Joe Drago was a general remodeling contractor for years before he learned about soundproofing. But since he started the soundproofing arm of his business, New England Soundproofing, the sound control specialty has become a highly productive niche for Drago's company. Besides installing sound-control measures in homes and businesses, the company also supplies the necessary materials to the trade, and instructs contractors in soundproofing methods. Drago still does kitchen and bath remodels, room additions, and similar work in the Boston area; and he says his crew's general remodeling capabilities come in handy when a soundproofing problem calls for demolition, framing, roofing, or finish work.

Retrofitting sound-control solutions into the party walls that separate condos and apartments in multifamily businesses is a steady bread-and-butter market for New England Soundproofing. But there's also demand for noise abatement on the light commercial side. Case in point: the sound-control panels Drago's company recently fabricated and installed for La Famiglia Giorgio's, a popular restaurant in Boston's North End (see slideshow).

Joseph Drago of New England Soundproofing holds a finished "REVRB" noise-absorbing panel with a screen-printed art surface at his company's Waltham, Massachusetts, shop.
Joseph Drago of New England Soundproofing holds a finished "REVRB" noise-absorbing panel with a screen-printed art surface at his company's Waltham, Massachusetts, shop.
A crew member builds one of the fiber-insulated panels on a work table at the shop.
A crew member builds one of the fiber-insulated panels on a work table at the shop.
the crew hangs panels on the echoing brick walls of a North End restaurant, where the product will provide visual interest as it quiets the space.
the crew hangs panels on the echoing brick walls of a North End restaurant, where the product will provide visual interest as it quiets the space.

The owner wanted to quiet the space, but the restaurant's brick walls and wood ceilings allow noise to build in the space on a busy night. Drago solved this problem with a half dozen fiber-filled panels covered with screen-printed art chosen by the restaurant owner from images available on the Internet. The result: an urban graffiti-themed art show for the restaurant's brick walls that looks good and makes an artistic statement, even as it softens the auditory ambience for diners in the space.

Drago uses a computer program to analyze the noise potential in public spaces, and to specify the square footage of sound-absorbing panels required to reduce the noise to a comfortable level that's compatible with work or conversation. "The program gives us a number," says Drago, "but we typically reduce that by about 20% based on our experience." The hanging-panel method is effective for conference rooms as well as work spaces; in restaurants, it is often used in kitchens as well as dining areas, to improve the working environment for chefs and waitstaff. Drago has trademarked his custom-built panels with the brand name "REVRB" (short for "Reduce Echo, Voices, Reverberation, and Background noise"). Panels retail for $150 or $200, depending on size; adding screen-printed art on special sound-permeable fabric adds another $200 to the per-panel price.

Drago's own office space provides a convincing demonstration for customers: At his shop are two small furnished office rooms side by side, one equipped with a few hanging REVRB acoustic panels, the other with bare walls and ceilings or ordinary art and decoration. For a visitor, the contrast is striking: Tthe office with the sound-control panels is quiet and free of echoes so that quiet speech is easy to hear. The untreated office next door is noticeably louder and conversation is more difficult. The sound-control panels mounted on walls and ceilings in the treated office are small and unremarkable, covered with a neutral colored fabric or with screen-printed art--until the panels are pointed out, a visitor would not notice them.

JLC's Coastal Connection went to Drago's wood shop in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Mass., to see how the sound-control panels are constructed in the shop. Then we went along to the job site to see the New England Soundproofing crew install the panels on the brick walls of the restaurant. For a look at the process, see the slideshow above.