The Acoustic, Aesthetic, and Environmental Advantages of Felt

Photography Courtesy of Kirei

Inherent advantages including durability and modularity make felt a versatile material that meets the design needs of a variety of interior settings. “Felt’s design power is threefold,” says John Stein, president and founder of Kirei. “It offers advantages of both color and tactile beauty, with the ability to drastically reduce echo in spaces. This is why we have seen the explosion of design applications for felt in interiors, such as walls, ceilings, hanging elements, and partitions.” Offering an environmentally friendly acoustic design alternative, traditional felt fabrics come in a number of forms including felted wools, synthetic felts, and industrial felts, as well as PET (Polyethylene Terephalate) felts, which are made of recycled plastic bottles. The information below explores the acoustic, environmental, and aesthetic advantages of PET felt.

Acoustically Absorbent

Delivering exceptional acoustic performance by reducing sound reverberations, PET felt aids in soaking up ambient sounds, which is imperative in many interiors. “One cannot separate acoustics as an essential element of any well-designed space, says Younger. “I have had senior designers tell me that often times sound is the last thing that designers think of but the first thing that people will notice. We all love open, airy, light filled spaces but if the balance between sound absorbing and sound reflecting materials is not in harmony, we end up with echoey, unpleasant ‘caves.’ We at Fräsch spend lot of time collaborating with the A&D community to help them create beautiful, often one-of-a-kind pieces that enhance their design intent. By using PET felt as our primary material, we are at the same time adding sound absorbing material into the design.” PET felt panels provide an environmentally friendly acoustic design alternative for softening sound.

Photography Courtesy of Kirei

Sustainable Strides

Reimagining the possibilities for plastic bottles, PET felt materials are made from polyester fibers and recycled materials and they can also be reused or recycled themselves. “PET is made in part from recycled plastic bottles, a low melt poly fiber, and many of the color mixtures come from recycled clothing,” says Slavi Younger, co-founder of Fräsch. “This makes the PET acoustical panels one of the friendliest environmental raw materials in the construction, furniture, and interiors markets. PET is a chemically inert substance that does not give off VOC or odor, which makes it safe and stable for indoor use. The abundance of plastic and clothing ‘trash’ makes an almost endless supply of re-use material that is turned into something useful and also has an end of life recyclability.”

Photography Courtesy of Kirei

Depending on the material manufacturing process, the amount of recycled content used can range from zero to 100 percent, and as such it is important to be well-informed when making material selections. Kirei’s manufacturing partner, Woven Image, recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of the development of EchoPanel—a decorative, acoustically absorbent felt panel made from 100-percent PET plastic, containing up to 60-percent post-consumer content,” says Stein.  “So far, well over 200 million plastic bottles have been recycled into EchoPanel. This is a big step towards keeping single-use plastic out of landfills and the ocean. Plus, felt materials can often be reused or recycled after use. Additionally, felt can lend itself to modular designs that can be reconfigured or reused, extending the life of the material way beyond its first application. EchoPanel is Red List free—it has no nasty chemicals, and is a Low VOC material that passes the stringent CDPH test, enabling qualification for green building certifications such as LEED Certification.”

Visual Versatility

Armed with the ability to adapt to an array of environments, felt is a nuanced nonwoven textile that makes for a fashionable and functional design choice. PET products have provided sustainable surfacing solutions for several decades. “PET panels have been around since the mid 1980s but were used primarily in the automotive industry as trunk liners and formed acoustic surfaces utilizing a rougher grade PET that was pressed like sheet metal,” says Younger. “In the early 2000s, Australia and Korea developed a smooth texture panel that pioneered the way for interior grade applications. Shortly after, other manufacturers entered the space and PET became more accessible with innovative companies building complete product lines around the versatile raw material.” 

Photography Courtesy of Frasch

PET felt asserts a tactile texture that is soft yet sturdy, and suitable for an assortment of interior applications. “In appearance, acoustical PET felt sits at a unique intersection between felt, wool, and fabric,” adds Younger. “But it is sturdy enough to allow us to push its use into more structural elements, such as ceiling applications, wall treatments, lighting, space dividers, and furniture. Only your creativity and your engineering know-how will define how far you can take your product designs.” From furniture and wallcoverings to panels and partitions, the possibilities for PET felt are far-reaching, and its flexible form can be configured to fit specific design needs. “We are continually inspired by designers’ innovative ideas for felt applications—from whales on walls to maps of the globe on the ceiling,” says Stein. “We have created flocks of birds for environmental agencies, and tailored EchoPanel products to fit the specific design theme of restaurants. The beauty of felt is that you can either hide sound absorption in plain sight or make it a centerpiece of design—the choice is yours!”

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