If last year’s NeoCon didn’t erase doubts things are starting to bounce back, then this year’s show surely should have as the halls of the historic Merchandise Mart were filled with designers, architects, specifiers, facility managers and more from around the country—and world for that matter.

While the 2013 event saw a slight bump in traffic for the first time in recent years, this year’s show jumped 20% with attendance closing in on 50,000—a number not seen since before the recession.

What makes this even more significant is while various types of commercial products are on display at the mega event NeoCon is primarily geared to the sector’s largest segment—corporate/office spaces. So with large crowds, including A&D firms once again bringing their junior designers to the show, as well as a large international contingent of visitors, manufacturers were buzzing with excitement on the prospect of better times ahead.

Flooring contractor Tony Prince, president of Tony Prince Co. in St. Louis, said the last four years have been “flat, but this year we’re expecting to double our business which tells you something good is happening. Right now, we’re doing a lot of Class A offices with a number of them involving some big-time developers.”

This positive mind-set was clearly evident throughout the flooring exhibits and showrooms as companies came prepared for the upbeat attitude with an assortment of bright, cheerful colors—again, the kind not seen since before the recession as the economic downturn brought out more darker hues and lots of grays. Not so this year as bright, neon-like greens, yellows and oranges were the rage. And, along with showrooms being more colorful, mills also unveiled an array of innovative products to help designers create one-of-a-kind spaces for their clients.

Like Prince, John Bonney, vice president of commercial sales for Karndean Designflooring, said the company is on track to double its sales this year, saying, “nationwide, commercial sales have been strong.” For NeoCon, he said Karndean was focusing on different designs. “We’re showing some new ideas, such as a chevron pattern to help designers think outside the box.

When it came to the aspect of color, it didn’t matter if it was a soft or hard surface supplier as companies came to NeoCon shining.

Paul Eanes, vice president of sales, America’s for Metroflor’s new global brand, Aspecta, said the luxury vinyl tile (LVT) line was four years in the making. “We contracted with two outside designers and created the best performing, and best looking LVT in the business.” The line features 105 SKUs and was not only honored with a products innovations award at the show, it was given NSF 332 Platinum status for its numerous sustainable attributes, including the ability to take back scraps from the installation site and reuse them in new products. It is also a true 1/8gauge “so there is no need for transitions with VCT. And there is no telegraphing, plus it has a very durable wearlayer, which is why we were able to give it a 25-year commercial warranty and a 10-year labor warranty.”

He noted this is a true global brand, meaning all 105 SKUs can be sourced from around the world allowing large, international design firms the ability to use the same exact product on projects around the world.”

Thomas Smith, president of tile manufacturer Cooperative Ceramica D’Imola said the company was “taking Italian design to domestic service.” This not only includes the large 48-inch tiles, “which are being more accepted in the U.S., and we’re working with installers to help them embrace this new concept,” but different shapes that help create unique designs, such as an octagon tile. “We’re getting more calls for this from our distributors who are getting requests for it from the field, so it’s very encouraging.”

Color and design was certainly on display at a number of carpet showrooms as mills recognized the shifting attitude among A&D people.

Stephen Cocozza, executive vice president of creative direction, marketing and product development for Masland, noted, “With the economic recovery people are wanting to use more playful colors in their designs.”

Ross Leonard, vice president of marketing for J+J Group, said the “brighter colors are certainly an indication of a happier economy, as you can easily liven up a space with the new hues we’re bringing out this year.”

Even the company’s Kinetex brand, which was launched at last year’s NeoCon and targeted for education and healthcare, was given an injection of color for 2014.

For people first walking into the Milliken booth it was like being hit with a rainbow as Bill Blackstone, vice president of sales, said the company “was very attentive to color—deep, deep colors. We spent a great deal of time on color reference, from primary to secondary to tertiary and created an array of products that would not only work together but did it by price point to make it easier for people to choose what’s best for their budgets.”

While color played a large part of the introductions at this year’s show, so did technology as mills rolled out numerous innovations in form and style.

Tom Lape, Mohawk’s president of market development for residential and commercial, noted the company’s showroom theme, Breaking Form, said it all. “We’re breaking from the norm in both carpet and hard surface to allow designers to break from tradition and create custom designs.” He pointed to the company’s new Why Y LVT, which was created in collaboration with architect and industrial designer Mac Stopa. “With this one piece designers can make multiple patterns that form one-of-a-kind designs for their clients.”

And, like many executives he not only pointed to the fact this year’s NeoCon was the busiest in years, “we’re seeing even more international buyers than usual. In fact, we even brought in a good contingent of our international people which has really helped service the large crowds we’re seeing.”

Jeff West, vice president of marketing and product development for Shaw’s Patcraft division, was busy running around his populated showroom explaining to designers the innovative Mixed Materials collection which not only combines soft and hard surfaces, the unique rhombus shaped products means “designers can create any pattern they want as the two resilient and one carpet tile collections work together.”

In addition, because the products can be used in a single design, he said, when used separately, they do not need a transition since they were made to go together. People want large, open areas to allow them to collaborate easier and with this product you can create different spaces using hard and soft materials but without having to worry about a transition piece sticking up and ruining the flow of the overall design.”

This ability to butt different types of products together was also being showcased in the Mannington showroom, where David Sheehan, vice president of commercial hard surfaces, pointed to its new Seam Advantage product that welds the company’s carpet to its LVT or sheet products, thus eliminating a transition strip.

Also, recognizing that corporate designers are seeking more abstract looks and not just plain wood and stone, the company introduced a number of new collections such as Intersected, a new LVT line developed in collaboration with renown design firm Corgan. Mannington also teamed up with interior designer Mary Bledsoe for a new flooring collection called Stylist, which was drawn from the fashion and wardrobe industry.

Innovation also took center stage in the Desso showroom, where the European company was exhibiting at NeoCon for the first time after forming a U.S. distribution agreement with Masland. Roland Jonkhoff, managing director, said the company was not only have a “very good first show experience,” many people were interested in its cradle to cradle (C2C) products as well as its partnership with Phillips for its new LED Master carpet. “We got UL approval for it, as it allows you to put LED lights under the carpet tile to create safety information or unique and interesting designs without disrupting the actual carpet.” And even though light can be emitted upwards through the carpet and appear to be right on top of the product, he said water will not go through it.

“We do a lot of partnerships,” Jonkhoff noted, “because we can learn a lot from each other. It also helps us in our three-pillar mission to create products that are functional, creative and C2C. We spend more than 80% of our time indoors so we need to let the floors work for our health because if we feel better at work we’ll work better. But, we still have to do it in a creative and stylish manner.”

Byron Morton, vice president of leasing at the Merchandise Mart, said, “This year’s show really brought out the best the industry has to offer. From cutting edge technology to a complete re-imagination of traditional office environments, innovation was at the forefront. Businesses, large and small, get the importance of design and our permanent and temporary exhibitors responded to the uptick in the economy with creative solutions for key vertical markets from office to education, hospitality and healthcare.”