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Originally published Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 5:30 AM

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Hot tools for home improvement: phone apps

7 apps to help you decorate, shop smarter, clean and do more to create fab home.

The Associated Press

Home-improvement and design enthusiasts can add a versatile tool to their toolbox: a smartphone.

Software programs available for cellphones can help homeowners with everything from selecting paint colors to finding artwork to determining their favorite decorating style.

Mark English, a San Francisco architect, uses an application on his cellphone to help clients visualize projects and plans. English creates "idea books," or files of images, for his clients to review with Houzz (http://www.houzz.com), a free phone app that contains more than 70,000 photos of rooms, homes and landscape projects. Having the images to refer to helps clients articulate more clearly their likes and dislikes, he said.

"We can develop a language where we all know what these adjectives mean," he said. "We get to that point where we know what the goal is much more quickly."

Many apps are meant to provide inspiration for people looking to redecorate. The Dream Home app (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dream-home/id367030133?mt=8) allows users to search thousands of photos sorted by style, room and color. The app, which ranges in price from $1.99 to $4.99, is like having thousands of design magazines at your fingertips, said Peter Melnikov, vice president of Apalon, the company that created it.

Apps mean users can carry their inspirations and ideas wherever they go, said Bridget Sandquist, editorial director for holidays and entertaining at BHG.com, Better Homes and Garden's website. The magazine released an app, which cost $3.99, over the holidays that offered tips on entertaining and hosting parties.

Readers could consult their phones in the kitchen for recipes and in the store when shopping, she said.

Decorating a room and looking for just the right colors? Sherwin-Williams' free ColorSnap application (http://www.sherwin-williams.com/do_it_yourself/paint_colors/paint_color_palette/colorsnap/) lets you take a photo of an item and then find the name of the paint hue that is closest to it. You can fine-tune the color by making it brighter or lighter, and also find complementary colors.

Homeowners with freshly painted walls can determine what to hang on them with an app from Art.com. The free program (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/art-com/id348423904?mt=8) lets users upload photos of the wall and digitally fill it with various pieces of artwork. The resulting images can be sent to friends and family to get their opinions, too.

Once the perfect piece of art is located, a level app can help you hang it straight. Stanley Bostitch (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/stanley-bostitch-level/id308725991?mt=8) offers a free app that turns iPhones into picture levelers.

The Good Housekeeping app (http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/about/new-iphone-app?click=main_sr#fbIndex1) offers advice on a variety of issues ranging from "how to remove mustard stains" to "inspiration for a bathroom renovation," said Sara Lyle, the magazine's lifestyle director.

Good Housekeeping launched its free app last year with the intention of putting lots of advice and articles in readers' hands at once, she said.

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The app includes step-by-step instructions for many home improvement and craft projects.

The portability of an app means do-it-yourselfers can take their phone with them to the store when shopping for materials for a project, Lyle said.

After looking through photos on the Houzz app, Sharon Glazer of Baltimore decided her style lies somewhere between contemporary and modern, with a touch of Mediterranean flair. Glazer, who is house hunting, uses the app to organize her ideas for decorating her next home. She has even created files to share with a designer once she buys a house.

"We're trying to design out what we're going to do and how the rooms will look and flow before we physically move," she said.

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