Using Excel as a Design Tool

We were just starting our office remodel, and trying to determine the spacing of our bookshelves and the murphy bed. I was using graph paper to draw sketches, but since I was changing stuff each time, each sketch was new, and took significant time to draw to scale by hand. In my sleep (when many engineers do their best thinking), I had an epiphany. Why not use Excel like graph paper, and do my drawings there? I could draw everything to scale, make multiple variations with a simple “copy”, and print them out to work from by hand as needed. I will walk through the basic steps to set up Excel for this purpose by drawing the layout of our master bath and closet (which we are hoping to remodel soon).

Office Bookshelf Design (Using Excel)

Step 1: Make your cells square
You can do this by first highlighting the entire spreadsheet (upper left corner), and adjusting the cell width and height. I chose 20 pixels, but it is arbitrary as long as the cells are square (you can always zoom in and out to see your entire area on the screen, or to get in close to another).

Square your cells

Step 2: Determine a scale
Just like with any drawing, you must decide what the real world value of 1 cell will equal. This depends on how accurate you want or need to be, and what the lowest common denominator is for the measurements you wish to make. For the bookshelves, I chose to use 1 cell = 3 inches, and in the bathroom example, I set 1 cell = 1 inch.

Step 3: Draw your fixed lines
For my bookshelf, the fixed lines were the room (floor, ceiling, walls), and the width of each bookshelf (for the bathroom example, I will use the walls). To draw with Excel, you can highlight the region and select the appropriate borders, or you can use Excel’s “Draw Border Line” tool. The benefit of selecting an area first, is that you see the number of cells you are selecting in the upper left corner. This is very useful, because you can easily tell how large you are making an area and match it to your measurements (see below).

Select Area to Outline

When drawing a room or house layout, make sure to account for wall width, otherwise your room-to-room measurements may not line up properly. In the example below, I have drawn out our closet and bathroom, which we are thinking about combing and rearranging. To make a wall appear solid, simply select the cells that make up the wall and fill them with black (to show a window, I simply filled white).

Bathroom outline

I suggest saving a copy of your sheet at this stage, because this is the base for any design changes you will make. You can do this by copying the “sheet” to multiple other “sheets” in Excel, and labeling them accordingly (I named this version “Outline”). To make a copy, right click on the sheet tab at the bottom, select “move or copy”, and then check the box “create a copy”. To rename a sheet, right click on the sheet tab and select “rename”.

Step 4: Add Labels and Pictures
I suggest using text boxes for labels, because they can be moved around and won’t affect your grid. Simply insert a text box, type your text, and you have a label. To insert a picture object, simply insert either a picture from file, clip art, or a clipped screen shot (some Excel versions allow you to do this directly from Excel). Just like the text box, these images can be moved around, rotated, and copied as desired. To find images, I suggest doing a Google Image search (for the toilet picture, I searched “toilet top view”, captured a screen shot through Excel, and rotated the image into place).

Current Bathroom Layout

Step 5: Print your drawing
Under “Page Setup”, choose the orientation of your drawing (I set mine to landscape). Under “Scaling”, select “Fit to:” and set it to 1 page by 1 page (this will ensure your entire drawing prints on a single page). To center your drawing on the page, select “center horizontally” and “center vertically” under the “margins” tab. You can also choose if you want gridline to print by selecting “gridlines” under the “sheet” tab (if you use a small scale, this may not look so great).

Printout of Bathroom Layout

I hope this helps to get you started on designing and laying out your next DIY project. I have included some blank graph paper and the Excel file for the example I showed. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments.

Graph Paper

Graphing with Excel Example

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7 thoughts on “Using Excel as a Design Tool

  1. Here’s one additional tip: After you’ve drawn the room, and marked the permanent fixtures, draw the furniture to scale on the sticky part of Post-Its. (This should work fine if using typical graph paper scale.) That way, you can “move” furniture around the room easily and try different combinations, without all the little tiny pieces falling off all the time.

  2. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.
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