October 18, 2023
There are many important elements to consider when it comes to commercial interior design. Have you ever been filled with anticipation as you venture out to experience a new restaurant in your area? You walk in and are dazzled by the design elements and look forward to an excellent meal with great company, only to be overcome by the level of noise in the space. It’s hard to have a conversation with the person across the table from you when it feels like you must yell to be heard.
What’s interesting is that the opposite is also true, especially in a restaurant setting. Too much ambient noise isn’t conducive to intimate conversation, but neither is too little. People don’t want to raise their voice throughout their meal, and they don’t want to feel they have to whisper either. Acoustics are an important element to consider in commercial interior design.
When it comes to acoustics in commercial interior design, there are many elements we need to consider. In restaurants especially, there are often many hard surfaces that cause reverberation of sound within the room. An easy way to think of sound reverberation is that sound will bounce off a hard surface but will be absorbed by a soft surface. When the sound bounces, it causes reverb which is a prolonged resonance of that specific sound.
Commercial spaces are often built with large windows, high, open ceilings, and exposed wood surfaces. All these hard surfaces create a modern, stylish design, but they also lead to sound reverberation, which is great if you’re in a concert hall where you want your voice to carry. Not so great when you only want to be heard by the person across the table.
Earnest Ice Cream (North Vancouver) | Designed by JDG | Photo by Andrew Fyfe Photography
Commercial interior designers are trained to consider more than just the functionality and look of the space they are designing. There is a psychology behind restaurant interior design that takes into consideration all the sensory elements that work together to create a relaxing and enjoyable dining experience. Acoustics are an important sensory element that should be taken into consideration as early as possible in a design concept.
OEB Breakfast Co. (Brentwood) | Designed by JDG | Photo by Twist & Shutter
Interior designers talk about something called “ear-forward” design; considering the importance acoustics play in a person’s overall experience within a space. The first step to ear-forward, acoustic design is deciding what your commercial space will primarily be used for. This may seem straightforward in restaurant interior design – a restaurant is typically used for dining – however, every restaurant owner has their own vision for what the vibe of their restaurant will be. Part of JDG’s interior design services is to bring that vision to life. Which acoustic solutions are implemented will be dependent on the end result the owner is looking for.
Placing soft surfaces within a space can help to lower the ambient noise in a room. In restaurant interior design, you may see acoustic absorption in the form of carpeting, acoustic panels, or sound-absorbing tiles within the ceiling or on the walls. Acoustic absorbing fabrics in a variety of textures, or even live greenery may be dispersed throughout the space to absorb ambient noises.
CQ Express Restaurant (Lougheed Mall) | Designed by JDG | Photo by Christine Pienaar
There are certain sounds that an interior designer would want to isolate to specific locations, such as the noise from the kitchen. More and more restaurants are leaning toward open concept designs, giving their customers a view of a good portion of the kitchen. Though it might be enjoyable for them to see their meal being prepared, there’s a good chance they don’t want to hear it, especially not above the sound of their own conversation.
Sound isolation techniques work to keep sound in one area from escaping out into another. You might see this in the form of a wall between the kitchen and the dining area with a small open window creating an open concept feel while still isolating most of the sound, or a display wall separating the foyer from the dining area. Even the layout of the kitchen will help determine which direction sound travels.
Tap & Barrel (Bridges) | Designed by JDG
Pretty self explanatory, this is simply placing acoustic solutions in the pathway of bouncing soundwaves so they will be interrupted before they can reverberate off another surface. You might see this in the form of a decorative divider within a space, strategically placed open shelving, or even a living wall at the end of a hallway. Acoustic interruptions can serve a functional purpose (aside from bring an acoustic solution), or they can be decorative, giving interior designers room to flex their creative muscles.
Of course, there are other acoustic solutions below the surface that make a significant difference in the ambient noise within a space. Even before the aesthetic elements are in place, the architectural design and floorplan are created with acoustics in mind. Then there are floor treatments, soundproofing within the interior walls, and even window and door solutions to block out the sound of traffic and other exterior sounds. Strategically applied acoustic solutions will make a world of difference in any commercial space and will certainly elevate the dining experience in any restaurant.
OEB Breakfast Co. (Newport Beach) | Designed by JDG
You’re probably beginning to realize that many of the elements in a restaurant design that appear to be simply for show actually serve a much greater purpose. Take a look at one of the JDG team’s past Vancouver design projects to see many of these acoustic solutions in action.
There certainly is a lot to consider when it comes to commercial interior design, which is why hiring an expert is key. If you’re taking on a new project or looking to optimize the acoustics in your current commercial space, contact us today. Our interior design team can help!