Gleaming, elegant luxury home designs replete with polished timber, high shine glazing, marble tiling, brushed metal finishes, you name it – they tap into our current obsession with minimalist chic and period exoticism alike. They also present a wonderful visual feast for the eye. But it’s important to note that, unless handled with care, they can result in a serious assault on the ear, significantly diminishing their luxury pulling power.
Enter the new specialism in luxury modern homes – acoustic design. The charge here is generally believed to have been led by the abundance of new luxury high rise apartment developments springing up in major Australian cities – there are codes for such things after all. However concerns over acoustics are also gaining ground in any urban, suburban or even rural luxury home where noise is a factor. Million dollar homes located near major traffic routes or under flight paths are susceptible to the invasion of unwanted sound, which, according to medical evidence, is not only unpleasant but can have harmful health outcomes. And aside from such external sound impacts, the most beautiful homes can in themselves inadvertently harbour and amplify sound to an undesirable degree.
None of this speaks of luxury; no matter how divine your property looks and feels – if it sounds unbearable, you’ll want a permanent vacation from it; not what you had in mind for your dream home. Thanks to the ingenuity of today’s product designers, there are a number of wall treatments available that are the first port of call for many homeowners.
And it’s no surprise that many luxury home builders will engage the services of an acoustical engineer. Acoustical engineering is the branch of engineering dealing with sound and vibration. It is the application of acoustics, the science of sound and vibration, in technology. Acoustical engineers typically work with the design, analysis and control of sound. So what does their involvement bring to the design mix?
Firstly, their input will typically include an assessment of acoustic design early in the concept or master-planning phase. In modern luxury homes, the business of managing acoustics is now regarded as a highly specialised process encompassing a number of considerations. Many architects and luxury home builders will take into account all potential sources of noise and their impact on residents at the inception stage of the design process. Meanwhile knowledge of sound and how it is transmitted to create an acoustic design is vital.
“The key point to understand is that noise is classified into two categories: Airborne noise such as music or loud voices travels through the air while impact noise is created by vibrations caused by footsteps or structural issues within the building.”
To optimise the best acoustic outcomes, most luxury home builders will use both design and specialised products to create a noise free, relaxing environment.
When it comes to design, the layout of the home itself is a key consideration. So locating bedrooms, libraries and lounge areas as far away from noise sources such as busy roads is vital. From an interior design point of view the addition of added structures within the home is an acoustic boon. For bedrooms, living areas, libraries, kitchens and even large luxury bathrooms, floor-to-ceiling shelving, cupboards and wardrobes with solid wood doors and high quality seals are also a great and highly useful barrier to unwanted noise.
Many builders will use sound absorbing materials wherever possible to mitigate noise impact. Sound absorption is the ability of a material to absorb the sound energy and convert it into heat. Sound-absorbent products will diffuse noise and reduce its ability to transmit through a surface. One classic example of such materials is sound-absorbing glass.
Meanwhile sound blocking can be achieved through the use of heavy materials to prevent noises from transmitting out of or into spaces or rooms. In recent times, product designers have been busy at work and there are now a number of acoustic materials available on the market, designed to co-ordinate seamlessly with the architectural aesthetic of modern luxury homes. Solutions include acoustic floor underlay products, which work to reduce impact noise by isolating floor finishes from the main structure of the building, which in turn reduces the impact of foot traffic. Sound transmission between rooms can be managed using high-performance insulation, often layered with CSR Gyprock and CSR Hebel to optimise the acoustic outcome. Other products include components required for wall, floor and ceiling soundproofing – acoustic mineral wool, acoustic quilts, soundproofing mats, resilient bars, acoustic carpet underlay and cement impregnated T&G particle board. Great new products that are easy on the eye are exemplified by Gingko Acoustic Panels – by Stone Designs, pictured below.
If you’ve ever been plagued by those weird and wonderful pipe and plumbing noises – the ones that seem oddly persistent in the small hours of the morning – it’s a welcome development that these can now be reduced using an acoustic barrier external wrap. Meanwhile unwanted noise from washing machines can be reduced using anti-vibration mounts, or indeed through the luxury of locating the laundry in a separate place from the main action of the home.
Adding textiles and fabric to the home is a time-honoured way of further reducing acoustic interruption, boosted by the current trend for adding texture to your interior design scheme. Well executed, “fabric” walls look (and sound) great, with materials such as wool and faux suede being among the most popular choices. Installation involves battening and padding the walls behind the face fabric (acoustic mineral wool can be used as padding to increase soundproofing). Of course for owners of luxury modern homes, finish is everything; this means that the installation really needs to be carried out by a fabric walling specialist.
Finally, while this isn’t really a solution in itself, a simple and supplementary option is to deck windows with full-length lined and interlined curtains; adorn walls with textiles and wall-hangings, invest in sumptuous thick carpets with quality underlay, and scatter floorboards with exotic rugs.