It’s a privilege to have friendships with industry veterans and all around characters. One of my favorites (and known character) is Noah Kaplan of Leon Speakers. I sat down for a conversation about the intersection of design and performance.

Chris Smith: When you thought about starting Leon Speakers, in terms of design did you see a void around aesthetics and making things in a space truly beautiful?

Noah Kaplan: I was a full-time artist working on commissions, graphic design and design for the gallery space. Leon Speakers was always about the intersection art and audio. As we designed speakers, I considered what was available in the market. It was all gloss black, shiny objects! Nothing was interesting, made of natural materials, felt authentic, possessed interesting design, had modern design principles, customization, or thinking about how they’re going to fit into the home. This is not what people want!

Smith: You talk quite a lot about natural materials, customization, and well built objects that fit someone’s lifestyle, as opposed to merely just buying off-the-shelf products that happen to sit in a space. 

Kaplan: As an artist I’m working for clients who care about design. I couldn’t imagine installing something that wasn’t up to a certain level in a luxury home — or any home! Think of the art itself; you get to choose a custom frame and where it’s going to go in the house. Now let’s look at a speaker. What are the materials? What kind of quality is it? If I am putting this in my home for 20 years or more, it better be great!

I also became interested in what was happening with video. Sound is complemented by video and vice versa. When flat panel TVs came out, I imagined how much time people are spending in front of screens. If we’re going to be looking at this thing, what can we do to make it sound right AND feel like it’s a beautiful object — a luxury object. It should be bespoke, built for that exact customer, space and application. It wasn’t being done, so we did it!


Smith: Why are bespoke solutions not a natural part of a conversation between most integrators and architects?

Kaplan: These are custom creations requiring interior designers, assemblers and architects. Integrators are really amazing technologists and enthusiasts but definitely not interior designers. To be fair, the electrician isn’t picking the light fixtures either.

Smith: How do we create the language and process whereby it becomes integral to how they work with the client, architect and designer?

Kaplan: Immerse yourself in design, pick up design magazines, learn about modern architects, know about art, furniture and the general culture of design. We know the name of every speaker company. Do you know the name of every furniture designer, architecture firm or fine artist? It’s a completely new palette of companies and there’s a lot to learn from each.

Next, collaborate. At Leon we work with designers and architects — we don’t just design in a bubble. We have interior designers and architects designing the products with us, if not for us! Build relationships to assist the design discussion.

Finally, how are you listening to the client? It’s not intuitive for most people but that’s not to say they wouldn’t love it if they had it, had seen it, or been given an opportunity to buy it.

Smith: Do you think we are focusing energy on appropriate aspects of the projects?

Kaplan: Let’s focus on where the pride and craftsmanship is displayed. Our industry has so much pride in how the rack is wired. I completely appreciate and love this as a craftsperson, but given how little someone looks at a rack (especially the back of it), we should take equal, if not more pride in the aesthetic and craftsmanship of the more-often-seen aspects of the technology experience. We just did that project where the customer was able to choose from our huge palette of products. Once he saw what was possible, he ordered almost everything we made. Custom TV frames for the TVs, custom speakers to match, interior speakers, recessed products — all the colors. You know what was interesting? He didn’t choose black for a single product!

Smith: Talk to me about the design opportunities outdoors.

Kaplan: I don’t know if everyone understands just how beautiful an object can be, especially when it’s timeless and going to live outside forever. Then you start choosing color palettes based on regions. We consulted with landscape architects to get the best mix of colors and tones. We wanted to go beyond colors and make these objects sculptural, so we worked with a master designer. And we didn’t stop at sound; we also wanted to integrate lighting so we partnered with lighting manufacturers. These options can have an amazing impact on your space.

Chris Smith is the Principal and Founder of TheCoTeam. Bringing 20 years of industry experience to the custom installation space, they Coach | Consult | Collaborate with integrators and manufacturers to solve problems and run a more efficient business.