The sound of SILENCE |

The sound of SILENCE

Submitted photos by Erin Miller

I love the sensation of waking up and feeling it, hearing it. I know even before I look outside – it has snowed!

It’s silent, but it is more than that. A muffler has been thrown over everything, and it seems as if the world has stopped moving, stopped breathing. It is a magical pause,

I hear no air currents, no footsteps, no distant, ever-present hums. I’m on a sensory vacation.

I love that feeling!

Silence and calm are very hard to come by in our lives.

The world seems to be much more active and noisy with each passing year. And design trends have amplified the challenges of noise for us.

While several decades ago, homes had individual rooms for distinct functions, current design trends have us removing walls and creating large, open, noisy spaces.

And this is not just happening in homes. Current trends have commercial designers creating large, open work areas which can house dozens of work stations.

They add furniture groupings for impromptu meetings and brainstorming, but very few walls, private offices and meeting rooms.

These open designs are intended to foster more teamwork and collaboration so that the company is drawing the most possible benefit from the combined knowledge of their people. It makes sense and can be effective.

People are inspired by each other and great teamwork occurs. But it can be challenging to concentrate in these open spaces.

I have worked to modify the interiors of CENTURY 21 Gold Dust Realty in Grass Valley to be open and fun, but to function well as the number of people, the tasks, and the day-to-day activities change.

Technologies have completely changed the way transactions are processed in real estate, and activity has skyrocketed during the past year or so. Now the spaces have to function perfectly for lots of busy people and equipment.

I’ve worked to quiet the work areas without building full walls and private offices everywhere.

I wanted to do this in an artistic and interesting way. So I turned to one of my favorite techniques and started covering sound board with fabric.

Sound board comes in 4 foot by 8 foot sheets and can be easily cut into any shape you want. It absorbs and muffles sounds tremendously, and pins can be pushed into it so it can be a great bulletin board.

This particular real estate office gets tons of walk-in traffic which causes lots of conversations to occur near the centralized entry and administrative area.

To contain the conversations and not disturb others trying to work, we created a small meeting room just off the entry. It is perfect to duck into for conversations.

In this small meeting room, I added a huge, wall-to-wall framed fabric art installation which is backed by sound board.

To create the art, I gathered many yards of fabrics in colors and patterns in warm earth tones and reds.

Then I wove 16-inch wide strips of fabric at a slight angle so that the finished weave is a diamond pattern.

Now, voices in that room are almost swallowed up by the sound-absorbing backing and fabrics. It really does its job and looks great, too.

In other parts of the office, there are cubicle work stations. Lots of people are walking around, clients and agents are headed to meeting rooms.

So muffling noise in the passages and common areas was critical, too. I did this by adding several different sound-deadening art installations.

First, I was inspired by how beautiful peacocks are when their tail feathers are all fanned out.

So I chose bright and colorful fabrics in blues, greens and purples and cut the sound board in shapes that could replicate the look of a peacock’s plumes.

I think the result is fun and functional. It does help capture and dampen noise in adjacent areas, and I plan to add several more like this.

In another area, I gathered fabric in soft folds kind of like drapes being pulled to the side as you look out a window. This window effect helps break up the boring cubicle walls.

Finally, on the interior of every work station cubbie, each person has their own sound-absorbing bulletin board wrapping their walls.

Wrapped in gorgeous fabrics, these bulletin boards are attractive, but they also absorb voices as agents talk on the phone.

It keeps voices from bouncing to all corners of the office.

Design is always about balancing form and function.

And in open spaces which are so popular today, muffling noise is critical but it can be done in an artistic way.

While these exact styles and colors may not suit you, the concept is extremely versatile and I can certainly imagine doing similar work with more contemporary or even masculine results.

Erin Miller is the owner of Erin Miller Designs in Grass Valley. Erin can be reached at 530-477-1401 or

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