"My kind of town, Chicago is..." And when it's time for NeoCon, that toddlin' town is even better!

Mannington Commercial's Brushwork VCT garnered the Gold, Best of NeoCon award in the flooring category.

The Logistics Chair from Arconas Corp., winner of the Gold, Best of NeoCon award in task seating chair, is indicative of the cutting-edge features and appearance characteristics of many products showcased at NeoCon.
“My kind of town Chicago is…”And when it’s time for NeoCon, that toddlin’ town is even better! That’s because designers and specifiers in the contract field annually descend on Chicago, this year from June 12 through 14, to see all that’s new in the way of contract furnishings.

In fact, NeoCon represents the largest gathering of design professionals, facility managers and product manufacturers in the world. This year, more than 60,000 people jammed the corridors of the Chicago Merchandise Mart to see fabrics, flooring, lighting, and office furniture. Vendors showcased a wide array of wares for office, hospitality, retail, and healthcare applications.

Amtico's Pressplate Flooring

Color choices abound

As I cruised the halls of the Mart, I began to notice that color was certainly a story this year. I think it is safe to say that kiwi green was the color of choice for attention-getting displays. Most attendees would tell you that, in general, green was the most popular hue this year.

Personally, I can attest to seeing lime, apple, chartreuse fern, sage, celadon, ivy, pine, and fresh green on my travels from the 18th floor down to the 3rd. At an acre per floor, that’s a lot of green! But I also saw orange, yellow, blue, purple, gray, brown and almost every tint of off-white to beige too. Simply put, abundant color selection is available in almost any product.

The trend bodes well with the fresh, multicolored office furniture produced in Italy, which was displayed as part of the first Italian Office Design Show. Some 70 exhibitors exhibited wares that were lighter in weight, smaller in scale and far more colorful than anything we produce in the United States. Some American firms did offer bold colors, however. Herman Miller, for example, offered the sassy, stackable plastic Caper Chair in 9 colors.

Choosing from among available wood tones might be easier. It seemed to be that light maple, cherry and mahogany were the wood colors of choice during NeoCon. Most often, though, wood was mixed with brushed aluminum, polished steel or glass for spectacular effects.

Lees Carpet Thought Patterns, Best of NeoCon Gold award winner.

Featured furniture

For the designer, furniture in a room sets the style. Therefore, what’s new in furniture is a key component at NeoCon. In the annual trend forecast I do for the Coverings show, I’ve noted the softening of shapes and consumer cravings for cozy, casual interiors. This holds true for commercial settings too.

Mark Filanga, vice president of business development for Merchandise Properties, calls the trend “contradential” — the blending of commercial and residential. The market has been moving this way for several years now, but furniture featured at NeoCon underscored that the proliferation of products is more abundant than ever. Traditional offices — not just those of stay-at-home telecommuters — are becoming more comfort-oriented and informal. And fresh, multicolored office furniture is just the ticket to achieving that comfortable look in traditional workplaces.

The major brands all feature groupings of furniture that adapt to the new workplace, which is one of change. As workers change job descriptions, work teams or locations, the office can be re-configured as needed to accommodate those changes.

My personal favorite was “Crushed Can” which indeed looked like and enlarged soda can that was partially crushed so that it has the posture of a slightly bent finger. Topped with a soft cushion, and available in three heights, “Can” can be used as a seat, table or writing surface. It sells for $100, depending on fabric selection, and it won a silver medal in the Alternative Office category for the Best of NeoCon 2000.

Floor coverings in the spotlight

While furniture sets that stage for the design theme of commercial projects, textiles are important too. Environmental design was a primary consideration in this category, with many companies using the “green” theme in construction and design motifs.

Plant and leaf patterns, earthen colors and texture are the terms that best describe textile designs featured at the event. Lees Carpet took the gold and silver medals in the NeoCon 2000 awards’ carpet category. The España Collection designed by Clodagh, is a combination of plush and loop construction that captures the appearance of cut velvet. Samples of the product were hanging in the showroom like fine tapestries.

Monterey Carpets offered plaids, checks and tweeds with intricate detail of tufted geometry. Mannington Commercial exhibited a variety of textures and colors in both their carpet and resilient collections. The company’s Above the Crowd collection took a silver medal in modular carpet design, and the Brushwork series won a gold medal in the resilient flooring category.

Amtico offered Pressplate, a line of iridescent metallic-look flooring. The tiles were said to be inspired by shimmering peacock feathers and the ever-changing hues of oil on water.

In textiles, JL Lynne showcased Park Lane and Athena, both of which were designed exclusively for the company by Patty Madden. The products’ boldly embossed floral and fauna patterns are imbued with rich, subtle shades.

Jhane Barnes, noted fashion and home-furnishing designer, set up shop in her own new showroom with an extensive line of fabrics and a new collection of carpet tiles. Notable among them is Spacer, a stretchy, three-ply knit fabric influenced by the revered products of the Herman Miller Co. The fabric is deeply textured with a raised black honeycomb motif atop a dense base of blue, red, yellow, orange, and — of course — green. Retailing for about $60 a yard, it won the gold medal for Best of NeoCon 2000 in the fabrics category.

Another eye-stopper was Carnegie Fabrics’ Philosophy Collection. The purpose of the collection was to design textiles for interiors that enhance the healing and wellness experience. The Philosophy Collection explores light, space, dimension, texture, and color in new ways to support environments that embrace wellness. Life-size images of plants are subtly captured in one pattern, while another blends excerpts from Max Ehrmann’s poem "Desiderata” in a soothing, thought-provoking graphic. Another gold medal here for healthcare fabrics!

I could go on, but you’d be green with envy at what you missed. But rest assured you’ll be seeing these exciting, colorful new products in distributor showrooms very soon. It’s true the future isn’t what it used to be. It’s better!