We all know too much noise in the office can have an effect on staff productivity: creating issues with increased stress levels, discomfort and finally decreasing efficiency. All these can be side effects of poor acoustics in offices. Curtains and blinds are actually a very effective, low key way of improving the acoustic performance of the workplace and consequently staff wellness.
Open plan creates acoustic challenges
The trend towards open plan offices and agile workspaces has led to acoustic considerations becoming an increasingly important factor for architects and interior designers when working on new and refurbishment office projects. Controlling noise levels in open plan spaces is notoriously difficult, given the expanse of hard surfaces and now the ever growing use of floor to ceiling glass both externally and internally. There’s also an increasing trend in modern office interiors of ‘industrial’ style spaces with exposed ceilings.
Workspaces reflecting homes
So to counteract this, we’ve seen a move to include more ‘soft’ surfaces, with office furniture mixed with pieces like sofas and chairs that could also happily sit in a private house. And yes – curtains! The ‘home from home’ look also sits well with the coworking spaces vibe, and a more relaxed attitude in the design of working spaces generally.
In glazed areas, roller blinds, vertical blinds or panel blinds have better acoustic properties than metal venetian blinds. There are also several acoustic fabrics manufactured that are suitable for use with roller blinds and panel blinds that have a significant impact in reducing reverberation times (echo) as well as providing protection from heat and glare.
When selecting a blind or curtain fabric with acoustic properties in mind, look for the fabric’s ‘Acoustic Absorption Factor’ αw. High absorbing materials will tend towards a 1.
Special roller blind fabric absorbing as much as 25mm thick acoustic felt!
Acoustic screen fabrics suitable for roller blinds and panel blinds are less than 0.5mm thick yet have a score of up to 0.8αw – the same absorption properties of 25mm thick acoustic felt. Imagine blinds with acoustic fabric covering floor to ceiling external glazing on all four sides of an office building and you can quickly appreciate the positive impact this has on the acoustic performance of the office!
Velvet curtains – form with function
Curtains in boardrooms have long been installed to external windows to provide light exclusion and improved acoustics whilst adding a touch of luxury to the ambience of the room. Heavy wool serge or velvet curtains are typically used in this situation or fabric lined with a thick acoustic lining.
The fullness of the curtain will also have an impact on its’ acoustic performance. Curtain fullness is the amount of fabric used to make the curtain. The more pleats and the bigger the pleat size used to make a curtain the more fabric is required and thus the fullness of the curtain is greater. Curtain fullness is expressed as a percentage, so a curtain with 100% fullness uses double the amount of fabric than the finished width of the curtain.
Sheers – more than meets the eye
Recent advances in curtain fabric manufacture means that acoustic lightweight sheer and voile curtains are available with the same acoustic properties as heavy wool serge and velvet curtains. Creation Baumann has probably the widest range of acoustic fabrics – over 90 fabrics in 200 different colours. Some of these fabric score as much as 1.2 αw. Fabrics like these are ideal for internal glazing or as stand-alone room dividers, giving a good degree of privacy whilst still allowing light through.
A very popular solution to quickly create temporary ‘rooms’ within open plan areas is the installation of track with voile or sheer curtains, creating that softer vibe and simultaneously bringing in the acoustic qualities of fabric. It’s another opportunity to bring in further contrasts in textures, adding to the interior design. The modern ‘Wave’ curtain system from Silent Gliss creates visually stunning curtains by creating uniform ‘Wave’ pleats down the entire height of the curtain. This minimalistic soft furnishing is ideally suited to corporate interiors.