(October 11, 2021)  This year, Ryan Mayton and Aubrey Giedlin made the trek to Chicago to see the industry’s innovations at a delayed and greatly anticipated NeoCON 2021.  Here are some insights from their trip.

The Atmosphere

This year’s NeoCON was undoubtedly an unusual one.  In the annals of the contract interiors industry, this one will certainly go down with a giant asterisk by it.  It was small (at least 50% less attendance, by my estimation) but mighty.

When NeoCON was postponed until October, I had anticipated crisp, autumnal weather.  But what we got was warm, overcast, and damp.  While it did occasionally rain, for the most part, the precipitation held off. Chicago’s architecture scene is in full bloom, with new high-rise buildings popping up along the horizon.  Several streets near the river have been closed to vehicular traffic, expanding outdoor seating for the Windy City’s outstanding restaurants.

The Merchandise Mart was at a slow simmer of activity.  All showrooms had been equipped with technology to monitor capacity, and the mechanical systems were enhanced with anti-viral technologies.  All participants were required to pre-screen for COVID with the Clear App and required to wear masks in all showrooms.

The reduced attendance had a silver lining.  It was easier to see and hear with fewer people, and maneuvering through the Mart was more effortless than ever.

And one travel tip – the next time you’re in Chicago, make the trip to the Starbucks Reserve on Michigan Avenue.  The Reserve (housed in the former 4-story Crate and Barrel flagship store) features exotic coffee blends, experimental bakery items, and a coffee-themed cocktail bar.  When we visited at 8 AM to get our morning cup, folks were already enjoying a coffee martini.

The Look and Feel of 21

With the stresses of the past two years, it was no shock that the look of NeoCON turned toward the warmth, softness, and familiarity of home.

The show’s palette seemed to be based on a deep merlot, complemented with accents of ochre, terra cotta, navy blue, seafoam, and deep green.  These muted jewel tones were paired with warm woods and natural stone to create a soft yet inviting feel.

Pattern play was bold, with a Granny Luxe feel throughout the Mart.  Dried florals finished off that look.

Perforated materials were abundant, ranging from laser-cut steel to hand-woven caning, contributing to a lighter, more crafted appearance.

Two specific materials appeared in abundance thought the Mart.  Fenix laminates, with their soft, effortless appearance, were everywhere.  PET also permeated the show, used predominantly for seating and screens.  We look forward to innovation in PET; we love the sustainability and functionality of this material but were a little bored with its sad, grey appearance.

The Home Team Experience

The new Steelcase Karman chair was the home team’s star.  We are happy to report that it is as comfortable as it is beautiful, with a light, hammock-like feel.  Guests were delighted by the range of materiality, as well as the impressive sustainability story.  We’re looking forward to the full launch of this excellent new seating solution early in 2022.

Visitors also enjoyed seeing the full range of the Flex collection.  Because it was launched just before COVID, most have not had a chance to see the collection in person.  There was lots of interest in the whiteboards, carts, and Flex Active Frames.  And the new Flex Media Cart was also well-received

NeoCON Standouts

Comfort: Andreu World Forest Club 

Andreu World collaborated with Philippe Starck to create the uber-comfortable Forest Club.  Recognized at NeoCON for its sustainability, it employs a clever design that makes it easily disassembled at the end of its life.  But if you ask us, the hidden beauty of this was its incredible comfort.  The cushions allowed for just the right amount of sink to settle in for a while.

Swoon-worthy – Nucraft Custom Cactus Table

You can always count on Nucraft for exquisitely designed meeting space solutions, and this year was no different.  One standout solution on display in the Mart was this striking round custom table with an integrated planter.  A table like this would make an incredible statement in a dining area or open commons space.

Ingenuity – Nucraft Flow Table with Heated Glass Top

Nucraft struck again with a novel new prototype feature: a heated glass tabletop.  A hidden heating element slightly warms the perimeter of the table. Indeed a creature comfort, we could see how this would be beneficial, especially in colder climates.

Rockstar – Kettal Workplace Pavilion O

Kettal isn’t exactly a newcomer to the industry, but its recent push into the corporate market has opened our eyes to this exciting manufacturer.  Known for its fantastic collection of outdoor products, Kettal has expanded its offering with the introduction of Pavilion O. This agile architectural product is beautiful, flexible, and functional.  We expect that unique solutions like these will be popping up in interior spaces near you!

Active – Watson Haven HighLow Float Table

The new Watson Haven collection is a series of settings designed to encourage interaction and engagement.  We were particularly impressed with thoughtful features like integrated lighting, planters, and bag hooks.  The hinged table can flex and move to support a variety of activities.  And did we mention how beautiful the collection is?

Illuminating – Tom Dixon Melt Pendants & Steelcase Eclipse Light

Good lighting elevates environments and enhances our experiences.  We saw two products that did just that.

Tom Dixon is one of Steelcase’s newest partners, and his Melt pendants were prominently featured in the Steelcase showroom.  These warm, ember-like forms made the meeting space feel more akin to hanging out at a campfire!

The Steelcase Eclipse lamp is a clever lamp that effortlessly converts from task to ring light for video calls.  It also has a mirror (for a quick appearance check before your call) and a unique dimmer switch to adjust lighting levels to your preference.  We love multifunctional products like Eclipse!

Division – Stylex Still Screens

With a greater emphasis on focus and cognitive well-being at work, we’re always looking for ways to introduce flexible, effective, and beautiful division.  The Stylex Still Screen collection offers a soft, architectural appearance with a touch of tailored elegance.  We particularly liked the small louvered “windows.”

Phone Booths – PoppinPod Kolo

With an ever-growing demand for private spaces to take a call, the market for phone booths has rapidly expanded.  There are many great options out there, and after experiencing many of them at NeoCON, the PoppinPod Kolo stood out with its excellent price, functionality, and appearance.  With various finishes and a clean visual, we feel that there’s a place for Kolo on all projects.

Sustainability – 3form Flek Pure and Steelcase Karman

3form’s latest innovation – Flek Pure – takes the beautiful Flex product to the next level, made from 100% recycled materials.  This closed-loop product is perfect for various applications and can be milled and bent to specification.  Creative also integrates Flek Pure into many of the 3form Elements solutions.

Designed with the planet in mind, Steelcase Karman uses sustainable materials and the least number of components necessary. It weighs only 29 pounds yet is incredibly strong. Steelcase Karman uses minimal resources to reduce its impact on the earth, delivering a holistic approach to sustainability while supporting our carbon commitments.