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Have you ever been to a restaurant or a tasting room and you can’t hear what the person next to you is saying? Do you like to go to a loud bar or eatery for the excitement it generates, but could not imagine experiencing the same volume level in your home (or your neighbor’s home)?

It may be a generational thing, but I confess to a certain annoyance with public spaces in which it is so loud, I cannot carry on a regular conversation. Sometimes, the acoustics are set up this way in the mistaken belief that bouncing sound waves provide ambiance. I think it inhibits the exchange of information (and sales).

We don’t often think about sound when we think of décor, but it can be just as important as what colors you choose to decorate.

Acoustical considerations are important to design. Communication and entertainment values are not always compatible. It helps to think of problems related to sound control in terms of this question: Do you want to keep the sound in the room, or do you want to keep the sound out of the room?

The proper acoustic of a room depends on the use of the room, the occupant preferences, the clientele, etc. Some rooms are just fine being relatively loud, and some need to be very quiet. In a home entertainment center, you might want to keep the sound in the room, while in a dining area at a senior independent or assisted living housing unit, you might want to keep sound out of the room.

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So, how do you go about fixing or controlling sound in your place? If you think of the difference between, say a sponge and glass, soft squishy things are going to absorb sound, while a dense hard surface like glass will block, and sometimes reflect, sound. So, if you want the sound to bounce back into the room, you would use a hard material on the inside and if you want sound to be absorbed (softened) by the sound dampening device, you want something like foam. There are products that are intended to absorb echo, and those that are intended to block sound from entering or leaving a space, usually inside the wall construction. Simple right?

If you are in the process of designing or remodeling a home or building, factors like the position, angle, shape and dimension of partitions, walls and ceilings can help control sound transmission. Heavy floors and ceilings, as well as additional layers of glazing for windows, double doors, and other “tricks of the trade”, can help you take control of sound.

Fortunately, you do not have to be a sound engineer or architect to solve some sound issues in your home, office or establishment. There are many products on the Do-It-Yourself market today that can help. Acoustical ceilings usually come in tiles or panels of various sizes and textures. You can even find more dimensional, colorful, and sculptural looks, like decorative foam “wallpaper” or pressed tin that come in sound dampening, noise reducing materials. These decorative solutions can be applied as a backspace, a wall adornment, or a ceiling. Remember though, in order to maximize the sound dampening qualities, these type of panels need to be suspended from the ceiling or wall – if its affixed directly on the wall the sound will just bounce back in the room.

My personal favorite, if you haven’t addressed sound during the construction phase, are decorative sound panels. From a few panels or fabric covered room dividers, to an entire wall of fabric covered sound panels, there are many types of sound absorbing products, which in additional to being functional, can be turned into a decorative design element. You would not even know they are sound dampening, when made into artwork.

So the next time you are out and about and can’t hear what you partner is saying, think what a lost opportunity that is to make a statement!

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Deborah Macdonald is the Napa-based owner of Napa At Home, an interior decorating and fabric enterprise. For more information about her interior decorating services, visit her website at napaathome.com call (707) 255-0246; or email Deborah@napaathome.com

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