As the preeminent destination for the commercial furniture industry, NeoCon is a broad lens through which to view workplace changes. The growth of smart furniture confirms our appetite for data. The abundance of cozy textures signals the blurred line between home and work, while the wide range of colors speaks to the choices, tastes, and styles shaping the design of our workplaces.
Below, we give our take on the trends and share the products and moments our designers deemed Instragram-worthy.
The Workplace Gets Smart(er)
The Internet of Things (IoT) and workplace are an obvious match. Given companies’ growing desire for data on everything from utilization to movement (or lack thereof), the market has responded with smart furniture that enhances workplace efficiency and improves employee well-being. Herman Miller’s Live OS reminds users to stand by tracking how long they’ve been sitting. In the Kimball showroom, ShareDesk showed its Optix Pro app, which manages and optimizes the use of co-working spaces. Lastly, Steelcase debuted the result of its partnership with Microsoft: an ecosystem of tech-integrated work areas that support collaboration and creativity.
This year, we saw muted greens, new neutrals such as blush and peach, and a healthy dose of Millennial Pink. We also spied bright pops of color on accessories, demountable walls, and metal furniture legs. A few manufacturers, including BuzziSpace and Carnegie, offered masculine elements like distressed leather and black metal accents. Knoll even took a risk with metallic upholstery.
Carpet and textile manufacturers adopted a more subdued approach. After years of ebullient colors, they went gray. Hues ranged from ash to graphite, with most patterns speckled with multiple shades. Mannington, Bolyu, Mohawk Group, and Bentley were among those who introduced grayed-out flooring options, while Designtex, KnollTextiles, Filzfelt, and Luum did the same for upholstery and wall treatments.
Illuminated surfaces also continued to gain traction, with LEDs embedded in wood, terrazzo, and acoustic panels. But E Ink did away with LEDs entirely in its E Ink Prism, a color-changing, fully programmable architectural film that acts like a dynamic skin. The low-power product, which does not require electrical outlets, allows architects and designers to change the hue of a wall, ceiling panel, or entire room with the flip of a switch
Manufacturers Up Their Green Game
Mohawk Group and Interface got into a friendly eco-competition (perhaps because the sustainability director of the latter recently joined the former?), with each introducing increasingly earth-friendly products. Mohawk debuted Lichen, the world’s first carpet tile to receive Living Product Challenge Petal certification for a net positive impact on people and the planet. Interface bowed a prototype of Proof Positive, the world’s first carbon-negative tile and whose footprint is achieved directly through design and manufacturing versus purchasing carbon offsets. Carpeting manufacturers weren’t the only ones pushing the boundaries. Humanscale partnered with Bureo, an entity that collects and recycles plastic fishing nets (which is 10% of the ocean’s plastic pollution), to create a prototype Diffrient World chair made from 13 pounds of the repurposed material.
Throughout the fair, the influence of hospitality and residential design on workplace was undeniable, with contract vignettes resembling living rooms more than office reception areas. An emphasis on texture—rendered in quilted textiles, chunky wools, and felted accessories—created a soft, cozy look that harkened to hygge. Herman Miller’s ColourForm sofa featured a “blanked-wrapped” side panel that brought residential comfort to a contract sofa. HBF’s Kanso Bench was another favorite for its ability to support work, collaboration, and social situations.
Instagram photos by Perkins+Will designers: Brooke Horan and and Emily Knippling (Minneapolis).