We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Gunter & Co Interiors Founder, Irene Gunter, answering ‘What exactly is an Acoustician?’. We are delighted to share this interview with you here.
An introduction from Irene: "When we work with our clients, we design their homes intrinsically around how they use their space. Considering the role of sound is becoming an increasingly important conversation - from soundproofing a musicians home studio to controlling reverberations in a beautiful Georgian town hall. When we met acoustician, Ross Sharples of Rossco Ltd, we learnt a huge amount about how sound works within the home and how by working together, we can elevate the spaces we design that little bit more. We asked Ross to share with us a bit more about what an acoustician is and how he got started".
When and how was Rossco founded?
Rossco was founded in November 1997. Following several years as a musician, I decided to embark on a mission to understand sound in every way I could. I used my contact, party planner extraordinaire (and ex-business partner), William Bartholomew to get a foothold in the private events industry. I have never advertised and I have never looked back. Word of mouth took me deep into this incredible industry of unique events, which as I have said, led to the birth of ‘acoustics’ in 2010.
We now have two arms to the business:
AV & Sound Design - the design, supply and operation of sound and video systems for high profile private and corporate events. These include some the most extravagant private parties in amazing places across UK and abroad. Often with A-List entertainment. These are the kind of parties that you don’t even read about because they are not about publicity or show-biz, but enjoyment.
Acoustics - the design and supply of high-quality acoustic treatment solutions for hospitality, high end residential public, and commercial spaces. For example, retrofitting a celebrity’s ultra-modern house so that he can make as much noise as he likes in the studio without disturbing his wife and new-born baby.
What are acoustics, and why do they matter?
Acoustics is the understanding of what sound does once it has been created; does it bounce around, reflect, escape or get absorbed?
The acoustics of a space directly affect our wellbeing and comfort. A simple example is in a bedroom; our hearing never switches off so if it is reverberant or noisy, a continuous stress response is caused by the release of cortisol into our brains. This lessens the quality of sleep and leaves us tired, less tolerant, less able to concentrate and with potentially serious mental health issues.
That same hormone is released in a noisy restaurant or kitchen dining room preparing you for ‘fight or flight’, not your main course!
‘Bad acoustics’ are experienced when the sound reflections in a room interfere with what your brain expects to hear; either causing distortion, decreasing vocal intelligibility, or are too dead, it works both ways.
Our brains constantly compensate for poor acoustics to make life more understandable, but this comes at the cost of mental fatigue. In the short term this leads to tiredness, irritability, loss of appetite, and loss of cognition – none of which pertain to comfortable living or functional spaces.
In the long term this can lead to hearing loss, serious mental health issues, and isolation for people with deteriorating hearing. Low frequency vibration can even cause nausea and physical illness.
Sound and acoustics underwrite all of our other senses, constantly reassuring us that everything is ok, or alerting us when it isn’t. We keep hearing even when we are asleep, it never switches off, yet it is ignored as the poor relation to ‘sight’.
It’s about creating a pleasant place to be, poor acoustics can really affect your enjoyment of a space.
How would you describe your craft and what do you bring to an interior design project?
If solving acoustic problems was as simple as finding places to put some fluffy panels from a DIY shop, then I would not be in business.
Where and how an absorber is mounted will affect its performance. To perform a ‘proper’ correction of the sound properties it takes expert input, not a DIY approach, and that is what Rossco offer.
Good design is a creative and technical response to a client`s needs. I will ensure that it performs well acoustically but understand that it needs to look good.
We talk your language and integrate ours.
At what stage in an interior design project should acoustics be considered? How do you get involved?
Ideally acoustics would be taught at ‘interior design school’ to a meaningful level and be considered as part of the design process from the start, but they’re not. Equally most of our work is rectifying things that could have been considered at a much earlier stage but if people actually did this then I’d be out of business!
Rossco tend to get involved in a project once a problem has developed.
We analyse the space to quantify the problem. This can either be predicted using computer modelling from plan or measured on site in real time. We then look at the functionality of the room to determine what the acoustics should be like and propose solutions to achieve this. We can then demonstrate to a client ‘where they are’, ‘where they should be’ and ‘where they could be’ at different price points. This graphic representation is an easy thing to understand, and triggers lots of questions and involvement from interested parties.
Parameters can be changed to experiment with different finishes, fittings, furniture etc.
How do you decide what elements are missing from an interior to create better acoustics?
Bad room acoustics often come down to reverberation, and early reflections of sound energy. These phenomena are rectified by absorbing and diffusing the sound energy.
Crudely speaking, you just need some soft ‘absorbent’ furnishings to balance with hard ‘reflective’ surfaces. There is obviously more to it than that to get a nicely balanced result and to meet the functionality of the room, or to meet particular building standards.
We can model the space to predict the effects of introducing one thing or another. We can include in the models existing surface finishes, furnishings, even the presence of people, in order to achieve the right atmosphere when the room is in use.
What are your guiding principles when it comes to making sure the acoustics of a space sound comfortable?
I derive immense pleasure from designs and experiences where everything `fits into place`, perfectly. Form will always take second place to function, but that rarely means compromise. It is the same with acoustics and rooms, the acoustics are an intrinsic part of the whole experience and must be perfect. I strive to achieve this by considering:
What is the intended function of the room?
Who will be using it?
What else might the space be used for?
How will it look?
What are your favourite interior trends that help with acoustic qualities?
The most useful trend is not a product or aesthetic, but an attitude. Interior designers are increasingly prepared to listen, understand, and accept that acoustics is a ‘thing’ that is not only ‘worth’ considering, but that it must be considered, for health and wellbeing purposes.
Once it is accepted as being a ‘must’, it is no longer a compromise, a hinderance, an option or an added cost. It is a must, and it doesn’t always need any further attention, so long as it has been considered.
Head over to Part Two, for more on interior finishes, our favourite project, and the impact of acoustics on wellbeing.