What We Learned this Year at NeoCon

More seasoned NeoCon pros tell us that, after 25 years or so, the shows start to run together. Of course, between last year’s plumbing issues and this year’s Stanley Cup, we trust that 2014 and 2015 stand out as two distinct memories for most attendees. But to further explore the distinction, we tasked two young workplace designers – Meghan O’Malley and Anna Dineen of SmithGroupJJR – with covering the show and reporting back about what NeoCon 2015 looked like to their fresh, unjaded eyes. Here’s what they discovered.

The entrance to the Designtex showroom was lined with “Prismatic”, one of their new Made to Measure wallcoverings, printed with images of the artist Phillip Low’s acrylic sculptures. Photo by Meghan O’Malley.

  1. Color is making a comeback

In the usual office setting of greys, blacks, and whites, color is making its comeback. We saw pops of cobalt blue, bright yellow, and pastel at every turn. The Haworth showroom, in particular, oozed with color. From functionality to style to purpose, it was clear that color was part of the “language” of the furniture. Whether we were looking at an enclosed huddle space, team rooms, or open work plans, color took on a life of its own in their products.

Open workstations in the Haworth showroom, punctuated with bright colors. Photo by Anna Dineen.

In that same vein, Designtex caught our eye. The entrance of the showroom was lined with “Prismatic”, one of their new Made to Measure wallcoverings, printed with images of Phillip Low’s acrylic sculptures, flashing jewel tones. Beyond the bejeweled threshold, we saw a showcase of new products, including the fabrics they’re launching in collaboration with West Elm Workspace, which will available later this year.

The line of fabrics that Designtex has created in collaboration with West Elm Workspace. Photo by Meghan O’Malley.

  1. The outside has officially made its way in

We know, intuitively and through more and more research, that nature has a positive effect on people’s wellbeing. Both Shaw Contract Group and KnollTextiles stood out to us for the way that they are incorporating “natural” touches in their latest products. The Shaw Contract showroom was filled with spring hues of green, yellow, and grey carpets inspired by parks and public spaces. Shaw’s Park Collection portrays within its pattern the transformation of space and spirit that one experiences within the oasis of a park.

The Shade Rug from Shaw's Park Collection.

The Shade Rug from Shaw’s Park Collection.

In collaboration with KnollTextiles and creative director Dorothy Cosonas, the renowned architect David Adjaye debuted his first collection of textiles. Inspired by both the African artifacts at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the African landscape, Adjaye created a collection as vibrant, colorful, moving, and lively as the continent itself. The collection will be available at the end of this year.

The Adjaye Collection for KnollTextiles. Photo by Meghan O’Malley.

  1. Technology is being integrated with furniture, not the other way around

We noticed that Herman Miller and Geiger, especially, are looking at power management in a whole new light. Both companies showed off new solutions where technology has been integrated as a supporting component to many of their most striking products.

Geiger Construct, for example, is a casegoods system designed well for the tech-enabled workplace. For one thing, it’s eye-catching, with its careful craftsmanship and meticulous detail, but a closer look reveals the integrated technology embedded into the piece.

The Geiger Construct collection. According to Geiger, “The utility rail and cable tray can house a work surface-level power module with dual outlies and dual USB ports. At work surface level, this utility rail and cable tray meet a wiring space and graceful metal pencil lip at the rear edge of rectangular or rounded end work surfaces.” Photo by Meghan O’Malley. 

Geiger’s Elsi conference table, a personal favorite first introduced at NeoCon 2014, is another example of beautiful furniture with elegantly incorporated technology. Designed by Jess Sorel, the various shapes allow the client to select a style that works within the office environment. Whether formal, round, or half-round, Elsi responds to the user’s needs. In the photo below, the metal detail on the leg mirrors the metal detail of the sliding power module, demonstrating again that this piece is one you delight in at first glance before discovering its convenient power management feature.

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The Elsi conference table. Photo by Anna Dineen.

Elsi detail. Photo by Meghan O’Malley.

  1. Solutions for the open office worker who can’t stand the open office

For a while, the open office was a foregone conclusion for any workplace looking for an update. But after lots of research and even more complaints, the new standard is to create a work environment that has a little something for every way we work. Manufacturers like Herman Miller and Knoll showed off a number of solutions that support the fast-paced, open to your neighbor, always changing work environment.

The Herman Miller Renew Link benching system. According to Herman Miller, Herman Miller’s Renew Link benching system “gives two things most benches don’t — privacy and the ability to work without distraction.” With its easy, sleek and clean intuitive movement height-adjustable feature, “Renew lets you enjoy all the perks of healthy movement without disrupting your thoughts or your technology.” Photo by Meghan O’Malley.

The most outstanding example, we thought, was the work surface itself on the Herman Miller Renew Link and the Knoll Tone height-adjustable tables. The work surfaces — canted quadrilateral planes with one edge on an angle — are designed so that Chatty Kathy and Leave Me Alone Len can work simultaneously in an open environment. Set up like a benching system, the opposite angles of the work surface reflect one another to prevent for the individual on either side from being distracted by the other. These open sight lines allow each individual to concentrate on their work at hand.

Knoll’s Tone height-adjustable table. According to Knoll, Tone “offers personalized solutions for the workspaces, providing the ultimate in user comfort and adjustability. By accommodating a diversity of work modes, Tone supports a healthier and more productive work environment.” Photo by Meghan O’Malley.

  1. Making work feel more like home

As mobility becomes more of a reality for employees – both within and out of an employee’s official workplace – employers seem more eager to create spaces that will make employees feel more at home at work. Manufacturers are creating products to help employees feel welcome, comfortable, and at ease within the work environment.

The Andreu World showroom. Photo by Meghan O’Malley.

The “Best of NeoCon” award winner Andreu World showroom featured a series of new collection items alongside fan favorites. Together, the overall composition revealed company’s attention to detail, quality of furnishings, and invigorating color. Tapping into the essence of “home at work” pieces like the Spot, the Mandred, the Nub, and the Serena all bring touches familiar residential comfort to the standard corporate workplace.

Stay tuned next week for more coverage of Anna and Meghan’s favorite showrooms at NeoCon 2015!

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