Hitting the right note by using sound in design

Finding the right furnishings often feels like a purely visual task, but great design should prick the ears as well as pleasing the eye

Sound is vital to our understanding of the world around us. On a physical, psychological and even emotional level, what we hear affects our behaviour greatly. Think of that moment when you play a song that takes you back to a certain time; the emotional impact of music is arguably more potent than that of any other sense.

Why is this important? Because emotional response is absolutely key to successful design, in any venue. Therefore, understanding just how powerful a tool sound (or lack of sound) can be is a guaranteed way to open our eyes and ears to a whole new world of design possibilities.

In our many years of experience as contract furniture manufacturers, we have seen the power of acoustics at play time and time again. In any project we undertake, it’s imperative that we consider the effect a space will have on every sense, not just the way it looks. With the hustle and bustle of modern life being as loud as it often is on busy streets outside, it can be a challenge to hit the right note when making the most of sound. Harnessing the power of acoustics and muting sound where appropriate can be help to make an atmosphere in a communal space or make an individual feel secure and undisturbed in a private room.

Let’s further explore the effects of sound as a design element. You’ll see how simple design decisions and additions can make your establishment something to shout about.

The benefits of acknowledging acoustics in design

Sound is a vital design tool; a whole new element outside of sight to put to work in creating inviting, exciting spaces to be enjoyed. But when we talk about ‘sound’, we’re actually referring to a few different things:

  • Music. A song or tune can help create the optimum atmosphere for a space
  • Acoustics. If a room has the right acoustics, then everything will sound as clear and pleasant as it should
  • Silence. Deadening sound is a lot more important than you might think. Soundproofing is a key component of tackling unappealing background noises

So using sound is design is all about discovering which sound-related factor best suits a space, and how best to implement it. For example, if a restaurant would benefit best from the introduction of music, you’ll then need to decide what kind of music, what volume the music should be, and how often the music should be on. The aesthetics and the acoustics of any space should work together harmoniously to create the desired atmosphere.

The right kind of sound can have added benefits, such as reducing anxiety and helping those within your establishment feel more positive. One study, conducted in Thailand in 2012, found that sound could be used to significantly reduce anxiety in patients who were undergoing cataract surgery. By using binaural beats – two tones pitched at different frequencies – the researchers found that alpha-frequency brainwaves were awakened in patients, helping them feel more relaxed.

Another study, this one from 2011, found that the vibrations of certain songs could be used to help patients receiving MRI scans. By hitting certain tones, researchers found that parts of the brain associated with alertness and self-awareness were quietened during the scan. These are more extreme examples of how music and mood go hand in hand, but it’s clear that the power of sound extends to a psychological and emotional level. With the right design, this power can be harnessed to create the optimum experience for residents or customers.

A perfect opening number

In a hotel setting, the lobby is your only chance to make a good first impression. This becomes a great deal easier and more effective once you consider sound in your design choices.

Aside from a hotel restaurant perhaps, the lobby is the only space in a hotel where music should factor heavily into your design. As soon as a guest walks through the door, music sets the tone. This means you need to be clear on what that tone is when designing the space. Luxury? Classical or soft jazz music suits well. Energetic? Popular or dance music works well. Quirky and hipster? Try something more folksy or blues-based. Consider who were clientele are and think about the music they are likely to respond well to. You should also match this music with your design, so a luxury playlist should accompany a luxuriously furnished lobby.

Quiet equals private

In a hotel bedroom, it is a different story. Here, silence reigns supreme. It’s possible to add the option of music to a bedroom, but what guests are mostly looking for is a space that feels private, where they won’t be overheard. And the best sign that they won’t be overheard is if they can’t overhear anyone else, whether outside or in the room next door.

Factors like noise-reducing internal doors, white noise machines and ambience monitors are all present in some hotels, while the use of sound absorbing paints, curtains, wall art and cushions have all been featured in certain establishments. Even simple design decisions, like choosing carpet over hardwood floors, can make all the difference when it comes to soundproofing.

Soundproofing for focus

But soundproofing isn’t just important in a hotel setting. These measures can also be used when designing for a student accommodation bedroom, especially one where residents are likely to be studying as well as sleeping.

It is no surprise that students can be noisy, so effective soundproofing is vital. If a student has a sleepless night (often caused by noisy roommates) then they are 75% less likely to be able to fully concentrate the next day. This is a hugely important factor for students, of whom 25% suffer with significant anxiety regarding their academic performance.

Soundproofing can also have a more direct benefit on academic performance, as one study published in The Atlantic found. In it, results showed that the best music for productivity is, in fact, silence.

Acoustic care is holistic care

The right acoustics are particularly necessary in a care home setting, where too much noise can cause distress, but clear communication is vital. Even music has been shown to be beneficial in care environments.

The therapeutic potential of music was explored deeply in a report titled ‘What Would Life Be — Without a Song or Dance, What Are We?’ by the Commission on Dementia and Music.

The report revealed that music was currently only available in 5% of care homes, and yet their findings suggest that music can help residents recall information and minimise the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, including agitation, depression and anxiety. It was also shown to help residents retain language, improve quality of life and make end of life care easier.

Design inspired by music

In any setting, you can use sound more metaphorically to inspire great visual design. Some of the key factors associated with music are rhythm, tone and patterns, and these are just as important in interior design too.

Rhythm is about movement and repetition; introducing new elements and interspersing them among regular neutral elements to help them stand out — (think statement pieces of wall arts introduced at regular intervals along a neutral wall). This will help you strike the right balance in a space, using colour and pattern to bring interest without being overwhelming.

Like any good song, a room design must be created with a set tone in mind. Are you creating a luxury traditional space, or something more modern and energetic? With a clear goal, you can create designs which come together in perfect harmony.

No matter what your establishment specialises in, YTM are here to listen and guide. We provide the highest quality contract furniture for a variety of venues, and implement your views, desires and preferences every step of the way. With almost four decades of experience is contract furniture manufacture, you know you’re in safe hands with YTM. Call our team today on 01977 66 50 50 or click here.

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