Personally, I was particularly impressed with the corporate strategies for product development this year. Product designers seemed to focus on the "what would be a good product for the marketplace" as opposed to "what can manufacturing make and we can sell" attitude.
Each year, Contract magazine sponsors a Best of NeoCon competition that acknowledges the most innovative new designs for commercial products. While there are 25 product categories involved, many floor covering products received awards.
In the Carpet, Modular category, C & A Floorcoverings' Wooly line earned the Gold Award and Shaw's Fragments garnered the Silver Award. In the Carpet, Broadloom competition, Atlas Carpet Mills won the Gold Award for The Sketchbook Collection and Bentley Prince Street's Iconic product took home the Silver Award. Finally, in the Flooring category, Johnsonite's Millwork Contoured Wall Base Collection and Lonseal's Lonfloor Nova UV took the Gold and Silver Awards, respectively. Atlas Carpets also won an Editor's Choice Award for its Spyro, Etcha and Sketch products.
The silver winner in the contest was also an exciting product. Featuring color-shifting hues, large metallic-flecked allure, galvanized sheen, and the amazing Lonseal UV Finish (a 100-micron-thick, factory-applied, UV-cured urethane wear layer that enables "dry-erase" clean-ability), Lonfloor Nova UV is suited for all kinds of high-traffic interior commercial and institutional spaces -- including retail & salon, healthcare, hospitality & restaurant, and other high-profile design spaces. I think the sophisticated look of this product, and its flexible sheet construction, will make it a star with specifiers! With an average 20 percent recycled-materials content and dry-mop readiness, the factory-applied urethane finish qualifies the product for credit under LEED standard MR 4.1.
After covering the seven NeoCon floors of the Merchandise Mart, I found the following new product introductions to be particularly exciting.
The new range contains a broad spectrum of colors, providing designers with a balanced portfolio. They can experiment with different hues and different product lines, blending bold and innovative flooring designs with functionality in a single flooring solution.
Four new product lines, including norament strada, noraplan logic, noraplan astro, and noraplan classic, greatly enhance the nora collection. The new cubic surface of norament strada is unique to the market, and the patterns of the new noraplan products -- logic, astro, and classic -- range from modern to 1970s retro in nature.
Retro products, like linoleum, are available from Armstrong in the new Living Colors of Linoleum Collection. It's a focused North American portfolio that adds 55 new colors in six distinctive styles to provide a comprehensive, color-integrated spectrum that coordinates within the line, across Armstrong product categories and with other commercial interior finishes for optimum design flexibility.
"The significance here is that this palette, with its expanded midtones and rich colors, is distinctly North American and a departure from the starker contrasts of European design that have dominated linoleum design here in recent years," says Paul A. Pearce, Armstrong senior designer.
At Mannington, the product focus was on color. Mannington Commercial introduced SolidPoint and ColorPoint, two colorful innovations in premium visual tile. These unique flooring options are available in a wide spectrum of colors that enables maximum diversity in design flexibility and applications.
SolidPoint, with its ultra-fine textured appearance, is a virtual solid when installed and can be used to create dramatic design accents within an overall background color scheme. The 12-by-12-inch tiles are available in a palette of 18 solid colors enhanced with a color-on-color manufacturing process. The heterogeneous "through-pattern" construction extends the color and pattern throughout the thickness of the tile, thus prolonging the life of the flooring.
ColorPoint, with its premium non-directional graining, consists of 12 rich colors that coordinate with SolidPoint. It, too, is available in 12-inch-square tiles. The vibrant points of color create a warm visual by way of confetti-like shapes and patterns on a soothing speckled background.
Crossville introduced the Illuminessence Glass program designed by Boyce & Bean. The program's three series -- Prism Glass, Prism Glass Listellos and Radiance Glass -- are made of cast, translucent glass that is textured on front and back to capture, refract, bend, and twist light as never before. For the first time, floors, walls and countertops come alive with great visual depth -- akin to looking into a sun-dappled pool -- and reflect an ever-changing essence of light from within. All three series are manufactured using a quantity of recycled glass and are available in nine water-inspired colors.
The Prism Glass Listellos are solid-glass trim pieces that reflect light differently than the Prism Glass tiles due to their thickness and surface texture variation. They are available in five surface textures and sizes: Ebb Tide (7/8 by 715/16 inches), Waterfall (13/8 by 73/4 inches), Surf (13/4 by 713/16 inches), Wave (9/16 by 711/16 inches), and Icicle (3/4 by 711/16 inches).
The Radiance Glass series is designed for floors, walls and countertops. Available in clear and frosted finishes, the series' three sizes -- 3-by-3-, 3-by-6- and 6-by-6-inch formats -- all are 5/16-inch thick to allow for floor applications. Radiance Glass is textured on both the front and back surfaces to provide a visual depth similar to that of Prism Glass. Its textural design, however, is different.
Also during NeoCon, Masland Contract introduced the Chicago Collection, a tribute to the city and its rich architectural history and landscape. Designed by Eva Maddox and Eileen Jones of Perkins & Will, the product speaks to the architectural & design community. The seven styles of the collection -- Topo, Windows, Fragments, Blocks & Socks, Cityscape, Neighborhoods, and Bridges -- are available in 10 colorways and feature clean, sophisticated designs for corporate environments.
Pacific Crest offers two new products, Aspect and Perspective, both high-performance carpets for the commercial market. These are co-coordinating patterns that add a new dimension to the firm's flooring designs, which are expertly fashioned for business. The 24-color palette mixes fashionable bold and neutral tones selected for today's commercial interiors.
Linosom Linoleum tile is one of Tarkett's most environmentally friendly floors, as it is composed almost entirely of renewable raw materials. The natural reaction between the resin and linseed oil used in its production creates inherent anti-bacterial properties in the product. Its ease of maintenance, high durability and anti-bacterial characteristics make linoleum tile particularly appropriate for a variety of healthcare applications including nursing homes, hospitals and assisted-living facilities as well as other public areas such as schools, hotels and shops.
An exciting new product from Holland, The Historic Floors of Holland, caught my eye during the show. These wood floors are handcrafted from aged European Oak using authentic, centuries old methods to create a line of truly unique flooring materials. Each plank is 3/4-inch solid oak, 7 inches wide in lengths up to 7 feet 4 inches.
The tongue-and-groove planks can be nailed or glued on or above grade and are well suited for both residential and architecturally driven commercial applications. This line definitely should catch the attention of the specifier community!
So as the sun sets over the skyline of Chicago, I'm once again inspired to create gorgeous interiors with each and every one of the more than 1,200 new NeoCon introductions. Well, maybe just a few hundred!