Neocon 2019: Conversations and Insights

25 Jun , 2019  

Our team on the ground in Chicago gained some unique insights at the fair, which we felt we had to share. We also recorded inspiring conversations with vibrant, design celebrities, that showed us a glimpse into their thought processes. Read on to know more…

Fulton Market District: the next design hotspot?

Knoll debuted their new showroom in Fulton Market District during NeoCon with an event titled Design Days. They took an entire building that also houses their brand partners, DatesWeiser conference and meeting room furniture, Spinneybeck and FilzFelt architectural and acoustic materials. Muuto too, occupies an entire floor in the building, and this new space will serve as Muuto’s flagship store in North America, featuring resimmercial design.

Above: Knoll and brand partners, and Muuto

Such a mega move from the Merchandise Mart to this trendy and gentrified meatpacking district has many whispering about a seismic shift of design neighbourhoods. Herman Miller, another industry giant, is to follow suit with a new showroom in Fulton Market by 2020. They have been occupying a space in the Mart for 80 years, which is why their design theme at NeoCon seemed so apt – all their products sat in open boxes, indicating an impending change of address.

Above: Herman Miller

The vacant spaces left behind worked out quite well for several other brands that jumped at a chance to get some of these coveted spots in the Merchandise Mart location. Japanese seating company Okamura, Emeco, and Hightower all slid into the gaps left by Miller and Knoll. Senator and Allermuir settled into their new space too, with the launch of a few of their latest products. Arper too, moved into a larger, beautiful new space in the Mart. We did notice that Arper US seemed to be devoid of its usual European pizzazz. We wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of that Italian fair flavour in the Americas too.

Above: Okamura, Emeco, Senator and Allermuir, Arper

Patricia Urquiola


Even if Patricia Urquiola weren’t such a massively talented designer, we would still crave her presence at the fair, purely for her vibrant and colourful personality. Thankfully, the Spanish designer had her fingerprints all over the show, curating Haworth’s colour palette and masterminding the showroom’s Cabana Lounge, which snagged a Gold Award for Best of NeoCon for Lounge Furniture Collections.

Urquiola also continued a series of collaborations with Andreu World, launching the Nuez Collection. The bright, playful and functional line of armchairs matched both Urquiola’s personality the industry’s preference. Nuez Outdoor was awarded a Silver Best of NeoCon award for Outdoor Contract & Hospitality. The subtly scalloped chair backs fold elegantly near the seat, giving the simple design just enough lift. We even overheard a NeoCon attendee mention how perfectly kid-proof these soft seats were.

“A chair is only as beautiful as its back,” said Urquiola. And she’s not wrong.

Above: Patricia Urquiola, Jesús Llinares and Giulio Ridolfo; Below: Haworth and Andreu World

Agility and Technology Forms the New Workspace

The Steelcase area had consistent footfall, and why wouldn’t there be a crowd. Steelcase and its team of brands and partners have brought the fun back into products by giving more power and control to the designers. The popular Flex Collection allows teams to work in more agile ways, move their displays about with ease, make use of a mobile power bank that can give them charge anywhere they choose to sit, and basically create a fluid, and good looking, agile workspace. Genius. At NeoCon this year, they had another ace up their sleeve – their latest partnership with British Office Manufacturing darlings, Orangebox.

Above: Steelcase

And since fluid offices is the way to go, Mikomax’s Hush booths can be easily transported with a pallet lift, no dismantling required, and their pods have definitely improved their aesthetic since last year. Boss Design showcased their height adjustable table in a multitude of colours, along with their occasional chair, OLA, where the solid colour runs from shell to frame (another popular trend at the fair). Also worthy of a mention were Sedia Systems’ Jump Seats, which are agile workplace wonders, and amazingly customisable (plus you can now print on them as well).

Above: Mikomax, Boss Design and Sedia Systems

Teknion highlighted three types of work cultures, Agile, Aligned and Astute, and their showroom expressed these ideologies through space design and the appropriate application of furniture. While we are all familiar with the agile workspace, aligned and astute focus on a stable structure, culture preservation, and maintaining the working norms of a traditional environment. These various office environments are beautifully visualised in a mural at their showroom by digital illustration artist John Hersey. They also collaborated with Bene Box, amongst many others this year (we were happy to see the Naava Green Wall in there as well), and showed off their beautiful European collection by Mario Ruiz.

Above: Teknion

Halcon continue to make great executive veneer products, and could potentially be the market leaders in the veneer world. They seem to win awards every year, and give their revenue a good thirty percent annual bump (now who wouldn’t want that). Our favourite has to be their Halo Cantilevered desk, but we’re still on the fence about the side unit being anchored to the floor…

Above: Halcon

Pearson Lloyd


We sat down with the PearsonLloyd team, trying on for size Tom Lloyd and Luke Pearson’s Rap chair and sofa, and the Rufa Table designed in collaboration with Andreu World. The accomplished East London designers also launched two lines, Folk and Kin, with Allermuir at NeoCon 2019.

“During the design process we’ve always believed in building a brief with the client, which is a bit like making bread, where we’re all folding in different ideas,” said Lloyd, speaking of his team’s approach to collaborating with companies like Allermuir and Andreu World. “We share a love of travel and culture, and so find it very stimulating to work with brands that possess a strong culture,” added Pearson.

All three lines blended functionality with smart form – a chair that requires no tools for assembly, and can be made into a stool by screwing in leg extenders, and a chic sofa with a wrapped wood back and built-in writing surfaces.

“Creating a simple design that still has a soul is our goal,” said Pearson. “The depth of the piece is hidden in the simplicity.”

Both Lloyd and Pearson believe that there is no fixed timeline for a piece, no guarantee that a chair or table or sofa will move from concept to product in 18 months, which is a typical timeline in the industry.

“The only way to have beautiful things is to work hard, and it takes time,” said Pearson.

Above left: Luke Pearson; Above right: Tom Lloyd; Below: Andreu World and Allermuir

Creative and Totally Instagrammable

Shaw Contract’s NeoCon celebrations included transforming their showroom into a beautiful flow of colour, taking visitors on a journey of their new products and manufacturing processes, and the layered and diverse stories behind them. Their light boxes with framed LED screens were an excellent mix of advertising and technology, executed with a simplicity that made for intriguing showroom space. You almost waited by a light box, wondering when it would animate into a video – the colours were that vivid!

Above: Shaw Contract

Bentley Carpets took on a laundromat theme large washing machines spilling carpet samples, and laundry carts and baskets being used as props for products. We loved the not so subtle political message, “Sort laundry, not people”. Clever. The fun didn’t stop at Camira, with their fabrics displayed on playing tops (the ones you play with) made for a cool Alladin theme

Camira surprised us with an eye catching display of spinning tops (inspired by Charles Eames’ original designs) that were covered in fabric by Danish-American mid-century designer Jens Rison, who died in 2016 at the age of 100. Risom was mainly known for his iconic furniture pieces, but had also designed a range of mid century moden textiles that have been reimagined and reissued for the first time by Camira.

Above: Bentley Carpets and Camira

Modularity Redefined with Cloud9


The Cloud9 desk design and workspace pods remain a firm favourite at LTD headquarters. This insanely genius system can be mirrored, daisy-chained, flipped, rotated and repeated, creating innumerable workplace combinations. ‘Bending Space to People’ and ‘Change with Chaos’ is the ethos behind this design, as explained to us by Morten Nikolajsen of Denmark based Mohoni Studio, who designed the desk for Cloud9 for Watson, in collaboration with their product innovation studio, The Orchard.

“The entire system is built from scratch, nothing is off the shelf,” he says when we ask him of the branded actuators. “We met Watson right here at Neocon in 2016, and it took two years from commission to completion.” Clearly they made quite an impression. “We wanted to keep the design sophisticated, yet address the concerns put forward by many companies, such as where to put the CPU, or place to keep your belongings, files keys, etc. There are different storage needs for different work environments, and we kept that at the centre of our design process. But we also wanted to ensure that there was plenty of legroom underneath.” 

We did wonder if all four lifting legs would raise not just the desk, but the price as well. However, this was not Morten’s first rodeo, and his experience in this technology allowed the designers to create the mechanism inhouse, keeping the cost fair. Our take? This was one refreshing piece of design in a sea of somewhat similar aesthetics in the modular office furniture sections.

Above: Morten Nikolajsen of Denmark based Mohoni Studio; Below: Cloud9 desk and workspace pods

New Kids on the Block

Claridge, a company that’s apparently offering 20 to 30 percent lower prices than Clarus, has been in the writable surface market for schools for more than 20 years. They have recently entered the corporate space, and we can’t wait to see what happens next. This brand might be one to watch.

Above: Claridge

Sound Takes Centrestage

Acoustic felt dominated a major portion of NeoCon. An entire floor section at the Mart was filled with acoustic felt suppliers, and you knew you had walked into that zone the moment you experienced a sudden hush from the sheer number of sound absorbers around you.

Dutch company De Vorm continued to hold strong their moral high ground (genuinely) by displayed products made from PET Felt. This soft, strong and durable material is made from recycled plastic bottles, and features great acoustic performance. It is also completely recyclable. What more could you want?

Above: De Vorm

Material Bank

Material Bank was the talk of the town. This evolution of Material Connexion (hosted by Colab in Dubai) is a database of sorts for designers to search for samples of textiles, wall coverings, flooring, paint, solid surfacing, and more. They set up their first physical store, Material Bank Lab, at NeoCon 2019, giving specifiers a place to explore and discover. What really bowled us over was their new cutting edge Material Desk™ technology and Smart Swatch™ system, a new way to experience materials in interior design settings. We can’t wait to see what they do next.

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