Unwanted Noise? Here's How to Get Some Peace & Quiet Through Design

Unwanted Noise? Here's How to Get Some Peace & Quiet Through Design

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Dabney Frake
Jul 16, 2015

Blaring radios outside. Squeaky floors. Some people love extraneous noise, but for others, it all adds up to a lot of distraction — especially as you try to read, sleep, or work at home. You can’t control what’s happening outside your door (like, ahem, your upstairs neighbor) but you can adapt your own space to meet your quieter needs. Here's how.

Here’s the basic premise of sound. The longer it's allowed to bounce around a space, without being absorbed, the louder the noise will be. Therefore, you must either: 1) decrease the area in which sound can play, and minimize any noise shenanigans; or 2) Reduce the number of hard surfaces that encourage sound to ricochet around the room.

Divide Space: This is the reason that work cubicles were designed. If you have a wide open loft space, think about breaking up the room by hanging a curtain and creating two rooms out of one. It would add privacy, absorb the sound waves, and cut down on pesky noise.

(Image credit: Design Milk)

Lower Your Ceiling: You don’t have to install awful ceiling tiles, but think about other ways to bring the level down. Bed canopies or hanging textiles all work to absorb sound.

Landscaping: Follow the Netherlands' lead and research ways that your outdoor space can cut down on noise. Schipol airport got creative, and airplane noise was halved. On a smaller scale, plants absorb, deflect, refract and reflect noise. Privacy fences are good too.

Soft Surfaces: If you've ever walked into a marble lobby and heard your footsteps echo wildly, then you know that materials like stone and concrete aren't the best. Rugs or carpet are the quickest way to muffle loud sounds. Throw one down in high-traffic areas and you’ll notice a big difference. Rug pads take things a step further and use a padded layer underneath your rugs and the noise will dampen considerably.

(Image credit: Mike and Sandie)

Insulation: Yes, wall and ceiling insulation is a huge answer here, if you have the option. But even basic weather stripping helps cut down on sound, not to mention drafts. Charlie of Working Girl Press tried some on the threshold of her bedroom door and liked the result.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Plug Up Holes: Use noise-proofing caulk to seal up cracks in your windows and walls, and insulation to electrical sockets and outlets. Again, you are minimizing the amount of noise leakage.

Floating Hardwood Floors: These wood floors require an underlayment, usually a soft foam or plastic layer, that lies between floating (not glue or nail down) hardwood flooring and the subfloor. Spend a little more on a thicker pad, and you'll reduce noise considerably. If you are about to redo what’s under your feet, think of this as an option.

(Image credit: Sherrie and Oliver )

Wall Covering: If thin walls are the problem, beef them up a thick textile, bookshelf or even a layer of foam (if you can find a clever way to DIY). Felt and cork also have noise blocking properties.

(Image credit: Little Green Notebook)

Special Curtains: Multiple layers not only block light, but also keep noise at bay. If sound is getting out through the windows, heavy, noise-cancelling curtains can help soundproof your space.

(Image credit: Stokke Austad)

Acoustic Panels: These aren’t the most readily available items on the market, especially attractive ones. (The above example, which we spotted and loved during New York Design week, are from Stokke Austad, and are one exception to the ugly rule.) You can make your own DIY sound absorbers using a wood frame and batting, then customize it with your own fabric or pattern. Hang on the walls, or from the ceiling.

(Image credit: Doppler Labs)

Noise Canceling Products: When all else fails, and you really need to concentrate, try old-school ear plugs, or even higher-tech headphones, for a temporary solution. I am intrigued by Doppler Labs' Here technology, which helps you tune out — our customize — what you hear around you.

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