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The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: Ronn Residence, Houston

Nov 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

Texas Green

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Both a recording studio and home theater, the large room is outfitted with XLR inputs in the walls, a Pioneer PDP-507CMX 50in. plasma TV, and separate loudspeaker systems for the theater and live performance.

Both a recording studio and home theater, the large room is outfitted with XLR inputs in the walls, a Pioneer PDP-507CMX 50in. plasma TV, and separate loudspeaker systems for the theater and live performance.

In early 2004, David Ronn, a bass-playing lawyer in Houston, started the process of building a new house. He wanted his family's new home to be environmentally friendly — a forward-thinking proposition at a time before Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) had described green building standards for houses. Designer Kathleen Reardon of Evergreen Design started on the job, and Ronn's love of playing and recording music would soon pull another professional into the planning.

One of the principles of green building is maximizing the use of a building's space. Ronn decided that he wanted a room that served as a dining room, a living room, and a full recording studio and practice space for his two bands. As he started brainstorming the room's design, Ronn visited Auralex Acoustics' website, using an interactive module that would tell him the type and amount of acoustical treatment that a particular room would need to turn it into a recording studio. Auralex then referred Ronn to Bob Suffolk of Suffolk Studio Design, a Dallas-based firm that specializes in custom acoustics, interior design, and vintage furniture. Ronn's plans created a couple key challenges for Suffolk: powering and soundproofing a full recording studio in an environmentally friendly fashion, and accommodating all the room's purposes in an aesthetically pleasing way. “He was looking for a unique designer and some product, and he didn't know where to start,” Suffolk says.

Suffolk got involved early enough in the house's design that he was able to work with Evergreen Design and have significant input on the shape of the multipurpose room. The process of making the chameleon-like space look clean and simple was a very complex one, according to Suffolk. “You have to have a big room,” he says, “but the bigger the room, the more you need to deflect, reflect, absorb, and diffuse the sound.” Working with the architects, he designed an approximately 17ft.-high ceiling for the room. “We used a combination of materials so the room doesn't have any standing waves in it,” he says, explaining that he wanted to absorb enough sound without sucking the bass out of the room. “We want to hear the room — we wanted to be able to put ambient mics up, like in a professional studio.” The studio features a Rode NTK tube condenser mic, a Shure SM58, a Shure Beta 58A, and several Shure SM57 mics.

Ronn had specific aesthetic ideas for the bigger room: He wanted a clean look that he calls “Texas Industrial Deco.”

“We had to carefully do the acoustics so that it didn't look like a recording studio,” Suffolk says. He used Auralex's Elite Custom Fabric System for about 70 percent of the wall surface area. This is a high-density, recyclable cotton material behind gray acoustic fabric from Guilford of Maine. The ceiling of the large room is covered with 17.5'×4' convex and concave panels with parabolic diffusers inside them. “I designed those four to five years ago,” Suffolk says. “It kills off the reverberation in there, but it keeps the room very live — but not live so that it's reflective.” For the control room, Suffolk chose for the rear wall Auralex/Russ Berger pArtScience 4in. pyramid foam, made of a soy oil-based rubber. Cut into elliptical patterns, these tiles diffuse and deaden sound at the back of the small control room.

Other environmentally friendly materials play prominent roles within the house. The floors are bamboo, which replenishes in nature much more quickly than other hard woods. “We have a heavy wood frame between the control room and the studio room. In there we put 4in. high-density rock wall,” Suffolk says. “That's like lava — it's fibered rock.” This soundproofing material is not manmade from a petroleum-based source, and it's semi-recyclable, according to Suffolk. Auralex S-Core panels are composed of recycled denim rather than fiberglass.

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