It's time for another Neocon, hard to believe! So much has happened in the past year – but inevitable like clockwork, Neocon rolls around and it's time to take a close look at the products, concepts, and trends that will soon become part of our lives. As the Resource Specialist for Kling Stubbins in Philadelphia, my role is to seek out the best design solutions for our clients via products and inspiration. I come here each year with a specific agenda: see the best (and the rest), absorb the buzz and energy of the industry, and be open to learning about new concepts. The best part of this job is meeting all the great people that design and market these products, and I am very lucky to have access to many of them as a juror for the Best of Neocon competition. As such, I come to Chicago early to walk the Mart with my fellow jurors and hear first hand accounts of many products and how they come to fruition. In doing so, not only do I find some wonderful options for our projects, but I learn about future directions of our industry, especially for the workplace.
This year, everyone has the same questions: what will attendance be like? Will there be new products to see? Will our clients be able to afford any new furniture? I admit that I share the same questions and wonder if our industry has changed despite the slowdown of projects and workload that has happened across our nation. Well, so far – having been here since last Thursday, I can safely say that it still feels like Neocon. There are still lots of new product introductions, there are plenty of people to talk to, and yes, there are even still parties and festivities to be had. So for a few days I have decided to focus on the products, the ideas, the people, and yes, even the parties, so that it will still feel like the good ole' days.
There are definitely some emerging trends that I have already spotted, some directly related to the struggling economy, and others related to the fast changes happening in the workplace. Here's a quick look:
– With the move to a more nomadic work environment, furniture has become more colloborative (nothing new here). So now we are seeing meeting and conference tables that go beyond the typical 29" H – now these tables are showing up as counter height, intended to be used as improptu meeting spaces (no stools needed). There are several reasons for this: lessen the need for conference rooms; knowledge sharing between the generations; and provide a secondary work setting for mobile workers with their mobile technology. And sometime people like to just stand up (stools of course may be used). See Geiger (Peer Tables), Turnstone (Campfire), Nucraft (Elevare) for the best examples.
– I am happy to report lower prices (!) for lots of textiles and carpets. I am actually very impressed with the carpet manufacturers this year for coming out with some very attractive products at aggressive price points. Some of my favorites include Tandus' new broadloom to coodinate with Manufactured Landscapes (at $15 for materials) and Mannington's new broadloom "Stream of Consciousness" ($14-17). Also look at Shaw's "Wool" collection for broadloom and tile – $19 material cost for wool looking broadloom (at 42 oz). All are solution dyed and have varying scales.
– As for textiles, mostly all the manufacturers I spoke with are using mills in the US now in order to support what is a struggling industry. This is great news especially for LEED projects if you happen to be within 500 miles of where the fiber is produced and the where the fabric is woven. Favorites include HBF's Campion Platt collection (nature inspired classics), Luna's Optique collection (mid-century inspired), and Carnegie's Bright Side collection (very cheery colors and patterns). Also, there are more fabrics intoduced this year with bamboo fiber at less expensive price points than last year's introductions – see Unika Vaev and HBF.
– Manufacturers are also doing more with less materials, both from a cost and sustainability standpoint. Lower ounce weights in carpet, fewer materials making up a product, less finishing, and a smaller kit of parts where one exists.
Other highlights to look for at The Mart:
- Knoll has a new zooty task chair called Generation – this may be the talk of Neocon. Designed for Gen Y in mind. I love the hologram graphic outside the showroom – it looks great from afar looking down the hall on the 11th Floor.
– Herman Miller launched the new Setu line of "everywhere chairs" inspired by the blur of work and life. They are sleek looking and a nice complement to the existing HM family of chairs. I can't wait to test them in person.
- Inscape has a new system called TISCH, which branches into conference tables – all with one kit of parts. Intended for all work settings.
– Humanscale has 3 new items: a monitor arm (very slim!), a laptop holder, and smaller keyboard mount – all are nice and have thinner profiles than their predacessors using less materials and costing much less. Humanscale will also be coming out with a newly designed keyboard platform, their greenest product yet..in August.
– Carl Magnusson designed new work flow desk accessories for Teknion called FX. They are as elegant as Carl!
– Powermat, new wireless power devices for workstations, tables – really any flat surface including drywall. Yes, this is the future and it's coming now.
- Pallas has a biodegradable (!) PVC-free polyurethane fabric called Ground Breaking that performs like vinyl. Amazing colors designed by Laura Guido-Clark.
- You must check out the Vitra lounge in the Lobby of the Mart, not only for the new Antonio Citterio designed AC4 chairs and to test out last year's Alcove intro, but also to see the Buckminster Fuller dome. It's pretty crazy that it fits inside the Mart. Vitra had a lovely cocktail party in the dome Sunday evening, which was the perfect place to see old and new friends as well as kick off Neocon 09!
Royce Epstein, Sr. Resource Specialist, Kling Stubbins, Philadelphia