NeoCon 50: From the Design Perspective

By Stephen Searer / July 9, 2018

NeoCon is an exciting part of the year when the architecture and interior design industry descends upon Chicago to view new products being exhibited, hear from a slate of speakers, and just generally soak up commercial interior design.

This was also a special year for NeoCon as it was a celebration of their 50 year anniversary, of which we’ve been attending the last five.

We normally compile a list of products that we found to be interesting, but this year decided to ask several practicing architects and designers to weigh in what they believed to be noticeable trends, interesting products, and standout showrooms.

Let’s what they had to say…

Shannon Gaffney

co-founder and chief creative director of SkB Architects

Noticeable Trends: Several. The first has been happening for a couple years, but seems to be in full-force now, is the growth of residential-esque office products. By this I mean a softer array of furnishings that one might find in someone’s home – chairs, tables, bar stools. Oddly, this rarely translates to workpoints.

That said, personalized workstations are clearly on a growth trajectory. A style that stood out to me in particular are those with rounded privacy screens. I first noticed these from BuzziSpace and Patricia Urquiola a couple years back and its seems to have gained momentum. I think its nice to see an end to the Hogwart’s-style end-on-end benching for something with some shaped screening elements.

The last trend that stood out to me were varied height meeting tables. BuzziSpace had some nice examples where you had bar height seating at one end and standard seating at another. The slight nod to varied topography resonated with me and its nice to have choices depending on the content/length of a given meeting.

Favorite products and/or designers: Sossego always delivers with a really nice product array coupled with high quality design and construction. I’m a sucker for their updated take on 60’s/70’s Brazilian and the clean, modern lines reminiscent of Scandinavian design but is clearly not.

Standout showrooms: Watson had a well put together showroom and it was great to see their continued evolution of desking solutions. Andreu World didn’t disappoint with their smart, refined, classic style. I also liked BuzziSpace’s cool, non-traditional approach.

James Woolum

Principal and Interior Designer at ZGF Architects

Noticeable trends: This was very much the year of acquisitions and partnerships. Major players like Herman Miller, Steelcase and Knoll have either purchased or partnered with smaller boutique brands to expand their product offerings and give clients easier access to more choices, create the more curated, varied look that is very popular whether you’re talking to tech, financial services, or even law firms.

Favorite products and/or designers: Unique materiality and color combinations were definitely a key theme throughout all the exhibitor products. Although it’s difficult, if I had to choose a few favorites…

Standout showrooms: I saw a lot of Nordic design inspiration this year including the Scandinavian Spaces showroom designed by Ghislaine Viñas —perhaps the most vibrant showroom of all. The showroom featured bold colors and shapes, without diminishing the minimalist aesthetic of the furniture. The Blå Station Bob Modular sofa was a particular highlight!

Melissa Hanley

AIA, IIDA, LEED AP, Co-founder, Principal, and CEO of Blitz

Noticeable trends: There was a noticeable shift this year toward the prominent use of color and greenery. The entire show felt lighter, brighter, more joyous, and more optimistic. It felt like we’re finally not taking ourselves so seriously and we’re starting to have some fun again with design! Almost every showroom was a kaleidoscope of color and texture and plants/planters were omnipresent.

Favorite products and/or designers: I really was impressed with Robin at Herman Miller. The integrated sensor technology has very impressive application potential. It will be exciting to watch this tech move from reporting to predicting activity. The future of design is going to be data-driven, and having tech that marries the human experience is going to be key to avoiding a design-by-numbers approach.

Standout showrooms: Scandinavian Spaces by far. It was their first year at the show and this small showroom was a showstopper!

Emily Phillips

Interior Design, Valerio Dewalt Train

Noticeable trends: This year it was clear that heavier textiles, such as velvet, are back in style! These type of fabrics were upholstered on various types of furniture. Since light ashwood was also popular, fabrics like these helped in making light structures look heavy and robust. In terms of color, muted pastels seemed to be the predominant highlights.

Favorite Products and/or designers: One of my favorite products was Davis Furniture’s Indoor/Outdoor Ginkgo Chair. Its thick wire back provides a good amount of give and is deceptively comfortable! It’s a durable chair that’s visually versatile—it doesn’t look out of place in interior or exterior situations.

The Allermuir work desks (Orb) were also very impressive. Their circular forms seemed very ergonomic and looked as if they could be placed efficiently into a workplace setting.

Standout Showrooms: This year Steelcase collaborated with Coalesse and Turnstone on their showroom, the results were outstanding. The three brands work well together and definitely had some of the most impressive displays.

James Wild

Senior Project Architect, Valerio Dewalt Train

Noticeable Trends: Neutral colors were paired with muted accents in a lot of the showrooms this year. Many of these accents were the infamous ‘millennial blush’ and other associated blue and green, pastel compliments. I also noticed that softer textures, natural woods and heavy fabrics seemed particularly popular as well. Many were implemented with muted colors in acoustical applications. It’s becoming more and more clear that office environments have long departed from hard, corporate, abrasive environments. New materials are trying to make the workplace feel as comfortable and ‘livable’ as possible.

Favorite Products and/or designers: I really enjoyed what Mannington Commercial did by the main escalator from the first to second floor. They hired an artist to make a rainbow installation that tied back to their showroom and carpet products.

Another highlight was Herman Miller’s new partner, Hay, with their South Lobby installation. Their products were displayed in a tall modular structure that announced their partnership off the main entrance. It really outscaled just about everything else on the first floor.

Standout Showrooms: Floor three is always impressive—Haworth, Steelcase and Herman Miller always have incredible products. The crafted-curved wood entrance for Coalesse was a very creative and sinuous approach to showing off their product line and contrasts the commercial application of their parent Steelcase.