Updated: Aug 16
Let’s face it, working from home part or full time as we navigate the pandemic has offered a lot of convenient benefits. But for many professionals the amour has vanished as a large number of workers are finding it increasingly hard to find peace and quiet despite having a dedicated remote work space. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of our best design strategies to stylishly soundproof your home office, or any other room for that matter. From stylish furnishings made with acoustic foam, to simple construction fixes these design tips will be sure to enhance your WFH life.
This year in particular our Pasadena interior design studio has been working with WFH clients by showing them a variety of new products and simple construction techniques to help mitigate the auditory assault they are experiencing. Our goal is to help optimize their spaces so they they feel productive, focused and healthy while working.
This is important because studies have shown that reduced interior noise levels improves quality of life, enhances sleep, reduces stress and anxiety, and helps with concentration and focus as noted in Medical News Today.
And if you have ever experienced constant interruptions of unwanted noise from family, neighbors, landscaping, construction, or traffic, you know how distracting and frustrating it can feel. And not to mention how on-going noise insidiously elevates your stress and anxiety levels, which if endured over a long period of time can contribute to serious health issues.
Since the majority of noise coming into most home offices enters through two entry points: your doors and your windows, let’s take a look at how to address those architectural elements first. Following, we'll review some stylish decorative items you can add to to your home office to absorb sound.
Often times builders will construct homes with hollow-core doors to save money. You can tell they are hollow in the middle by the weight of the doors and the empty sound they make when knocking on them. As such, these doors have a lower STC (sound transmission class) rating than solid-core wood doors. A lower STC rating indicates the product does not reduce airborne sound as well, so conversations outside your door, music or other disturbances will easily pass through. By simply changing out your existing hollow-core door to a nice paint or stain-grade solid core door you can take the first step towards a quieter office.
A quality solid-core wood door is key in blocking sound transmission from other rooms. Photo: Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors
If you are willing to make more of an investment, there are also heavily insulated soundproof doors on the market and they can be found by contacting your city’s local door and window showroom.
Also helpful when addressing doors is to install a door sweep at the bottom. Door sweeps come in many styles and are useful to dampen the sound that sneaks in under your door. And don’t forget about weather stripping around the sides and top of your door, as well as adding a nice threshold at the bottom. All simple things you or a handyman can accomplish in a day.
Now let’s look at the other room entry point where sound sneaks in: your windows.
If you have a home office with street-facing windows the exterior environment can be a major source of unwanted noise, especially if your windows are older single-pane glass models.
Many beautiful historic homes in Pasadena and San Marino still have the original single pane windows which are lovely, but quite inefficient at blocking sound transmission, as well as retaining heat and blocking cold temperatures.
If it’s in your budget, consider replacing your old single pane windows with newer double- or triple-pane units. It’s a big investment, but it will add a lot of value and thermal comfort to your home.
And while we are addressing windows, it’s important to note that hanging nice decorative window treatments such as drape panels or roman shades will also help mitigate loud sounds. We recommend using thicker fabrics as they will aid in absorbing sound waves, as well as help retain heat in the winter. When fabricating custom window treatments it is ideal to add an interlining or thermal lining between the window treatment fabric and the backing. The added interlining will help your drapes hang better, absorb more sound and block heat in your space in the summer and retain warmth in the winter. It is helpful to note, thermal lining is different than blackout lining which is used to block light.
Hanging drape panels, as well as installing upholstered furniture helps absorb sound.
Now that you have evaluated your doors and windows, it’s time to assess your walls.
They may seem innocuous but small cracks and crevices in your drywall, particularly around electrical outlets or HVAC ducts, will allow sound to enter your space through the tiny openings. It’s best to fill all of these gaps with a good all-purpose caulk.
If you are willing to take on a larger project that involves opening up your walls and/or ceiling, you can upgrade your home's insulation which will significantly help with noise reduction, as well as make it more energy efficient.
Alternatively, if you don't want to open up walls, you could have a contractor glue a layer of acoustic board on top of your existing walls and then add another layer of drywall on top of that. Keep in mind this would not be ideal if you are tight on space. Also, this addition of wall thickness would also require extending or moving electrical outlets, adding jamb extensions to doors, and removing and reinstalling door and window casings and your room's baseboards. All important considerations to discuss with a contractor.
And lastly, when addressing your interior walls, remember bare walls create an echo chamber. This is can be particularly evident when you are on a conference call and the sound of your voice bounces off the bare walls and creates an annoying echo effect for listeners. A great way to dampen excess noise is to install colorful acoustic wall panels on one wall and make it a stylish focal point.
Fun and colorful felt acoustic wall tiles are a creative way to add style and personality to your remote workspace, while minimizing undesirable noise. We love the color and pattern selections from both Feltright and Knoll. These wall-mounted felt tiles, which come in a large variety of colors and patterns are also a great solution for home classrooms and play spaces, as well as home theaters and media rooms.
Felt-right acoustic wall tiles are customizable and can serve double duty as pin boards.
Photo: Felt Right
Another sound absorption solution is to upholster your walls as seen in many high-end home theatres. Upholstered walls fabricated from a beautiful ultra-suede, eye-catching velvet, or handsome leather can add style and a little lux while dampening sound. The wrapped walls also create a sense of coziness as they envelop you with a sense of texture and color. Quite enjoyable when you are spending a lot of hours in your workspace.
After assessing your walls, it is important to ascertain if your room’s flooring is contributing to room's elevated noise levels.
Last year, when remodeling our client’s third-story Old Town Pasadena condo, we addressed this issue by installing a very effective sound control floor underlayment from AcoustiCORK. The cork flooring underlayment was laid on top of our client's concrete sub-floor and under his new contemporary grey porcelain tile flooring and greatly improved the acoustic performance of his space.
Cork underlayments come in a variety of thicknesses and can be installed under wood, tile and vinyl flooring by a skilled flooring subcontractor. Underlayments are often required by HOA's when remodeling a space in a multi-story property.
If engaging in a construction project such as adding a flooring underlayment is not in your budget, another acoustic solution is to add thick and soft area rugs on top of your flooring. Area rugs will help absorb harsh noises and can add color, texture and warmth to your work space.
Wall-to-wall carpet in a home office is also an option, but not as popular a choice if you have pets, children, are chemically sensitive or struggle with allergies. While carpet is very comfortable to the touch, it can trap dust, mold spores and stains, as well as off-gas. All important considerations. If we specify carpet we prefer to select a product that is made from natural fibers such as wool, sisal and jute, as opposed synthetic fibers, and also encourage clients to use a vacuum with a HEPA-filter.
Now that we have addressed the architectural elements of your space, let’s cover a favorite of all designers: furnishings.
Loud echoes in your space are typically caused by an abundance of exposed, hard surfaces such wood office furniture, metal file cabinets, countertops, and hard surface flooring as mentioned above.
A simple way to diminish annoying noise is to add upholstered furniture such as a cozy upholstered chair or sofa with attractive decorative pillows. Your office task chair seat and back can also be upholstered. Selecting contract- grade, upholstery-weight fabrics is recommended and available in a variety of beautiful colors and textures.
Furniture made from acoustic foam is a savvy design solution to absorb sound.
Another design strategy often used in commercial environments is to select furniture made of acoustic foam. Manufacturer BuzziSpace offers some playful and colorful acoustic poufs, chairs and sofas that add an element of fun and style, while reducing echo and reverberation. A variety of shapes and sizes are available and add a unique "active seating" element to any interior.
We hope these acoustic solutions help enhance your remote work space so you can work in peace and thrive by design.
Gail E. Jamentz, Principal of Soul Interiors Design, proudly serves the communities of Pasadena, San Marino, La Cañada Flintridge, Sierra Madre, South Pasadena, Altadena, Glendale, Los Angeles, Newport Beach, Palm Desert, and Palm Springs.