Chicago’s Design Fete: All to know about NeoCon 2023 and Fulton Market Design Days

Industry professionals travelling to Chicago this year had a dual agenda. One was visiting the well-established and evolved NeoCon 2023, and the other was witnessing the Fulton Market Design Days beginning to come into its own. As Love That Design cruised through the two venues, just 15 minutes away from each other, here’s what called for our attention…

Chicago’s breezy albeit humid weather is a marker of design season in the city. Transpiring at a 15-minute-walk from one another, NeoCon 2023 at Merchandise Mart and Design Days at Fulton Market saw over 40,000 visitors attending this year and over 500 brands participating collectively.


Long winding lines for name tags and tedious elevator queues are a hallmark of NeoCon 2023. Instilling a sense of nostalgia, the walk through Merchandise Mart year after year has registered a mental map in regular visitors’ minds. In this sense, NeoCon can be avowed for its originality, consistency and knack of remaining relevant even after five decades of inception. 

The 2023 edition of NeoCon coincided with the introduction of THE MART’s latest building renovations, which were designed by Gensler Chicago. Attendees of NeoCon had the privilege of being the first to enjoy the newly enhanced facilities, which included state-of-the-art programming studios and community rooms in the second-floor WorkLife Meetings space. Additionally, they had the opportunity to experience the beautifully redesigned River Park along the South Drive.

NeoCon’s secret seems to be a calculated blend of familiarity and novelty. This year, for example, screens on the landing steps on the way to the second floor of Merchandise Mart had passersby enraptured. There are numerous ways to get through the floors at NeoCon 2023 – elevators, stairs and more. This year the stairs boasted screens that covered the ongoing podcasts and talks at the venue. Podcasts were held in pods peppered on the first floor, as the second floor metamorphosed into a secluded stage hosting the NeoCon talks.

Like every year, brands put on their A game to earn the coveted awards. From small booths to large showrooms, all participants were competing for awards from three entities: Best of NeoCon (from NeoCon), HiP Awards (from and Showroom and Booth Design Awards (from NeoCon 2023 marks the beginning of two-month hiatus for international interior design trade shows. That meant majority of the brands had participated in at least another show in the past six months, and NeoCon would see even better versions of their exhibits. And we couldn’t wait.  As ardent NeoCon visitors, we decided to start off at the top most floor and work our way down by stairs to avoid repetitive queues for the elevators…

The Furniture Showcase at NeoCon 2023

Off the bat, it was evident that there were quite a few tenants that had made their way to permanent showrooms from the seventh floor, usually showcasing as booths, while others moved into larger showrooms. The past couple of years have seen some of the larger incumbents of the likes of MillerKnoll, Interface, Teknion and AllSteel have found homes outside of the mart. 

In its fourth consecutive participation at NeoCon 2023, Pedrali catered to NeoCon’s “Together We Design” theme. The 300 sq.m. meter showroom displayed a plethora of interior environments. Mock meeting rooms, hospitality spaces and even lounge areas orbited around the concept of fluid and versatile workspaces. The Buddyhub provided for privacy, while outdoor furniture like Souvenir exemplified existence at the cusp of corporate and hospitality. Elinor and Polar task chairs appealed to modern style and ergonomics demands. The Lamorisse Wood chair won the HiP award for Seating in Hospitality, and Frank table was shortlisted in the Workplace: Conference Table category.

Arper’s ‘Life is Beautiful’ exhibit epitomised resimmercial furniture, along with exemplifying the inclusion of sustainability, technology and intensive material research. Semiton – a modular storage system garbed in buoyant shades bagged the HiP award for Hospitality Furniture. The equally vivacious Ralik was a finalist for the Hospitality: Lounge Seating race. Arper’s direction towards a blended future is clearly bearing fruits and how.

Pedrali Souvenir Outdoor Chair; Eugeni & Monica from Pedrali; Arper’s Display – Semiton Modular Storage and Ralik Modular Seating

At NeoCon 2023, Extremis flaunted the new Manille, a modular outdoor system. Usurping inspiration from an ancient West-Belgian card game, the garden seating is envisioned as a tool for togetherness. What’s most adulating about it is its compact packaging and options of two sun shades. Outdoor furniture has always been modular. However, with its indoor counterparts targeting flexibility – it seems as if condensed storage is about to be a new, omnipresent aspect in outdoor pieces. 

Seeing the craftsmen in action from a few of the Haworth partner brands (Cassina, Poltrona Frau & Janus et Cie) is always a treat. It showcases the skill set that is sometimes overlooked when handmade products are showcased. In our opinion, the Compose Echo Height-Adjustable Table displayed unprecedented versatility in desking. Fern 75th Anniversary and Knit Digital was not only mentioned in the list of the Most Innovative Products in the Best of NeoCon 2023 honours, but also emerged as a finalist in the HiP Award for Workplace: Task Seating. Cassina’s Bay System rose as a winner of the HiP Hospitality: Lounge Seating award, and even Cab chair from the brand was chosen as a finalist for the Workplace: Conference Seating accolade.

Boss Design commemorated their 40th anniversary at NeoCon 2023 with the unveiling of the Paloma stool collection. Also in attendance were their newest products the neotenic Hart foot stool, the quaint Kato chair, the compact Lina table, and Frida focus pod. The Sia Task chair (Boss Design’s most sustainable yet) and Ola Tub chair also highlighted the brand’s contemporary compass.

Extremis’ Manille; Haworth, Poltrona Frau, Janus et Cie & Cassina; Boss Design

The pragmatic team at Steelcase arranged for an organised event where wide-eyed professionals were informed about the brand’s high-performance products such as the ergonomic Karman task chair and it’s secret to being super-comfortable (cushion-seat, mesh-back, adjustable arms and more) in a timely fashion. Flex table from Steelcase grabbed attention as the finalist of the Workplace: Desking HiP award at NeoCon 2023. However, as forecasted, the hero was Ocular table that bagged Gold at Best of NeoCon 2023 honours under the Furniture: Collections for Collaborations category.

Housed in the Steelcase showroom, Viccarbe’s Zoco too, was recognised as a finalist for the Workplace: Lounge Seating category under HiP awards. Other quirky products like the Funda Bold and Foro were also displayed at the venue. 

At Andreu World’s jam-packed showroom, Love That Design was able to talk to Jesus Llinares, the CEO and the suave Phillipe Starck. Through all the conversations and display, the brand’s focus on sustainability was evident. The Bolete Occasional BIO table and Gala Pure ECO chair bagged the ‘Sustainability: Cross Category’ Best of NeoCon 2023 honour as well. The Gala Pure ECO chair also received a Gold for ‘Furniture Seating: Stacking’ and a Silver for ‘Outdoor Furniture: Seating. Bolete Occasional BIO table won the Environmental Impact HiP award, alongside being recognised for its Business Impact under Best of NeoCon 2023. The Tamara Table and Gala Pure ECO Chair were also honoured with ‘Best of Competition’ under Best of NeoCon 2023. That was not all, In Out Office Monoplace, Casta, Polina, Nazar and Luba also took home several HiP and Best of NeoCon attestations.

Steelcase X Viccarbe at NeoCon 2023; Team Love That Design meets Philippe Starck at Andreu World’s showroom in Chicago

Even the genius of the CoLab collection by The Senator Group was inescapable at NeoCon 2023. The collection targeted transforming corporate and educational into super-modular and flexible spaces with mobile parts. Best of Competition under Best of NeoCon 2023 might be the most significant honour, however, the collection was specifically commended for its ideal applications in Gen-Z classrooms by both, HiP awards and Best of NeoCon 2023. Its use in office environments was also appreciated by a Silver Best of NeoCon 2023

Allermuir’s earthy and sublime Ooty stool accrued Gold for Seating: Stools under Best of NeoCon 2023 and a shortlist position under HiP award’s Hospitality:Seating section. The Tibo Outdoor table also acquired a Gold Best of NeoCon trophy. 

Halcon’s Optic Desk was another highly-appreciated product at NeoCon 2023. The product came on top of the HiP Awards’ Workplace: Desking and was assigned Gold for Conference Room Furniture under Best of NeoCon 2023.

Following the scintillating Hotel Normann at 3daysofdesign in Denmark, Norman Copenhagen’s products were found in showrooms such as AllSteel reminding visitors Danish simplicity and minimalism.

Schiavello showcased a fusion of quirky products such as Hedge and practical, pain-point targeting pieces such as the Krossi and Climate workstations. The Vali Sofa collection, in particular, caught a lot of eyes. It was even recognised for its Innovation and Business Impact by Best of NeoCon 2023.

CoLab from Senator; Ooty stool and Tibo table from Allermuir; Optic from Halcon; Schiavello’s Chicago Showroom

Acoustics at NeoCon 2023

HushOffice launched its all-new hushFree collection that layers privacy with temperature and light control. Touting the importance of privacy in spaces other than offices, HushOffice made it apparent that ‘silence’ has progressed from being a privilege to a requisite. The team at the booth engaged quizzical visitors with the impediment low-quality booths posed to well-being. 

SilentLab displayed their signature MICROOFFICE pods at NeoCon 2023, and urged passersby to experience what existing in silence felt like. The modern silhouettes and boisterous shades of the pods had visitors tempting a try even if they were in a haste. 

Framery’s spanking showroom on Floor 3, debuted the Framery Contact in Chicago – a virtual meeting pod that is as close to the real experience of face to face conversations than any other technology in the market. Technology has set the bar high, and hence it takes more than a little effort to impress onlookers. With Framery’s Contact, it is difficult not to be enamoured. 

Caimi’s focus on blending acoustics with art has been foremost in its vision. At NeoCon 2023, the brand put together a boisterous display of Snowsound with their most favoured acoustic furniture pieces such as Mapwork sofa, Cilindro seat and Clasp Ring lamp. 

hushFree from Hushoffice; MICROOFFICE from SilentLab; Framery Contact from Framery

Tech n’ Tiles at NeoCon 2023

OE Electrics understands that comfort in a space extends beyond furnishing. It also encompasses ease of usage, and hence the brand has come up with ANIMATE collection. The product range features the portable QIKPAC CARRY and QIK DOC that facilitate a seamless charging experience. 

PREFORM Casa was another fascinating company that assisted in creating a quiet environment for video calls to allow hybrid working models to be implemented. 

To say that Shaw Contract aced NeoCon 2023 would be a serial understatement. The brand managed to sweep 13 accolades amongst three collections at the trade show! The burgeoning Culture Custom Collection pocketed five honours – including Gold for Modular Carpet under Best of NeoCon 2023 and the winning title for HiP Awards’ Hospitality: Flooring category. The Dappled Light Collection stood out as victor in Healthcare Flooring in both the HiP Awards and Best of NeoCon 2023. The illustrious Michael Ford X Shaw Contract carpets were also appreciated with as many as three awards such as Gold Best of NeoCon for Carpet: Area Rugs

At Roca Tiles’ showroom, Kriskadecor debuted the Feel Free system by estudiHac in Chicago. Guests closely engaged with the innovative design solution, and indulged in a wine tasting event, with wines sourced from Spain and California.

Although Porcelanosa’s participation was scarce, it was informative. Visitors were invited to attend a Large Format Slab CEU Presentation and glance through the brand’s exhaustive repertoire.

OE Electrics’ ANIMATE Series; Caimi’s Snowsound Showroom at NeoCon 2023; Shaw Contract’s display; Kriskadecor at Roca Tiles’ showroom in Chicago

Worth-A-Visit Exhibits at NeoCon 2023

Mizetto, a Swedish brand with a personalised approach to desking and accessories, was awarded the Best Big Booth title along with a mention in Best of NeoCon 2023’s Innovation: Cross Category. 

BuzziSpace and Bernhardt Design displayed their prowess through an incredibly well-curated and attractive showroom. BuzziPebl Light also basked in limelight courtesy of a Silver Best of NeoCon 2023 trophy. 

Scandinavian Spaces embodied a cafe concept that served freshly brewed coffee to further enhance the solace of its products. Bla Station’s Rut and Max had collected two winner accolades from HiP Awards Workplace vertical.

Mizetto, BuzziSpace, Bernhardt Design, Scandinavian Spaces


Design Days 2023 at Fulton Market saw an upbeat vibe, even through the rainy days. Still in its nascent stages, the streets of Fulton Market during Design Days was vibrant with a palpable sense of anticipation. Outdoor exhibits by brands created mystery as the varied events taking place at the premise imbued a serene, erudite ambience. Naturally, we kicked off our Fulton Market journey with one of the most colourful and imaginative exhibits…

Towers of stacked stout, cylindrical forms garbed in Kvadrat’s lush textile range, Naveli made for a hard-to-miss sight. Envisaged by Kvadrat’s long-time design partner, Doshi Levein, these towers mimicked totem figures and depicted Chicago’s architecture. To Doshi, the subdued shades and their lustre duplicated the city’s summer hues and the forms formed the analogy’s skeleton. 

MillerKnoll curated a plethora of smaller exhibits in their roomy showroom at Fulton Market Design Days. A graphic design display nodded to the brand’s centenary, as vivid spaces housing the DW Collection and the voluptuous Pippin seatings. Herman Miller’s signature lounge along with colour-blocked niches dedicated to working environments hinted at the brand’s versatility and capability to pick on trends and conquer them effectively. 

Kvadrat & MillerKnoll at Fulton Market Design Days

Impact Acoustic’s pop-up exhibit outdoors might be washed from the outside of the third day of Fulton Market Design Days, but inside the immersive experience made up for it. Using concepts like biophilia, silence and computational design, Impact Acoustic came up with designed pockets as testament to their dynamism. CNC machining techniques were used to formulate a green-wall and kinetic ceiling. Their latest launch, ARCHISONIC® Felt alongside other products intrigued onlookers aplenty.

Pre-eminent designer Todd Bracher addressed visitors at Humanscale’s venue regarding well-being in design. With a renewed focus on sustainability, Humanscale’s event Hybrid formulated an immersive experience to shed light on fostering productivity and collaboration in contemporary, hybrid offices. The highlight was the brand’s upcoming Meeting Collection that will bridge the gap between conference calls and intuitive design.

Impact Acoustic & Humanscale at Fulton Market Design Days

Teknion’s Hoodies were the hot, new thing at Fulton Market Design Days. The Hoodie is actually a hooded privacy partition that alludes to a cosy, private space while working. The supple felt of the acoustic treatment and a range of tints will stir luxury in corporate environments. On showcase, in addition, were architectural solutions from the brand. LUUM textiles put up an erudite display of their latest Super Natural collection that accentuated Suzanne Tick’s alluring presence and guiding spirit.

Teknion & LUUM at Fulton Market Design Days

The Chicago Design Fete has undoubtedly diversified since a few years ago. The primary cause might be the division of pre-eminent companies into two locations – one steeped in historical relevance, another born out of the urge to surpass norms. Yet, the influence of acute competitive spirit between brands cannot be forgone. We forecast that the next iteration will see a more defined Fulton Market and a NeoCon with its usual nostalgia and concise improvements. Most of all, we are curious to see who overthrows the reigning brands of this year, since they are all forces to be reckoned.


Related Articles