Gino Robair is former editor of EM

Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 2


Lake Robair in late January, before it was drained.

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Today, I’m reminded of the evil scientist’s quote in the Looney Tunes episode “Water, Water, Every Hare?:

“Delays, delays, nothing but delays!?

No one is surprised that this adventure will take longer than expected. For example, our holiday gift from the county was a 100-day wait for a set of building permits—all because of an internal door. In the meantime, my son has launched a flotilla of paper boats on Lake Robair as we wait for the rains to subside. His next big scheme is to promote our impromptu reservoir as a “semi-rural spa with mud baths,? hoping to charge $5 a customer. “Lemons into lemonade? is how he puts it.

Meanwhile his father is coming to grips with the issues of creating a work environment that keeps residential sounds out while keeping musical ones in. Anyone with a personal studio knows that leaf blowers, trucks, and airplanes provide a formidable opponent in terms of sound isolation. But this studio owner also likes natural light, so I’ve been thinking long and hard about the windows. The permitting process has bought me a bit more time.

Recently, I was introduced to L.A.-based designer Vincent Van Haaff of Waterland Design. In the past 30 years, he has created a wide range of musical spaces worldwide, including clubs, professional facilities, and home studios for clients such as composer David Sardy and ex-Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. When I learned of his design work for the world-class Conway Recording Studios in Los Angeles, which utilizes natural light effectively, I decided to ask him a few questions related to my more humble needs.

My issues begin with the look on the outside: I want the exterior studio window to match those on the rest of the house. I also want to be able to open it and air out the space when we’re not recording. (You know how stinky music making can be.) So I asked Van Haaff to give me a run down on my options.

“To begin with, the studio will have an exterior structural shell and an interior acoustical shell, which are independent from each other,? Van Haaff explains. “There’s a dead-air space in between, and wherever they intersect, there is a frame and a rubber gasket to allow the two to move independently. In a residential situation, it’s not necessarily fully framed inside the building’s existing structural shell, but rather, a buildup of some kind that has some kind of gasketing and resilient channel, perhaps.

“One option is to create a custom window frame, and then insert a sealed, secondary pane of glass that can be removed fairly easily, inside of the existing windows? he continues. “That’s approach number one. When we do a full professional recording studio/control-room situation, like at Conway for example, it will be a fixed piece of glass—actually a control-room window, except that the exterior is waterproof. The trouble is, as soon as you have an air pocket in between two pieces of glass, there will be a tendency for condensation to build up, and you need a way to draw out the humidity between the glass layers.?

“And if I want a window that opens?? I ask.

“If we have double-stud walls, then it becomes possible to have a sliding window on the exterior and a in-swinging window on the interior, so that you can vent the air between them. Besides allowing you to let fresh air in when the studio is not in operation, it alleviates the problem of fixed-pane condensation buildup. Because most window manufacturers these days strictly adhere to all kinds of energy regulations, there will be a lot of gasketing and you’ll get a fairly good seal. It’s not the ideal super-isolation window, but for residential applications it’s quite adequate.?

I’m also interested in having a skylight on the north side of the roof. I already know that it won’t provide adequate sound isolation on its own, so I ask Van Haaff how he would approach it.

“With skylights, you have to drop a secondary ceiling because the interior glass needs to be on a gasketed support so that there is a disconnect between the roof and the interior pane. In all cases, you’ve got a dead-air space between two pieces of glass. With a regular bubble skylight, you’d have the acrylic on the outside and one or two additional layers of interior glazing. Ideally, you’d want two, or for that matter, an insulated glass to get the lowest possible sound transmission between that whole assembly.?

Sounds doable. But I suspect that I wouldn’t be able install one that I could open.

“It would be a fixed skylight,? says Van Haaff. “You’d need to do a lot of engineering to figure out a way of making a skylight open on both sides while solving the problem of condensation at the same time. I’d stay away from that, although it can be done at a certain cost.?

Ouch. Yeah, I think I can deal with a fixed skylight. I’d rather spend that “certain cost? on creating a great sounding room. But at least this discussion gave me some clues as to where to direct my research.

My thanks to Vincent Van Haaff for sharing his time and expertise with me for the Robair Report.

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