Step into any mom-and-pop kitchen and bath store with a plan to redo your home, and you're likely to be both overwhelmed and disappointed. It's not their fault - the combination of limited retail space and brand allegiances means each retailer can only host a limited number of floor displays featuring physical products. A few tubs, some sink installations, a rack or two of counter top materials and maybe --if you are lucky -- a nice back wall of fixtures. Even major big box stores like Lowes only have a few aisles set aside for each project area. If you try to lay all of the competing boards on the floor to grasp what it will all look like together, you're likely to get dirty looks from other customers as well as store employees.
The problem is that home renovation projects are complicated. Each project has so many details from knobs, lighting, accents, surfaces, finishes, etc.-- that even with a good imagination and strong sense of tastes, it can be hard to envision what the completed project will look like before you have to commit to buy.
This is a market where virtual reality (VR) can really shine, and several companies are jumping on board as pioneers in the field. For example, luxury home builder Toll Brothers, recently launched a new VR program for renovators or new buyers called 'Kitchen 360'. The software was developed in partnership with the Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) company Marxent. It allows homebuyers to use VR to envision the almost endless possible design configurations for their homes before they are built. Using this technology, customers can choose among different appliances, cabinets, finishes, flooring, paint colors, and much more.
Buyers start with a tablet, personalizing features within their selected floor plan, before donning an HTC Vive headset and wandering through their virtual kitchen -- exploring and appraising their configured choices in 3D, and in real time. Toll Brothers customers have described the experience as being "like Disneyland for adults," saying that they feel they've already visited their new home, before the building process even begins.
You can get a sense of the experience here without a headset. It is clear that this is the model of the future that will change showrooms forever. Who knows, within a few years, showrooms may well be places that stock only small texture samples and everything else will be completely virtual.