A Great Showing for Commercial Design at NeoCon 2022
NeoCon has officially concluded for the year and while many of its attendees have returned back to their regular schedules (myself included) it’s hard to say that the rush has completely subsided. The massive commercial design tradeshow came back with a significant bang thanks in a huge part to its exhibitors and organizers for all the insight and inspiration that was being stirred up.
For me, I found myself swept up touring the many manufacturer showrooms, and it was hard not to feel overwhelmed. From the standpoint of wellness and sustainability, there was an incredible amount of ingenuity and creativity on display. Quite honestly, there was enough to make it difficult to compile all into one article, and yet I still feel like I missed so much listening in on post-show conversations.
Scalable and Sustainable is the Name of the Game
In just the few months that I’ve been traveling between tradeshows, sustainability has exploded. Maybe it’s the fact that the commercial design industry has always struggled with waste in its practices, but NeoCon featured by far some of the most innovative and inspiring solutions I’ve seen on the road yet.
On the seventh floor of Merchandise Mart, Reseat brought forward an inventory management tool for the circular economy that can integrate itself at the earliest stages of the design process. Elsewhere, Andreu World, a sustainable Spanish furniture brand, redefined what sustainable furniture should look like with stunning designs for stackable, sustainably built furniture held together with innovative joinery methods that also made them more recyclable at the end of their lifecycles.
Meanwhile Momentum Textiles and Wallcoverings debuted their new high-performance wall-treatment made of woven silica as Carnegie Fabrics debuted an outdoor iteration of their noteworthy Xorel bio-fabric, with 85% of its materials being made from sugar cane bioplastics. Humanscale also introduced their new Path task chair, a carbon-negative task chair designed in collaboration with Todd Bracher studio.
There were also plenty of manufacturers like Mayer Fabrics and Wolf-Gordon using Nassimi’s most recent, sustainable high-performance textile, Supreen. Bleach cleanable, breathable and soft to the touch, the fabric manages to also be water repellent without the use of PFCs and PFOAs.
Really, at this year’s show, sustainability was the name of the game, with transparency, innovation and performance being the core focus of the designs.
Meeting the Demands of Health and Wellness
The place of health and wellness in conversation has been growing ever since the pandemic took hold, but this year’s NeoCon seemed to have it fixed as an ever-present thought on manufacturer’s minds.
Acoustics and privacy were potent standouts, with a variety of unique and creative solutions. But Turf Design, who had long been in the acoustics game, took it a step further, celebrating their new color palette and rebrand with a showroom that showcased the potential of acoustical design. Taking visitors on a tour through the cavernous space, flowing shapes, vibrant colors and experiential design really explored the relationship between people, space and the sounds that exist therein.
Paint was also reinterpreted as an enabler of healthier spaces. BEHR showcased their Copper Force line of paint which provides antibacterial and antiviral protection, while Sherwin-Williams had their Living Well collection, which can help mitigate bacterial growth and VOCs in an environment, while also providing a set of wellness-inspired colors.
Mohawk Group as well, who already had strong roots in sustainability, explored the elements of biophilia and community in their new collections—Fractal Fluency and Social Canvas, respectively. The latter of which—a partnership with Artlifting—brings to light the works of homeless and disabled artists the world over while giving a large portion of the proceeds back to those communities.
And speaking of biophilia: it was hard to escape its influence in many of the designs (especially those with more sustainable roots). Working with noted artist Bradley L Bowers, Wolf-Gordon unveiled a stunning collection of color inspired by natural auroras and graffiti that plays across their Chromalis collection, while Designtex had their Beguiled by the Wild upholstery, featuring animals and plant life woven together across an array of biophilic colorations.
Flexibility in Furniture is All the Rage
Flexible design and category-blending furniture was another strong showrunner, and personally I think that’s for the better. After all, an easily adaptable piece of furniture can shift to meet new spatial needs without needing to be replaced.
Over at the Stylex showroom, this was interpreted as a rounding of furniture for more varied orientations in the Dau collection, which was playfully mixed and matched in various settings to showcase the versatility of the product. For Keilhauer, it was the category blending Forsi collection, which featured tables and chairs that fuse corporate formality with lounge-like comfort.
The strong presence of modular office pods themselves represented a unique and eye-catching method of deploying and repackaging purpose-built spaces. Hushoffice, for one, featured a variety of modular solutions that were able to create individual workspaces as well as roving meeting spaces for offices. SilentLab, meanwhile featured easily deployable chambers with build-in ventilation systems and colorful customizations to match a variety of spaces.
But the most wildly flexible of the bunch had to be the AMAi Collection from Extremis, which was designed to adapt to just about every space and function with its design. The table can be lifted, lowered and even tilted to accommodate different workloads and uses while easily attached canopies allow it to transition from indoor to outdoor spaces. Its simplified design even makes it suitable for a variety of spaces from residential to commercial and everything in between.
An Exciting Year So Far for Design
It almost feels like the industry is making up for lost time. With many of the prominent tradeshows making comebacks after pandemic hiatuses, everything seems to be rushing to address the current state of the built environment, with commercial design seeing perhaps some of the biggest changes overall just in terms of innovation and direction. Overall, the extent to which many manufacturers have embraced their roles as leaders in the space for sustainability and wellness is definitely inspiring, even if there is so much left to do.