The Modern Office
team visited the annual Neocon
convention this past Tuesday, which is held at historic Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. Each year in mid June, this convention draws tens of thousands of people involved in the office furniture market, as well as interior designers and architects.
"The Mart" boasts over 1 million square feet to showcase everything from office desks and seating, to textiles, fixtures, interior business products and technology. The third floor is home to many permanent showrooms by high end furniture companies such as Haworth, Steelcase, Davis Furniture and Three H. This was by far the most crowded floor of the convention, abuzz with co-mingling designers, sales people, photographers and retailers like us, looking to see what the hot, new furniture trends are. Many of these showrooms had coffee bars and small cafe settings to attract more visitors.
What we noticed most on the third floor was a resurgence in 1980's pastels: mauve, seafoam green and beige. It brought a bit of nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember those color schemes the first time around. Also, we noticed more products pertaining to office privacy. For example, "Cocoons", one person curved high back mini-couches with small worksurfaces, featured at Haworth. Also at Haworth, tall padded workstation partitions with curved hoods. Many of these hoods incorporated task lighting.
From there, we moved up to the 7th floor, where open floor space allows for exhibitors to set up smaller areas to showcase their product. One of the most notable items we saw here was corrugated paper lounge seating by Molo Products
. As crazy as it sounds, yes, you can sit on paper!
The honeycomb structure of these fold-out benches was incredible, solid and sturdy. Even better, these benches are 100% made with sustainable materials. Even the PET seat pads are made with recycled water bottles.
Speaking of PET products, you would not believe how many office products they make with this material! PET, which stands for polyethylene terephthalate, is best described as a rigid felt-like material, typically around .25 to .5 inches thick.
In addition to some amazing (and odd) PET artwork displayed, PET panels make excellent acoustic office panels. They are best used clamped onto the edge of an electric lift desk, or inside the walls of a cubicle workstation, to create privacy and sound absorbency. We also saw them in use as freestanding office partitions and wall tiles.
When it comes to laminate trends in desking, much of what we saw this year was similar to the past 2-3 years. Trends have shifted from cool-neutral colors to warm neutrals. Faded oak and maple woods, light walnuts and natural wood tones are all the rage. Take a look at this standing height conference arrangement by Safco, from their permanent showroom on the 11th floor.
Lastly, the common thread in most of the showrooms was modular bench seating. Many offices today need flexibility in their seating and the ability to rearrange easily. We saw a lot of curved seating in an array of colors, including vinyls and fabrics. Many of these were backless benches, or low back benches. Each one is designed to be moved and rearranged into several different configurations to adapt to ever-changing office floor plans. We already carry several kinds of modular reception seating
but we like to keep our product lines fresh with new ideas.
All in all, it was a busy but fruitful visit. Modern Office is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota which is just a short 1 hour plane ride away from Chicago. We typically fly in and out on the same day. We take the L train from Midway, which is a short 30 min ride with lots to see on the way. From there it's a beautiful 15 min walk down Wells Street to The Mart, which overlooks the Chicago river. We came out of the convention with new product ideas and have a good sense of trends that are starting to make their way to the mainstream.
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