architect who uses virtual software. Or if you’re computer-savvy, Cadsoft sells a $100 product called Personal Architect Software that lets you create the floor plan, then drop in the appliances, fixtures, flooring, paint colors, and more.

Cadsoft’s website also has a community page where homeowners can connect with designers who will create virtual reality models for them. Rates vary depending on the complexity of the project, but expect to pay around $1 per square foot—say, a few hundred dollars for a decent-sized kitchen—which may be a small price to pay for the renovation of your dreams.

Editor's Note: Use of any products or services in this article does not constitute an endorsement by Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports does not endorse any products or services.