Beautiful, natural patterns. Warm, elegant finishes. A palette of natural hues. Unbeatable textures. While wood flooring ticks just about every box if you want to conjure up a calm atmosphere, acoustics is perhaps where it falls short. One of the biggest complaints about hardwood floors is that they can be noisy. In this age of open plan design and activity based working, nobody wants their work area to sound like a busy cafeteria.
Whether it’s caused by footsteps, voices, equipment or the occasional bang when something is accidentally dropped, reverberation is the enemy if you want a tranquil environment. Unfortunately, wood doesn’t absorb noise as well as carpet, for instance. Luckily, there is a whole range of imaginative solutions – many of which are as unique as the wood grain patterns and carefully worked finishes we are so passionate about.
Many fabrics are available with sound absorbent qualities. Usually, they’ve been specially engineered and consist of several layers. They deaden the sound through a combination of thin layers of foam wadding, and often feature a scientifically formulated weave or felt covering. Wool-based acoustic products are available if you want to go all-natural, and some suppliers sell the fabrics in forms so that they can be used as coverings for walls and other surfaces in the workspace. Loud and colourful, or soft and muted – the choice is yours.
In a small or medium sized office with a wood floor, the simplest solution might be to add wall coverings, perhaps in combination with a noise-reducing rug.
Dividers are another widely used option, and most models come with some sound absorption qualities. They are often finished with the fabrics mentioned above. Some companies have come up with more innovative designs, such as fabric-covered modular workstations that fit together forming a small village of cubicles. With curves instead of corners and a soft felt finish, they can be put together in intriguing configurations for a feel that’s more cosy than it is cubicle, and helps cut noise.
Furnishing, too, can help reduce annoying reverb in the workspace. Tables, desks and seating are available with noise reduction qualities. One of the best ideas is shelving units that fit into the corners of a room and effectively trap noise, providing you with an attractive storage option and an acoustic solution. And a range of sound deadening ornamentation is available to complement the furnishing. From decorative footrests to lampshades, and from cactus sculptures to ceiling-hung geometric art, items you never imagined now come with an acoustic rating.
If there’s space overhead, look for ceiling-mounted sound deadeners. These come in a variety of designs from companies specialising in office acoustics. Some are simply 30cm deep panels that hang row upon row absorbing sound that bounces up from below, stopping the ceiling reflecting it back. There are also dramatic, three-dimensional wave patterns that can be fixed to the ceiling. Made of lightweight foam, they capture reverberating noise and look fascinating at the same time. A wooden texture underfoot, flowing waves overhead – it could be the perfect finish for anyone inspired by nature.
Multiple Surfaces and Soundproofing
Images courtesy of BuzziSpace
If you’re keen to bring the natural texture of a wood floor into your design, but acoustics are the main objection, then one answer is to use wood flooring in a limited area. An activity based workplace might have several areas, each with its own vibe, and wood flooring might well work in the collaborative space, but not in the quiet contemplation area.
Finally, there is another practical, though non-aesthetic solution. This is simply to install a sound-deadening underlay beneath the wood flooring. Not only does this help reduce impact noise, but it can insulate the space from noise traveling up from the floor below. Battens with a resilient foam layer, screed boards and acoustic mats are all options. In some cases, they can deaden noise in a wood floor environment even better than the alternative – carpet.