In this article, I explore that relationship further, framing the conversation in the context of the most personal of settings—the home—talking to Alexander of LuxDeco 100 design studio Alexander Waterworth and LuxDeco Studio’s Interiors Director Linda Holmes about just how important sound is to us at home.
The subject of sound—much more than music
With the music off, the television muted, and not a podcast or a playlist to hear of, what, now, do you hear in your home? This is a very simple but valuable exercise in appreciating sound design. It’s so easy to assume that the biggest audio contributor to a setting’s mood is what comes through the speakers. Not so.
Alexander—a saxophonist—explains, “When [we] think of sound, initially we think of music—a powerful tool in the sound armoury—however, what about the environment that surrounds us? Surrounding sounds, defused when entering our home, combined with internal sounds creates multiple combinations.”
So, what are these sound combinations? Do you live in a countryside abode? You’ll very likely hear birdsong, perhaps livestock calling out on nearby pastures and the rushing of a brook at the end of the garden. These sounds individually and collectively will heighten the aesthetic of a farmhouse kitchen or a low-ceilinged cottage sitting room. Live in the city? Then, surprisingly, the sound of sirens and the brouhaha from the pavements below can give an urban luxe apartment more edge and character still. Sound in the home is environmental too. It’s nature’s soundtrack, it’s your location’s album playing on loop, and it’s absolutely always a factor that should feed into your interior design.
Image Credit: Louise Bradley
Inside your windows and walls, there’s a sensory effect to be considered in your home’s material palette, as Linda puts it: “Whether we realise it or not, our homes all have sounds. Whether they’re noticeable or so subtle that we don’t even register them, all homes do. Some of those sounds can be beautiful and some can be decidedly not. The design of a home, therefore, can either amplify the beauty of those sounds or the lack thereof. As designers, it’s not just important for a space to look nice; it has to feel nice too and part of that feeling includes sound—muting sounds which aren’t appealing and highlighting those that are. Compare linen drapes blowing in the breeze to the slamming of a door; these sounds have distinct connotations and one’s experience of a space is determined by the reaction those sounds elicit.”
Alexander reveals some of his cherished sound moments: “One of my most favoured times is when it rains and I am near a window, watching nature and listening. The grey weather, the cold touch of glass balanced by the rich, thick blanket I am wrapped in—an experience formed from sound. Sound creates experiences unique in time. It allows us to connect with a space in a non-visual way.”
Non-visual connections are too often forgotten, but, as Alexander explains, it is these moments which truly make us feel as though we are living in and enjoying an interior space.
Designing with sound in mind
“Sound design in interior design combines aural architecture (the understanding of a space’s aural ability) and acoustics (the practical formula of how to get there),” explains Linda. Take, for example, a modern home that has gone heavy on insulation and glazing compared to a lofty ceilinged former schoolhouse conversion—the sound will travel and echo in entirely different ways.
“A perfect non-residential example of interior sound design is in Gothic cathedrals—buildings which were designed to enhance words and songs of praise and where acoustics are very important. Acoustics are also important in homes, although not in the same way,” Linda continues. “A home might certainly benefit from being soundproofed in the way these stone cathedrals are, but they don’t need such high ceilings which would likely result in fatiguing echoes. The sound design of a space is good if it suits the purpose for which the room is designed, and a skilled designer knows how to design a room so that aural quality is taken care of as much as the visual or tactile.”
Improving sound quality through interior decoration
There are steps to be taken, retroactively, to better the way in which sound is experienced in the home. Rugs rather than solely tiled, timber or polished concrete floors, wallpaper or wall hangings as opposed to a purely paint approach, and an abundance of soft accessories like cushions, blankets, an upholstered headboard in the bedroom and fully-lined curtains. These will all greatly contribute to audio quality, absorbing sound and reducing echo.
It is quite astonishing the level of ring and tinniness that stems from a dropped piece of cutlery or footsteps padding up to bed. It is equally as astonishing what such simple audio improvements can be made to your home without even entering the realm of soundproofing. But, as Alexander puts it, “Unfortunately sound is last to be considered because, like a soul, you cannot see it physically and all the attention is on how the space will look.”
Honestly, the greatest tool to have in your arsenal is foresight. Audio visual design is too often an oversight or an afterthought, as Linda has witnessed: “When one’s sitting at his or her computer designing a space rather than being present in the space itself, it takes much more thought to incorporate sound design into a design. If I didn’t pay attention to how a room sounded during a pre-walkthrough, it would be difficult to know how to design the space for optimal sound quality.”
It’s far from unusual for homes to be reconfigured to improve their sound quality, and this is something that isn’t impossible to rewind and fix, but it is certainly far better to build into the design brief from day one.
Ensuring music plays out properly
It’s nigh-on impossible to speak of sound in the home and to not pass the microphone to music—the area of audio that provides the most noticeable atmospheric difference. Like lighting, like colour, like furniture choices, music has the ability to entirely shift the feel of a room or to harmonise it so that its interior direction becomes even more impactful and convincing. Imagine a Regency drawing room with a classical composition playing softly in the background, or a minimalist kitchen with a mellow house mix coming through the speakers as you cook—the interior becomes ten times more powerful in an instant; its design comes alive. “Sound, like smell, can evoke a range of emotions and feelings—it can create a sense of occasion,” Alexander reflects.
In a similar vein, the way that sound plays out from home entertainment equipment, such as from a television or home cinema room, is of real importance too.
As Linda puts: “That’s when we enter the realm of audio technology and all that goes with it. For example, cinema rooms require comprehensive sound systems. Architectural and invisible audio solutions are key for a seamless, unobtrusive look and as a way to transform a room into an experience.” Imagine coming home after a long day to some Cinematic Orchestra or Moby courtesy of our LuxDeco Downtempo playlist, operated through motion sensor, for example. Experiential is a word which many interiors lack, but something which can be achieved easily.
“I think we do our homes—and ourselves—a major disservice when we don’t utilise music and sound design in them. Spaces can be so much more enjoyable when we consider all of the ways we can experience them,” says Linda.