Of all the problems associated with urban living, noise is the one that drives people the most nuts (For an example, watch this Italian clip). From the knocking pipe in the bedroom, to the upstairs neighbor's rock'n'roll medley, to the bridge and tunnel traffic outside the window, noise can disrupt sleep, distract you when concentrating and stress you out after work when you need to unwind.
However, any annoying noise can be stopped dead in its tracks with a little ingenuity and, sometimes, minor construction.
The easiest to solve is low level noise within your own home. These noises, such as television sound, children's voices or a running laundry machine can be greatly dampened by adding more textiles and fabric to your home. The hard surfaces and open spaces that many modern homes favor allow sound to grow and echo. Adding rugs, curtains, tablecloths, or even replacing a wood chair with an upholstered chair, will help dampen sounds. I have seen beautiful fabric curtains hung along an entire wall (initially to hide an ugly wall), that had the added effect of making the room as quiet as a library.
Noise from outside your home usually comes from two places: the ceiling and the windows. In both cases, insulation will help. The first step in dealing with the noisy upstairs neighbor is to ask them to lay down a rug or carpet. If that doesn't work, you can add a second ceiling in your apartment, with a space between the existing and the new ceiling. This will trap the noise. There are two ways to do this, the first involves hanging a second sheetrock ceiling (5/8") using a product called RSIC Clips. The second solution is a bit easier. Spread a dampening product called Green Glue (www.audioalloy.com) to sheetrock and screw this into your existing ceiling.
To cut down on noise coming through your windows, if curtains or drapes do not help, the last resort is amazingly effective, but pricey. Window Soundproofing is a process whereby a second pane of glass is installed on the inside of your window. Some of our readers SWEAR by this solution. These panes, which come in different thicknesses, do not detract from the look and feel of your windows and can eliminate almost any noise at all.