The Sound of Home: House Noises That Bring Us Comfort

Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Thinks the Way a Home Sounds Can Be Just as Beautiful as How It Looks

Adding Softness to a Home

As interior designers, we get very caught up in the visuals of a home (and rightfully so). We go through the details of a project, asking ourselves questions like: 

What color should we paint the wood paneling? What fabric pattern would look best on the chair? What stain should go on the hardwood floors?  

But what about the sound? I love the way homes sound — all of those little house noises, the creaks and hums, come together for a beautiful symphony that’s more comforting than any lullaby. Growing up, I’d lie in bed at night listening to the gentle tune of the dishwasher running. Before I’d fall asleep, I’d wait to hear my dad drag the kitchen chair back along the floor. It brought a sense of comfort knowing he was just down the hall, reading a book at the kitchen table.    

Take a minute and listen to your home now. What house noises do you hear? 

House Noises

House Noises Can Indicate a Problem… 

House noises often get a bad rap. When peace and quiet are the standard, interruptions of creaks, rattles, and whistles sound the alarm — especially for folks who haven’t learned to embrace the sounds of an older home. Hissing could indicate a faulty radiator. Rattles could signal an infestation of mice. And scratching could be coming from the ghost looking to make friends with the home’s new owners. More often than not, though, the creaks, hums, and whirls are just your home playing you a beautiful song. 

…Or Come Together for a Symphony of Comfort 

The sounds of home have a way of letting us know we are safe and protected in our space. Back in the early days of my interior design career, I’d hear the sounds of my roommate walking across the creaking floors and know she made it home safely after a night out. In the first apartment my husband and I shared, I’d wake up to the sweet tune of the squeaking pipes as he’d shower before work. This symphony makes for a comfortable home. So much so that folks with quiet new builds even play white noise on their speakers to give their space that much-needed layer of comfort. Many of us, especially those who grew up in older homes or noisy cities, need that extra layer of sound to feel secure. It’s why we prefer to sleep to the sound of a running dishwasher, whirling fan, rattling air conditioning unit, or traffic outside the window. 

Austin Interior Designer - Amity Worrel 2

Designing Around the Sounds of Home 

I once read a book detailing an architect who purposely designed and built new houses to mimic the sounds of older homes. So, you could walk into the newly constructed space and hear the squeak of the wood floors beneath your feet. Clearly, I am not alone in loving the sounds of an old home! 

Breaking in wood plank floors to pre-squeak might be an extreme move for some. However, there are many other design considerations to keep in mind when it comes to conducting your symphony of home sounds. 

Adding Softness to a Home

Adding Softness 

Let’s start by making a home sound softer rather than quieter. One of my favorite ways to add that delicate acoustic quality is through cork floors or large area rugs. These materials provide a quiet thud rather than the hard clack of tile or wood. Plus, they feel great underfoot. Another way to soothe the orchestra is through textiles. Upholstering the walls, adding floor-to-ceiling drapes, and hanging tapestries will remove any harsh echo or reverberation to create an even, peaceful sound quality. 

Signaling Transitions  

As designers, we can also use the sound qualities of materials to signal transitions into new spaces. In A Pattern Language, Architect Christopher Alexander defines the Intimacy Gradient, which is the basic principle that a home’s spaces become more and more private as you move from the front yard to the living room and back to the bedrooms. Using a material like gravel on the front walk signals by sound to guests that they have transitioned from the public sphere and are entering a new, private world. The sound of a heavy front door closing confirms they made it inside. 

Conveying Comfort  

We feel protected by the sounds of home, and I encourage my clients to embrace these gentle hums and whirls, especially in older period houses. However, many advances in construction materials and appliances are eliminating some of the tunes we grew up with. For example, soundproof windows cut out any street noise, and many dishwasher designs are completely silent. Consider the sounds you grew up with and which you’d like to have in your space. Maybe we decide to go with a dishwasher model that still makes some noise you can hear down the hall, if that’s what comforts you.  

Sounds of an Old Home

Listen to the Sounds of Home

I live in an older home, and I love listening to all the noises that come with it. I guess I just love the way our homes talk to us! I invite you to take a closer listen to your home and think about the little sounds that bring you comfort throughout the day and at night, whether it’s a creaky door that signals when the kids come home from school or the dishwasher lullaby that puts you to sleep every night. 

Embrace the sounds of home, from the creaky floorboards to the moaning ghosts!  

Austin Interior Designer