Another NeoCon has come and gone! Chicago is always a terrific host and the Mart was ready for the design crowd (although not as many participants as I was expecting). While I’m always confident that I’ll conquer all the showrooms, this has never failed to challenge me when actually climbing the stairs and waiting for the elevator. A strategy for showroom appointments is essential, but rarely leaves time to roam. Nonetheless, I came away with a collection of new ideas and product introductions that were impressive and offered some unexpected surprises, mostly technology innovations that were presented during the show. Overall, products are responding to workplace trends and supporting the user and the functions that happen in the office. There is a continued focus on collaborative environments of all shapes and sizes and efficient space utilization within personal work areas.

 Along with me was a first timer to NeoCon and a terrific team-mate, Jennifer, who was immensely helpful in capturing images while I took notes (some mental) and kept up with the hectic pace – even visiting a few showrooms on her own as I was distracted by the stuff that keeps us all busy before and after “the show”.  The whirlwind of this year’s show is outlined below.


  • COLOR* – rich/dark gray and smoke tones are combined with vivid & saturated colors – magenta and purple were featured along with bright yellow. White is certainly still a predominate choice for floors, casegoods and walls. But a lot less anodized aluminum, replaced with bronze frames with smoke tinted glass is featured in both architectural and furniture applications. 


  •  THROWING CURVES – While there are plenty of hard edges out there, so many manufacturers are embracing curve appeal. Friendly and comfortable or sophisticated and well crafted, the curve shows off an elevated artistry and attracts users. Wood curves were featured and show off the flexibility of a natural product. Tight upholstered curves in bold colors always up for some fun.


  • SHADOW TEXTURE* – complex, both small & large-scale. This is expressed most often through wall screens and glass etched details. Texture created through shadow – very cool! 


  •  A/V TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION* – A/V options with short throw projectors and integrated flat screens into furniture products were consistent among most of the major manufacturers. Extensions of last year’s trend for a handful of large manufacturers…now most are catching up and offering collaborative solutions. Others are deciding that they will leave the A/V to the technology experts selected by the end users and instead are  offering products that can incorporate stand alone systems of various types.


  • WORKPLACE USAGE TECHNOLOGY that monitors use of both collaborative and individual spaces while offering analytical tracking, via a virtual concierge, of space utilization and can direct real estate decisions within an organization. Also, devices and apps that monitor/control electrical usage for the individual user and give facility managers an on/off switch for the entire facility – thereby offering long-term operational savings. This isn’t your grandmother’s office furniture solution!


Check out these particular products of interest:

Steelcase – Room Wizard Concierge & TagWizard,

 Teknion – LOGIQ electrical monitoring and controls,

  • INDOOR PLANT LIFE – They’re alive! And when they live in the places that where we work, they remove carbon dioxide from the air and offer up oxygen. Low light, perennials and succulents are combined in a refreshing way to bring a little life to the spaces that we occupy during most of our waking hours. Containers and “grow walls” that support plant life have been rethought and offer screening and interest points within a commercial space (no jungles on the overheads).

  • OUTDOOR SPACE – So maybe indoor plants aren’t your thing, but you like to be outside. Since you are at work during the day, it is perfectly normal to enjoy a little sunshine and trends in workplace design to include outdoor spaces into the office is steering manufacturer’s to consider durable and attractive outdoor furniture. Coalesse introduced a number of terrific pieces last year, but now Knoll and Herman Miller have reissued several classic pieces and Janis et Cie never disappoints.


  • EXAGGERATED STITCH – All those stitches seem to hold the piece together, so why are we hiding them? Exposed and exaggerated, and often coupled with bright felt hues. The stitching can be seen and is actually featured.



  • I FELT IT! Durable and multi-functional – Felt is back and it’s big. On the floor, on the walls and used for all manner of furniture upholstery. Wool felt offers a variety of applications and seemingly endless color possibilities. Material comes in various thicknesses and is relatively affordable.


  • RECYCLE SOLUTIONS – As an aspiring designer, I never thought that the discards of the workplace would be such a factor in my design solutions. But alas, I have found myself all too often trying to find the perfect plastic liner to fit within the already designed recycle/disposal center, usually highly custom millwork, for a break room or conferencing center. How much better would it be if there was a magic product that was available that was user-friendly, easy to clean and well designed? Voila! Solutions have arrived. And they were there a couple of years ago, but the more the better when it comes to managing the stuff that nobody wants to see. Even a little mobile trash/paper receptacle that matches the wood casegoods for those that can’t stand the sight of those bright blue recycle bins.


  •   DUALITY* – Spaces are doing double duty at the office and the furnishings likely need to facilitate multiple activities/functions. For example, the office becomes a teaming space when unoccupied or the open area bar also serves as a great storage space and a common display space. Solutions don’t need to be fancy, in fact it is probably better if they aren’t, but solutions needs to be practical and thoughtful. Real estate is too expensive to have it dedicated to one function. The walls can’t be easily changed, but a few good furniture and accessory choices can quickly turn a break room into a training room and then back again.


  • WHIMSY – The office is going to have to attract users as mobile technologies become available and workers adapt to new paradigms within their organizations. No better way to bring people to the office than to have a little fun when they arrive. Several showrooms embraced the idea of whimsy with out of the ordinary accessories. Great idea starters! Why not enjoy a little lunch time BINGO if for no other reason than to shout “BINGO” from the break room. And a shoe or clock fetish shouldn’t be concealed – display them on an “express your shelf” at the office to ensure that nobody forgets how fabulous and interesting you are when you are working from the Cloud (wherever that is).


  • JENNIFER’S NEOCON PICK – Everybody feel like they need a jump seat at the office sometime, right?! Well, now you have one and it is cool. It was pretty popular and attracted lots of testers at the Sedia Showroom. A new look for classrooms or auditoriums and a great way to line a conference room and create a gallery seating arrangement for large groups when not everyone is needed at the table.


*2011 repeat

Finally friends, a quote that I think any designer would agree with and a reinforcement of why this show is so important to our industry and our practice.

 “Some people today think that design is all about having fun, but that’s not true. It’s hard work, serious work.” – Konstantin Grcic

If there is a particular photo that you would like more inforamtion about, please post a note on this blog page. 

Best of NeoCON Products and Showrooms can be found at