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A Sound Space

Noise is one of the most underestimated issues of interior design. If you have ever experienced a noisy neighbour or slept in a hotel in a noisy area you know what bad attention to noise is. As acoustic pollution can’t be seen, it is rarely taken into consideration in the creation of mood boards or design projects. Then, we end up in restaurants where it is difficult to have a comfortable conversation, or worse, we work from home disturbed by construction works or traffic. Noise in Interior design and Architecture is definitely understated.

The problem is that noise is an invisible enemy that can bring negative effects in the long term. Researchers found that acoustic pollution can affect children learning, other than more obvious sleep disturbance or increase the levels of stress. Worse, in the long term it’s been proven that this kind of pollution can bring to hypertension or even cardiovascular diseases.

Source: Adobe Stock

But why is this issue so underestimated in interior planning? Design is often confused with style and it is regularly intended as a visual art only. Although we strongly believe that the visual side has its own importance – our company name is desEYEgn in the end – we strongly believe that designing is taking into consideration many aspects; good design includes invisible aspects that enhance our experience in a place.

To understand where interior designers can act, we could start understanding the future trends of interiors and housing. Home office are nowadays very common, and especially in restricted spaces we need to consider flexible homes, where - for example - the living room become an office during the week. Technology will be more and more present in our homes and there are already many apps like Niosh or Decibel X, that can measure the noise in a space. A third factor that might be trending in the next few years is mindfulness and attention to our mental health. We want our mind to be clean and focus to have creativity and productivity at our best. These and many other factors that are considered by commercial designers are now paramount also in residential interior design.

Source: Adobe Stock

There are already many furniture manufacturers that are developing products to improve our acoustic environment. The company Vank is producing decorative wall divider made of an absorbing material that can be used as both room divider and insulation panel; Offect produces decorative wall panelling that absorb noise and Woven Image create wall and ceiling panels perfect for both commercial and residential spaces.

For interior designers there are various solutions, from obvious ones, like house layout (separate noisy areas from quiets ones) and avoidance of noisy machinery or background noise, to less obvious and more innovative ways, like a wise use of materials and new technological architectural finishes that absorb noise.

The way we experience a space is affected by how noise, voices or music are experienced in a home. With a wrong interior design, the noise of a TV in the living room can be heard in the above bedroom during the night; people having a meeting in their home office can be disturbed by their partner cooking in the kitchen area and so on. Is this less important than matching the wall color to the rug? We believe both are relevant for a good design.

Source: Adobe Stock

The use of soft furniture like rugs, carpets, sofas or curtains increase the absorption of sound waves and therefore less noise is transmitted to the walls that, vibrating can transmit the noise to other rooms. Technology is helping further the design: companies like Baswana produce acoustic plasters that can be used in residential and commercial spaces. Moreover, wooden panels backed with absorbing material, like the Acupanel are both decorative and effective in noise reverberance reduction. A good architecture as use of underlay and properly insulating material is of course fundamental in the renovation or building process.

There are many different solutions depending also on budget; on Etsy sound absorbing and decorative panels and artwork can be found for few hundred pounds. On the high-end level, acoustic wallpapers or architectural insulation can be considered.

What can be done by interior designers to create a better acoustic environment?

  • Considering the layout of a space is one of the first step for a good design. Placing bedrooms or home office in quieter areas is one of the most obvious but not always considered starting point. In many site surveys I found bedrooms just over traffic jammed roads and then kitchens heading on quiet backyards.

  • Focus on customer lifestyle before starting the selection of products. Is the client working from home? Are many people living the house differently, ex children sleeping when parents are watching a movie? There are hundreds of questions we can ask to understand how a user can improve the experience in a home.

  • A good attention to the furniture quantity and material can make the difference in the quantity of reflected noise. Wood, fabrics and soft furniture absorb noise, while marble, plastic and metal tend to vibrate more and reflect it. Specifying more absorbing material is definitely a good way to improve the acoustic environment.

  • Using decorations and lighting as absorbing material. High ceilings for example are big enemy of good acoustic; textile or paper pendants can be a good solution for improving the sound absorption.

  • Using soundproof underlays for flooring or carpets and considering technological materials like acoustic wall panels or plasters.

We overall believe that interior design and UX design (user experience) need to be a little closer and bringing innovation in Interior Design involve a higher level of attention to the use of the home. As the great design masters teach us “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it” (Jared Spool).

Alberto Battaglia

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