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N E O C O N   T A K E O V E R

The scholarship to NeoCon this year was awarded to two well-deserving recipients this year, Amelia Papadakis + Josh Cunningham. Join me as we congratulate their win and read their inspiring recap of their NeoCon 2018 experience below:
A M E L I A   P A P A D A K I S
ASSOC. IIDA | LEED GREEN ASSOCIATE
DESIGNER | BERGMEYER

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the design industry’s biggest event: NeoCon. Over the course of three days, a range of more than 500 companies, some established, some new, took over the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Illinois to showcase their latest products to a crowd of over 50,000 design professionals. I was given the opportunity to attend this year through a scholarship by the IIDA New England Chapter where I spotted a few reoccurring design trends:
A   T A L E   O F   T W O   T O N E S 
Tone on tone was EVERYWHERE. I saw the trend being approached in two variations. The first was in a more subdued version of colorblocking, where a monochromatic color scheme was applied to all parts of a product, creating dimmensionality without overwheleming the color pallete. As an alternative application, multiple textures in one color were layered to enhance the depth and range for the piece. In all instances, it translated to a subtle yet engaging design that reduced the number of elements while increasing the effect.

 
R E S I - M E R C I A L
We saw this one coming, but it is bigger than ever. Although there were tried and true “corporate” looking desks and chairs, so many companies were adopting what is deemed a combined residential and commercial, resi-mmercial, appearance. Lighter fabrics paired with cozier, curvier, silhouettes created a familiar and casual sense throughout the workspace portion of showrooms. Standard pieces were offered with a softer, light wood base option, and more live-edge conference tables and wooden sit-to-stand desks were available to pick from. A considerable amount of plants and natural elements were also incorporated into displays adding to an overall feeling of comfort, flexibility, and freshness in a workplace that could maybe even make people enjoy Mondays.
N E W   F L O O R I N G   S H A P E S !   F I N A L L Y !
The trend that most excited me this year was irregular flooring shapes. One contract flooring company showed off their latest modular design of small, various-shaped, polygons that could be configured in multiple ways to create larger shapes. Others played with more curvilinear forms, while still creating counterpart shapes that allowed the two to interlock perfectly. Designers can use these new modular systems to upgrade their traditional flooring techniques of wayfinding and zone designation. Area rug designs were also out of the box… literally! Rather than typical rectangles, I saw rug silhouettes moving towards imperfect and often irregular edges, allowing for a more organic form. All of these were a well-needed break from hexagons.
S A L M O N,   S E A - F O A M   +   S A F F R O N
Millennial pink was still alive and well, but a new shade of pink was stealing the show. Salmon took over everything at NeoCon 2018. Flooring, wallcoverings, fabrics, furniture, and even lighting were launched in this peachy pink. Pairing nicely with that was a sea-foam green/mint blue color, which was also frequently spotted throughout showrooms. Most of the other colors seen at NeoCon were very pastel, and if the hue was punched up, it was still more muted than years past.  Though a few companies were showcasing luxe jewel tones, the majority had a saffron yellow as their boldest hue, which complimented the otherwise neutral scheme. Finishes overall tended to be very matte, and a few additional metal options were introduced in lines. Light woods were replacing where metals would traditionally be found. The soft colors, matte finishes, and wood tones coupled with pops of salmon, sea-foam, and saffron were a fresh update to last year’s trends.

NeoCon 2018 did not disappoint. The inspiring event proved how innovative yet cohesive the design industry can be. Every showroom’s unique approach to the overarching design trends was exciting to see. Though it was hard to pick a favorite, I did gravitate towards a certain theme. The innovative shapes, patterns, and textures I saw from flooring manufacturers worked well with the other trends while allowing for new possible design solutions to be created. It will be exciting to watch as these two-tone, resi-mmercial, organic, pastel products begin to fill up the spaces around us. Until next time, NeoCon!
J O S H   C U N N I N G H A M
ASSOCIATE IIDA
PROJECT DESIGNER | PACKARD DESIGN

For those of us who have been lucky enough to attend NeoCon you know what you have signed up for. For those going for the first time next year there’s some things it wouldn’t hurt to know...

Let’s start at the beginning:
 
NeoCon is the largest A&D exhibition on this side of the globe, showcasing products, ideas and technology to shape the future of Design in Workplace, Healthcare, Hospitality, Retail, Education, Public Space and Government work. Chicago was and remains to be the epi-center of the North American A & D industry, and while this event spent its first two years prior to the coining of the term “NeoCon” at a past Chicago venue, it was not until that venue was lost to a fire that the exposition would be given the name NeoCon and be annually hosted at the Merchandise Mart for the next 50 years (and counting!). Many manufacturers have year-round showrooms at the Mart while the rest are temporary.
The mart itself has been standing since 1930 and was considered the largest building at the time clocking in at an impressive 4,000,000 SF

In fact, up until recently it has had its own zipcode!
 
Walking through the doors of the Mart for the first time is intimidating to say the least. There are 50,000 attendees each year and between that and the 550 showrooms/exhibits open for the event…let’s face it, it’s overwhelming! Fear not though, because the event comes with daily guides to all the happenings, CEU offered seminars, cocktail events and most importantly the venue floor plans so you can plan out your path of travel. Don’t forget that across the street is 325 N. Wells: home to Kimball, National and the penthouse suite of Dirtt. All three are stunning and well worth stopping in before you leave.
Now sure, you can walk aimlessly around to see what you come across and still have an enriching experience. As for me, with a building of this size, a layout of this complexity and only so many hours in a work day, I needed a plan of action. There are 500+ exhibits dispersed among 6 floors (3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14) so it was crucial that I decided which floors would benefit my professional goals the most and tackle those first.

Despite there being 50,000 attendees each day, there are as you can imagine, less than that amount of elevators to take you to those event floors. So each morning you arrive, each trip to the food court and back to when you finally part for the evening, you can account for some time lost as the elevator lines there are not much shorter than Space Mountain in Disney World. The stairs are open if you are moving between a few stacked floors or feeling extra ambitious, but the amount of walking and time on your feet you will be enduring throughout your visit will make that elevator line begin to look worth the wait. Haworth alone has been known to reach 25-30,000 SF +/- and they only take up about a tenth(!) of the 3rd floor. By the end of the day you are ready to sit. Thank goodness half the showrooms are showcasing seating, huh?  
 
All right, now that we know what we’re getting ourselves into, let’s get into it!
 
What makes NeoCon unlike any other showroom tour or Lunch & Learn back home is that in many cases this is the industry’s chance to show what they’re cooking up and get feedback on where they are at with it. There are many products I discussed with vendors that didn’t have literature or binders for yet – some didn’t even have a name! In fact it’s not unheard of for a showcased product at the event to return to the drafting board with the feedback they received and not be released right away. What better way to know what your product needs to succeed in the industry then by having 50,000 A&D professionals give you their thoughts all at once?
 
NeoCon also allows manufacturers the chance to show you where the future of their company and its technology is going. For Interface Flor i.e. this means an 87% bio-based greener “carbon-neutral” backing as part of their global movement - and it’s actually green! Their products now absorb more carbon than they put out. You can learn more here!
Many manufacturers partner with artists, other designers or draw inspiration from Nature and our man-made surroundings.
Mannington had done all three this year. The first thing I saw walking into the Mart this year was a mesmerizing string art stretched out over the escalators that took attendees to the food court on the second floor. It wasn’t until later that I realized this artist (Gabriel Dawe) had also partnered with Mannington to create their new colorful product lines, such as “Moire”, capturing the essence and magic of this ethereal art into a carpet tile.
In addition to this, they also created a line inspired by vinyl records (“Spin”) and an enchanting LVT (“Northern Wonder”) based on the Northern Lights.
Masland drew inspiration from Bicycles (The commuter’s greenest mode of transportation) to create several new lines that speak to the language of spokes and tread marks.
J&J studied the solar panels and other effects the sun has to create some fun new textures.
While others like Mohawk & Patcraft delivered to us the latest and greatest of what we all have come to love as the organic decay aesthetic and the rich textures and use of color it offers. Dichroic by Patcraft was a crowd pleaser and Nutopia by Mohawk made me wish it was around even sooner.
Milliken was actually selected as the most “WELL” showroom for sound absorption, feet comfort much more. The showroom spoke for itself -Not nearly as large as Haworth, l later realized I had spent the longest time there then I had in any other showroom that day.
Shaw departed from the norm by creating un-square tiles to be mix and matched across the floor to make an artful statement in any space. You can order sets of 17 randomized tile combinations or hand-pick which ones suit your space best. The colors and forms of “Inside Shapes” seemed to come from one of the largest new trends we are seeing in the industry today: Scandinavian Influence.
This propels us into the world of furniture which the scandinavian aesthetic has greatly impacted and in all the best ways. Furniture manufactures have derived color, form and even function from our friends across the pond.
Second to the Scandinavian influence appears to be the use of biophilic design to bring nature inside and integrate both worlds. Steelcase was one of the showrooms that captured this the best. Visitors were immersed in an integrated office space that felt like a tailored conservatory.
Let’s not forget about ever growing technology trends and their integrations in commercial furniture. Over the last few years we have begun to see an increase in the appearances of USB ports in workstations and collaboration areas. We have also been changing the postures of space occupants with sit-to-stand desking and a variety of alternative desk chairs. This year Interstuhl showed me a product they developed with Garmin to enhance the wellness of desk-job workers. It is a small gadget that is placed at the bottom of your office chair to track your posture and weight shifts. It communicates directly with your computer to let you know how you can improve posture and seating wellness and even offers activities and short exercises to try throughout the day. How soon can I get one?
Last but certainly not least is this idea of uniqueness and individuality that companies like Six Inch and the rest of the Steelcase showroom brought to us. This beautiful eclectic and modern clash of personalities and ideas that in many ways is what we represent as people in a space behind our business attire facades. While Six Inch offers a wide range of charismatic pieces that completely transform the spaces they encounter. Steelcase brought to us this organized chaos of personalities and ideas that while shocking at first nearly brought tears to my eyes. Now more than ever we should be bringing our unique backgrounds and experiences, our likes and dislikes together to form bonds and unities that show how strong we are when we stand together.
I wanted to add a huge thank you to IIDA NE for offering this incredible opportunity for young designers to be able to visit NeoCon. While this recap barely scratched the surface of my findings, this trip allowed me to put together an hour long Lunch & Learn presentation for my firm to report my many findings so that we were all able to feel a part of the event and begin specifying the latest and greatest! Thank you!
C O N G R A T S !

Keep an eye out next year for your opportunity to enter the scholarship!!
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