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09 Aug 2016

NeoCon 2016, Chicago

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This year’s giant commercial interiors fair saw a few familiar European names taking on the big North American players on their home turf

The imposing Merchandise Mart building in Chicago, a 1930s behemoth, played host once again to North America’s office furniture showcase. NeoCon differs from its European counterparts: Orgatec in Cologne and the Officina element
part of Milan in a couple of ways. It’s an annual event, not every two years and the key players have permanent showrooms, not stands for the standard three to five days that a trade show lasts.

The queues for the lifts were just as OnOffice had been pre-warned about as a surge of visitors made for floors three, ten and 11, where at Stateside big hitters like Steelcase, Herman Miller and Humanscale the crowds heaved like a superstar DJ set at Coachella, with only slightly less fervour.

Despite this being a US-centric show, many homegrown brands had made the trip across the Atlantic, among them Boss Design, Naughtone and Allermuir with European designers making their mark too as evidenced by PearsonLloyd at Teknion and Jasper Morrison for Andreu World. Trend-wise it was the continuing influence of natural materials and blush colours for a more residential feel and the need for privacy was catered for with varifold options. Naturally, this being NeoCon, not all the products launched there will be available immediately over here but this should whet the appetites of the UK architecture and design community.

Knoll (above)

Far from its retrospective-heavy presence in Milan, Knoll’s showroom was chock-full of future-facing appeal – such as its Rockwell Unscripted range. US designer David Rockwell said the intention was to get people to see work environments as a stage on which furniture can be arranged in different configurations several times a day. Mobile elements can create a variety of experiences from places to gather to quiet retreats.


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Every conceivable type of table format seemed to be available in Coalesse’s Potrero series. Designed in-house to encourage interaction as well as the discreet provision of technology, the range includes round, square, rectangular and boat-shaped options. The minimalist-
orientated designs are intended to be used all around the office, from open working areas to private workrooms and meeting rooms.


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Japanese office furniture manufacturer Okamura launched 5° GO-DO, a collection of felt acoustic wall panelling. Satisfying the need for sound reduction in a stylish, unobtrusive way, its non-woven, felt polyester surface comes in three shades of grey. The panels can be arranged in classic linear patterns or curvy shapes. The magnetic backing attaches to steel surfaces such as partitions, so can be used as a temporary noise solution.


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Fresh from proceedings at Clerkenwell Design Week, the Milliken brand was making waves on the other side of the pond with modular carpet collection Lapidus. Inspired by the natural world’s intricate patterns and textures, Lapidus can take on a bold, painterly quality, depending on the colours and placement of tiles, or a touch of texture if deployed more sparingly – perhaps to define spaces or soften wall intersections.


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UK textile firm Camira introduced a clutch of designs at the show this year. Among them was Zig Zag – which, as its name suggests, is made up of parallel lines of varying angles, widths and colours to create a bit of fun in the upholstery fabric sector. Zig Zag is printed on Camira’s Synergy, a versatile wool-rich fabric.


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Brit designer Jonathan Prestwich has collaborated with US manufacturer Davis quite a few times before. His latest design is Techniq, a multi-use table. The flip-top option means it can be used or stored as required in a workspace, for example in training rooms. There are two leg options – on the edge or inset – as well as a variety of widths and lengths with tabletop options including laminate and veneer.

Shaw Contract

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Shaw Contract, located on a bustling thoroughfare on the tenth floor, presented a number of new collections, among them Modern Edit. This consists of three new 45x90cm carpet tile designs and two broadlooms. The in-house design team bills this as “reframing the concept of heritage; tactile materials are disrupted by elements with an industrial edge”. Its appearance suggests a slightly distressed opulence, interplaying plush with threadbare qualities.


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It’s curves a-go-go over at Senator, which launched its Orb desk. It eschews the traditional rectangle shape in favour of something more circular – it can be specified either as a 360-degree full-circle starter desk, or with a “bite”, which allows the workstations to toggle onto each other. A standing desk version is also available to encourage variance in posture. The circular shape of the workstation also makes use of a single central support that allows its structural elements to be kept away from the office worker, giving them more room.

Skyline Design

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Who says glass partitioning has to be purely practical? Not Skyline Design certainly, which introduced the beautiful Glass Gradients by Dutch design duo Scholten and Baijings. Playing with basic geometric forms – a dot and a square – the designers introduce transparency and soft colours. Not limited to partitioning, Glass Gradients’ etched and printed glass patterns can be applied horizontally or vertically for privacy or aesthetic impact.


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Haworth’s showroom was a packed-to-the-rafters affair – and no surprise, given the sheer number of products on show, including those from the Poltrona Frau Group, which it took over a few years ago. Fern, a new task chair, vied for attention with Patricia Urquiola for Haworth, a texile collaboration with the Spanish designer and the Immerse table (pictured) for temporary gatherings, small or large, sitting or standing.

Three H

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Three H is a Canadian brand we’d not heard of before but delighted us with its Workshelf range, a playful take on the traditional office set up. It had three objectives with this range: to bridge the gap between open plan and the private office; to design a multifunctional leg for desking and tables and to achieve the previous two goals at a competitive pricepoint. The range consists of a meeting office, an open plan office and a private office set up.

Unika Vaev

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Also part of the ICF Group and also tackling the workplace problem of noise pollution is Unika Vaev’s ecoustic e3 tile. This is a self sticking hexagon made of polyester. Each tile consists of three parallelograms and can be applied to almost any wall surface making it a quick and easy way to reduce sound in the workplace, with 16 colourways to choose from. As they say in press bumf – Let MC Escher be your guide!


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Addressing acoustic absorption in a novel, colourful way, Airleaf by ICF is made from moulded felt fibre and is the work of Swedish designer Stefan Borselius. The fibre is then formed into a distinctive leaf shape. It can be hung on either a straight or a curved rail, providing both visual separation and sound diffusion within a space. There are also 30 colour options to choose from.


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Tapping into two design trends at the same time, Wilkhahn has produced its own version of the highly popular office stool that encourages changes in posture, using the very of-the-moment technique of 3D printing. Created in conjunction with designer Thorsten Franck, the body of the Presto stool is printed using lignin, a hardwearing, durable and biodegradable plant polymer. The seat is made of plywood and upholstered with polyurethane foam with a vegetable tanned leather, while the base is made of black non-slip rubber.

Andreu World

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Andreu World’s showroom was a one-stop-shop for great designs by the likes of Lievore Altherr Molina and Patricia Urquiola. The star turn, in our opinion was Duos, a new chair collection by Jasper Morrison, a typically pared down and modestly beautiful seating range by the British designer. Harnessing the Valencia-based manufacturer’s prowess in woodworking, Duos is a versatile, collection and is available with or without arms, as an all wood version with an upholstered seat and back or with just an upholstered seat.

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