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Simonson Lumber applies high-tech to home design

Zack Simonson Skaro describes Tuesday, July 7, 2015, how floor plans are used to make 3D virtual models of home designs at Simonson Lumber. These 3D designs can also be used to 3D print models of the home as seen on the table before him.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Peter Simonson describes Tuesday, July 7, 2015, how customers can fly through virtual models of their home design using an iPad.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Brent Behm, an architecturally trained employee of Simonson Lumber, shows Tuesday, July 7, 2015, an Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset the company hopes to make available for customer use.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

FARGO—As a homebuyer, wouldn't it be nice to peek inside your newly designed house before it's built?

Simonson Lumber thinks so, and it's come up with major advances in helping homebuyers and builders realize house projects.

That effort becomes clear when you enter the Simonson store at 2400 Main Ave. in Fargo.

A large portion of the space has been transformed into a design studio, where images of homes and floor plans are displayed on large monitors. A big table also sits ready to show off designs rendered in the traditional way, on big sheets of paper.

The studio itself reflects options homebuyers might consider when beautifying spaces, including the use of inexpensive materials that are used in handsome ways.

Wood-chip flooring, for example, rises several notches on the elegance scale when given a high-gloss treatment.

"You can take very mundane, conventional materials and elevate them through a bit of craftsmanship," said Brent Behm, a designer with Simonson Lumber who holds a master's degree in architecture.

In addition to the design studio, which is already being used, the company is on the verge of launching a new software/hardware service that uses virtual-reality goggles to give homebuyers realistic tours of what a house interior will look like when finished.

And then there is perhaps the most customer-friendly upgrade of all: the ability to build desktop models of what a new house will look like using 3D printing.

Peter Simonson, president and CEO of the company, lifted the roof from a small, white plastic house, revealing the interior of the model home made with the company's new 3D printers.

"People can actually take these (models) apart and see what their house is going to look like," said Simonson, whose family-owned company works with area builders to help homebuyers decide on designs and then makes them happen.

Simonson Lumber can provide the design for a home, the materials to build it or both, said Simonson, whose family has run the company since it was founded in the early 1930s.

The company has been offering 3D models for a while, and Simonson said something interesting is happening in the conversations taking place between builders and clients: Home projects that began as small endeavors are growing into large projects.

In part, that's because clients are better able see what certain options will look like when built, he said.

"At first, we thought they (the 3D models) would just be a novelty, something fun for people to do," he said.

"But, people are actually able to see how the spaces lay out better with this kind of 3D perspective."

While the technology is advanced, Simonson said they are applying it to projects regardless of size.

"We want to do it for everyone," he said, adding that for some people, a dream home might cost $150,000 to $200,000.

Those customers "get the same pieces as somebody building a million-dollar-plus home," Simonson said.

Dave Olson
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