Hard Surface Interior Design Calls For Serious Noise Abatement
Let’s talk about hard surfaces. Today’s home and commercial interiors embrace hard surfaces in their design like nobody’s business. We love open spaces, high ceilings, and hardwood floors, granite, stone, stainless steel. Who even installs carpet anymore?
There’s something incredibly appealing about the clean lines of hard surfaces, until they’re installed and you move in to the house only to realize you’ve built an echo chamber. Turn on an appliance or two, and the noise is amplified as it ricochets all over the place with no absorbent surface to be found. What may once have been the cute little voices of preschoolers playing, or the subtle background sound of music playing has become an inescapable capsule of noise that should have been taken into consideration during the design phase.
Luckily, there are post-construction fixes for different types of noise, which is the usually the most pressing noise problem hard surface spaces face.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled "Airy, Sleek, and Really Loud," writer Anne Marie Chaker talks about the conundrum so many modern home owners find when they’ve built their dream home without taking acoustics into account. We’ve actually seen this problem play out for decades in hospitals, where hard surfaces are abundant and patients’ medical problems are compounded by the resulting high noise levels.
Restaurants too; when was the last time you ate in a moderately busy restaurant and didn’t have to raise your voice to carry on a conversation?
Hard surface noise is a tough one to address too, especially since most noise absorbing materials like carpeting and heavy drapes simply don’t work with the design aesthetic of today’s hard-surface homes. Architects are beginning to address the issue, and more and more of them are discussing noise abatement solutions that can be worked into the home’s design and installed during the construction phase - under drywall, under flooring and in ceilings. There are some great after-the-fact noise absorbing materials that can be incorporated into these spaces as well.
We are tactile creatures. We love not only the look of our hard surface living spaces, we love the way they feel. From the concrete or granite countertop in the kitchen, to the natural stone and tile in the bath, we get a feeling akin to serenity when we run a hand over a lovely marble surface, or walk across cool tile in the summer, which becomes heated tile in the winter thanks to the miracle of radiant heat. But serenity is not lasting in a home that has little to no noise insulation or soundproofing.
In Chaker’s article, she quotes Princeton, New Jersey Architect T. Jeffrey Clarke on the subject saying: "If you have a large room with big windows, a high ceiling and a minimalist kind of look, you're going to have a problem, guaranteed.
“Homeowners and architects are sometimes so focused on the nitty-gritty of a construction project that something intangible, like the acoustics, often gets ignored."
The science of acoustics is an extremely sophisticated one, and understanding the nature of different noise has helped engineer some insanely effective soundproofing products for indoors and outdoors, and for different noise sources.
Sometime a noise barrier is necessary to keep the offending noise out of a space, or to contain it within. For instance, a home office can use a noise barrier material installed under the drywall, or on top of the drywall. Noise absorbing materials are the ticket to peace in hard surface spaces where reverberant sound is a problem. Home theaters can benefit from noise absorbing panels just to keep ambient noise levels to a minimum so that the sounds you want to hear from the theater’s sound system come across crisp and clear.
But noise absorbing material can become a necessity in other rooms, particularly in large, open spaces with lots of hard surfaces. Sound absorbing material can be worked into the décor of a room quite nicely – The RLounge in Los Angeles, for instance, hung fabric-covered panels of noise absorbing material in its ultra-chic, hard surface outdoor smoking patio with amazing results.
And when Reno, Nevada-based Decorative artists Bryan Melillo and Bruce Czopek were called in to create some space-appropriate, noise absorbing panels for a home theatre in Lake Tahoe, they created a series of original movie poster-style paintings directly on top of four large QuietFiber panels that addressed the home theater’s subtle reverberant noise issue that was interfering with the room’s acoustical performance.
Interior designers and architects are learning all they can about new soundproofing and noise abatement solutions to keep up with the growing demand among homeowners to resolve noise issues within their residential space. And as in anything else, an ounce of prevention…
When noise abatement material is worked into the architectural design of a home, solutions can be addressed before the house goes up, and this is where the most cost-effective noise insulating and noise barrier solution is going to take hold.
Retrofitting after construction is complete can be messy and expensive, but it is definitely do-able. There are new noise barrier materials that can go on top of an existing wall to avoid messy drywall tear-outs and the associated expense, this solution can be pricey too.
There's probably no turning back from our love of hard surfaces in our living spaces, not only for aesthetic value but also because they’re hypoallergenic and easy to clean. And, thanks to some amazing noise abatement solutions available today, they’re getting much quieter.