The official countdown may have already started for NeoCon 2019 (354 days, 19 hours, 49 minutes, and 46 seconds, for those keeping track), but we are still basking in the glow of the show’s golden anniversary. This 50th NeoCon introduced us some new ideas for the workplace—and by extension showcased ideas about the evolving nature of work itself.
Several colleagues who recently joined Perkins+Will were in town from Austin, Dallas, and Houston. We asked these designers, who have deep experience in workplace projects for clients including Trend Micro, Atlassian, and True North Advisors, to share their observations from the show.
WORK MEETS LIFE
Last year’s hospitality and residential influence was evident again this year, with “softer lines, more crafted elements, [and] sophisticated accents in furniture and lighting,” said Lina Murillo from our Austin studio.
Many commercial furniture manufacturers partnered with lines associated with a more residential look. “Steelcase’s showroom was a blend of their newest products along with recent partnerships with BluDot and Mitchell Gold Bob Williams, achieved the perfect WorkLife setting,” said Raul Baeza, also from Austin. Similarly, the Knoll showroom shared space with its partner Muuto, which featured timeless, modern pieces as befitting of a chic hotel or home as an office setting.
A MATERIAL WORLD
Last year it was all about the artisanship—the “honesty of materials…and the art of the craft,” said Juliè Gauthier, working out of our Houston studio. This year saw the return of this trend, along with specific materials making a strong statement. “Wicker and rattan are making a comeback with a modern approach,” said Murillo. Perhaps in keeping with the hospitality vibe, designers saw it on everything from modular lounge pieces to casegood door fronts. Baeza notes first seeing this trend at the Stockholm Furniture Fair. “From Decca’s casework rattan doors, to Haworth’s leather wrapped shelves, natural materials are bringing residential details to the commercial world,” he added. Leather accents on furniture and even office systems also conveyed this artisan feel. This whole trends to the ongoing blend of work and life activities—and the spaces where both happen, which continue to converge.
In other material news, custom has become standard. “We saw many manufacturers now offering [specialty materials we specify] as standard finishes, which will be a cost savings to the client while giving them the nice design they want,” said Sara Allen of Perkins+Will’s Dallas studio.
Embedding power into furniture is nothing new, but we saw a more subtle and clean approach to tech integration this year. Allen pointed to Halcon’s wireless charger (“just a dot on the table!”) and Nucraft’s slim USB access via finger pull-out. “The power modules enhanced the furniture, rather than being a necessary nuisance. Leather accents, colored metals, and smaller scale units blended well,” said Caro Wilbanks, of Austin.
THE SOFTER SIDE
Commensurate with hospitality-driven design trend, we saw the softer side of furniture and accessories. “We specified a ton of pillows last year and don’t see this trend going away any time soon,” said Allen. Poufs in a variety of shapes and sizes also reigned, along with padded ottomans or stools. “These perching pieces offer a great way to keep the furniture low profile while contributing to the landscape of open spaces,” said Gauthier.
Baeza added that in addition to softer textures, lines were more rounded, too—in pieces like Knoll’s Rockwell Unscripted Sawhorse table, Haworth’s Intuity benching, and Herman Miller’s Lino chair. Shaw Contract Carpet collaborated with Form us with Love to launch Inside Shapes, a toolkit of solid carpet tiles that, said Baeza, “transform flooring into a canvas for artwork.”
Colors were bold, saturated, and reminiscent of the 70s—with “magentas, greens and blues mixed with soft mints, yellows and pink pastel tones,” said Murillo. The standout for Baeza was first-time exhibitor Scandinavian Spaces, with its vibrant showroom sectioned into colorblocks celebrating the Nordic designs of nine Scandinavian brands.
Color was also found in unexpected places, from seating frames (to coordinate with their shells) to the dichroic film on Steelcase’s Irys pod (easily NeoCon’s most Instrammed moment), which harkened to this team’s design for Dropbox.
This year, we saw manufacturers going to market in a new way. “Big manufacturers aligning with online residential retailers fill in the gaps in product line and keep products under one umbrella,” says Gauthier. Such partnerships included Teknion and Gus* Modern; Herman Miller and Hay; and Allsteel and Normaan Copenhagen.
At the same time, the team saw the simplification of design and manufacturing to create less waste. Examples included Steelcase’s SILQ task chair, which consists of just a shell, arms, and base. “No adjustments, just intuitive to the way your body moves,” said Allen.
All in all, this most recent installation of NeoCon served up a healthy mix of new themes, innovative applications, and exciting materials mixed in with some trends that won’t quit (hello, resimercial). Thanks to our Texas team for being our boots on the ground!
Photos by designers mentioned above, along with Haley Nelson, Perkins+Will Washington, D.C.