easy on the ears

textured wall panel
View Gallery 4 Photos
textured wall panel
Textured wall panel

by Jessa Cast

As residential projects trend toward open, undivided spaces with more exposed steel, concrete, and glass than ever before, a troubling detriment tags along: uncontrolled reverberation. Reverberation occurs when a sound is made, immediately reflects off of a nearby surface, and repeats itself in a layered confusion (not to be confused with the more distinct “echo”). Everyone knows the frustration of attempting to engage in conversation in these modern spaces brimming with unbridled sound, feeling like they just can’t hear. The problem isn’t that there’s too much sound. The problem is runaway sound, which stems from lots of hard surfaces for sounds to bounce against, lots of right angles enabling those sound waves to travel, and little to no attenuation in place.

Many industrial-style restaurants suffer from this, but proprietors aren’t necessarily aware it’s an issue. “They like the liveliness,” explains acoustic treatment professional Donald Salas, owner of Eagle Rock Contracting (eaglerocknm.com) in Albuquerque. “They want it to sound busy. But the staff and customers can’t really hear one another.” Similarly, people may be most irritated by untenable din levels in their own homes, where it’s hard to understand the television or party guests. Sound attenuation often isn’t discussed when building or buying a new home.

The good news is there are ways to make living spaces aurally friendly, even after moving in. “Ideally, you want to cut sound travel time down to one second, or less for a music studio,” explains Salas. For 37 years he’s installed acoustic tile ceilings in commercial buildings and schools, but lately has been installing attractive, home-worthy solutions as well, which is especially of interest to the millennial generation looking to marry aesthetics and function.

“We’re finally incorporating sound into the design of a building instead of treating it as an afterthought.” —Dave Hamlin


To mitigate disruptive sound, there are several options that can be purchased and installed by the homeowner or executed by a professional. To diminish sound reverberation, the easiest fix is to install sound-absorbing panels on two adjacent walls, or a ceiling and adjacent wall. Salas recommends CMA (Creative Materials for Acoustics) panels, which hang like stylized cushions just below the ceiling or may be wall-mounted. These days they come in all shapes and sizes and can be modi ed. By painting them or adding prints, CMA panels can serve as artistic installations. Higher-end versions can even be printed with high-definition photos, making them very functional art. After all, no one wants obvious acoustics. For a small, DIY improvement, simply attach sound-dampening panels to the backside of existing canvas art.

David Hamlin, creative director of Albuquerque-based Submaterial (submaterial.com), accidentally stumbled upon this growing niche where art and sound treatments merge. He originally started designing in felt for the aesthetic of the material, and then the acoustic aspect became prominent. Submaterial’s 100 percent wool felt is sourced from FilzFelt, a German company.

“It’s engineered for beauty, but it has a terrific NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) value,” says Hamlin. Hamlin quickly recognized a need in “huge, open-plan spaces where the acoustics are horrible.” Now Submaterial makes bespoke felt treatments in a variety of colors and textured designs, from smaller, portable, wall-hung panels to entire wall coverings. All their products are custom-made, modular, flexibly contemporary with subtle midcentury modern stylings, and totally green. Some can even be used as a sort of movable sound-absorbing curtain. More ideas are in the works, including wool felt tabletop décor and lighting options. The company is offering a firsthand look at its products at an open house on Thursday, September 27, 4–9 PM, at 6000 Midway Park Blvd, Suite B, in Albuquerque. All design enthusiasts are welcome, and Hamlin says everyone who drops by will be automatically entered to win a hand- made, wool felt design panel.

Bottom line: by incorporating some tasteful sound treatments, denizens of modern homes can proudly have guests over and hear them, too. Even listening to music while home alone will be a richer, audibly clearer experience. “We’re finally incorporating sound into the design of a building instead of treating it as an afterthought,” says Hamlin.

Easy on the ears and the eyes.