Project and home studios are often located in basements and spare bedrooms, which have numerous limitations. For many studio owners, major reconstruction and remodeling aren’t an option—surface treatments, furnishings, lighting, color, and equipment are about all that may be changed.
Despite this, many personal studios rise above their limitations and become comfortable, inspiring places to compose and record music. To try and track the elements of creatively successful personal studios, we consulted Beth Walters—Interior Designer with the Walters-Storyk Design Group—who has designed an incredible array of studios of every price point and size. Our discussion revealed myriad suggestions and techniques that an interior designer might use to create a vibrant, relaxing, inspiring studio space.
Are there techniques for making a small room feel more spacious and open?
Eliminate as much clutter as possible and keep your color scheme monochromatic — using shades of one color. Once a person called our office and asked what they should do with their 20′ x 20′ basement space. Our quick answer was: “Make a closet.” This would eliminate clutter and of course eliminate a serious potential standing wave problem.
What makes a studio feel comfortable and relaxing for long hours of work?
Good ergonomics, soothing lighting, coordinated colors and a great chair. We all know how much gear we can collect, but there are other things that we might consider using as a focal point in our room. How about a piece of art? Or some really nice pillows on a seating area? And, of course, you must have a really good chair. The Hermann Miller Aeron has been around for years and in my opinion is still the one. It’s classy, and it lasts.
Are there particular room layout/ergonomic principles that you recommend?
Room layout is always a personal thing. There’s really no right or wrong way to work. Most people want to be able to get to almost everything easily and quickly—kind of like of an airplane pilot. The problem arises when there’s too much equipment for this to happen. Make sure you can wheel your chair easily to critical listening positions. Put the most important items closest to the acoustic centerline of the room. When you have positioned everything where it feels correct then make the acoustics work. Symmetry is the single most important design element you can introduce in arranging a room.
Facing the window or not depends on your personal preference. Some producers will only look forward when working with talent—end of story. If there’s a great view from your studio, make this work for you. For Carter Burwell, in New York City, the view of lower Manhattan was absolutely a requirement in organizing the primary listening position of the room. Again, when the window decision has been made, then make the acoustics work. Remember glass isn’t a bad thing in a studio environment. What is bad are reflections from any surface that will cause harsh acoustic responses, such as comb filtering. Almost any piece of glass can be made to work acoustically in your room.
What lighting mistakes do studio owners often make?
The single biggest mistake is not paying attention to the lights. For most people, lighting is an afterthought. Get some advice, choose the fixtures carefully, make sure that they’re properly matched with the dimmers—as this is what usually makes noise in a studio—and think about maintenance.
How do you recommend small studios deal with the inevitable clutter problem?
If you can splay acoustic treatments and equipment away from the walls it gives you the opportunity to incorporate storage behind them. Raise some equipment up and put storage below. Order extra racks and install drawers in them. Maybe the whole room can be oriented on a different axis where you will end up with storage space in the front or on the sides that you didn’t realize you had.
What methods do you use to hide the multitude of cables that must run throughout a studio?
This is always a tricky subject. For small rooms, the most successful solution is to house the cables within the studio furniture. The few wires that have to leave the central furniture piece can either be worked into sidewall treatments, perimeter wire raceways, or an occasional wire run on the floor covered with wire mold. Another trick is to have a platform in the front of the room. This allows the wires required for front speakers, amps, and video monitors to be placed in a trough with a removable cover. —Mitch Gallagher
More posts about home music recording studios: Home Studio Posts: advice on how to record, music gear, guides, and pro insights (March 2012)
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