"Acoustics characterize a space as much as lighting, color, and scale," says designer Peter Bentel of Bentel & Bentel. And if the ideal is an interior that engenders a pleasant, energetic buzz, not the high-pitched racket of a late-night bar, many restaurants fall wide of the mark.
Acoustics are generally easier to manage with smaller rooms. "Any room with more than 100 people is hard to control; they make a lot of noise," says Cass Calder Smith, of CCS Architects in California. "The key is to keep the pitch low. One trick is to incorporate acoustic panels on the ceiling."
Designers have devised all manner of other noise-dampening techniques: "At Mazzo restaurant in Amsterdam, we created large canvas artworks, which function as good acoustic baffles," says Rob Wagemans of Concrete Architectural Associates. "You can also use a latex stretch ceiling as a membrane with foam beneath—–it resembles a smooth plastered ceiling." Making a regular space irregular also helps, but because one can’t always alter a space, consider making two perpendicular walls absorptive. If you can’t beat the sound, you can at least shape it.