NeoCon {the dream vs. the reality}

Anyone who has ever wanted to go to or has been to the massive exposition of design products that is NeoCon will be able to relate to the experience of our guest blogger, Gabby Markowitz.

The Dream: To go to NeoCon

Upon entering college, I had some trouble choosing a major.  Like most young, starry-eyed, creative types, I pursued and earned a degree in Business. When I moved to Atlanta, I took a job in a commercial design firm as a “Resource Librarian”. In some firms, this position is a highly utilized and integrated part of the creative team. They know that with a few well-chosen products, a design will come to life (this was not the culture at my firm, but that's a rant for another blog). After a short settling-in period, I began absorbing product knowledge like a sponge. I couldn’t get enough of reps, samples and Lunch & Learns. Every product in the library inspired me with a whirlwind of design ideas. I was feeling what some might call “passion”. Up to this point, my understanding was that one goes to design school, comes out a “designer” and sits in front of a drafting table 'till they drop. I had never felt creative in front of a drafting table, but in the library, it came pouring out. At some point I must have overheard the term “NeoCon”, and deduced that it was a convention all about materials. From that point on, NeoCon became my Mecca.  

image via Coalesse 

Coalesse taught me not to hate on contract chairs ever again.

 Images via Wink.

As can be expected of them, Bentley Prince Street showed some luxurious carpet. Yarns with sheen and bright colors were an injection of fun-with-carpet, for a change.  It will be nice to have the option with just the right client.

Every year, the Chicago Merchandise Mart welcomes thousands of members of the design industry. There are floors of permanent showrooms and floors of temporary booths as well. Many of the people clogging up the halls at the Mart, have appointments with showrooms and specific projects in mind. I can imagine that the lack of available elevators and the branded goody bags are somewhat annoying to them. The theatricality created by unveiling a product at NeoCon, is exciting, but as I looked around on the first day of the conference, I began to question the necessity of it all. NeoCon is a bit of a crazy exercise, similar to trying to go somewhere in rush hour traffic or calling the phone company to add a second line, during a thunderstorm. We could meet with reps at any time during the year. We could look up a product online, flip through a brochure, or have a sample sent over. In contrast to the over scheduled masses, I was at NeoCon to see new products, make some contacts and soak it all in. With this mindset, the experience was enlightening and inspiring, but I left wondering whether it could be the best use of a professional's time.
Some cool items in the Izzy+ showroom. While not all new this year, some products are just attention grabbers.

image via Izzy+ 


My colleague and I found this chair noteworthy, but impossible to use while sitting in any lady-like fashion. 

I can’t lie to you… One will see a good amount of office chairs, but bear with me.

The chairs of Neutral Posture might not start a style revolution, but the company focuses on health, and for that we thank them.

It’s probably unfair to put NP’s chair next to Izzy+’s, or this new piece by Karim Rashid for Raynor Contract, but technically they are all in the same seating category.  And speaking of Karim Rashid, I’d love some opinions on this item.  It has occurred to me, that I never need to be told that a product is designed by Karim Rashid and this chair is no exception.  Is that a positive?

Though not technically within the Merchandise Mart, the Kimball Office showroom was worth seeking out.  Not only were they gifting some of the niftiest totes of NeoCon 2011, but they were also presenting “Fit”, an unquestionably dynamic idea in seating.

It is clear that work activities have been released from cubical and conference room confines.  So now, along with exceptionally open workstations, manufacturers take to heart NeoCon 2011’s buzz word: Collaboration.

image via AiS

Ais and Turnstone (a Steelcase company) built the option to “visit” directly into their workstations.  Turnstone’s “Rumble Seat” seems to have achieved a new level of comfort and cool, but AiS’ “Calibrate” keeps us work focused.  Though products like these are flooding the contract market, no systems manufacturer can boast that they have this concept nailed.
image via Interiors & Sources Magazine

As a librarian, I heard terms like “NeoCon Gold” or “Best of NeoCon” out of every rep with whom I spoke. While I often agreed that a product was impressive, these terms became so overused that I wondered if they were given out with each ticket. If one were to walk the halls of NeoCon and only glance in each showroom window, chairs and carpet tiles would merge into a blur, and one would wonder what all the fuss was about. But then I stopped window shopping and got involved.  

Collaboration opportunities seem to be scattered around the contract landscape to offer an impromptu touch down point just as an idea strikes. However, many exhibitors included panels around these gathering spaces that turned them into tight coves. The enclosing of these spaces made them feel permanent & I felt like asking, "Do I have to book this conference room in advance?"

image via Arcadia

image via Steelcase

I sat in many office chairs and in/on a few other devices we'll loosely call "chairs" and I listened to the pitch about each of them. I touched as many carpet tiles as I could and learned about new fibers. I listened to the latest capabilities from glass and acrylic manufacturers. I studied wall coverings made of everything from green materials to hand-laid exotic wood veneers. I played with so many displays that incorporated Ipads, making Ipads almost lose their appeal. It was at that point that the need for NeoCon started to make sense.

Allsteel stepped outside it’s comfort zone with new products that may interest the education side of contract furnishings.  Gather is a grouping of tiered objects, comfortable for sitting or whatever. Hedge is a functional divider that can enclose a presentation area or offer standing & seated comfort. The line also includes small lightweight stools that make it easy to grab and go.

Exhibitors showed many options for occasional seats that get pulled-up as needed.

image via Sparkeology

Sparkeology offered up "Cupcake" and fed us mini cupcakes too!  I’ll give them two thumbs up for marketing, but the product, self explanatory.

Turnstone gave it a domed bottom and height adjust-ability and this ottoman became a comfortable, yet simple way to take a seat.
And now for something completely different...

image via Seeyond

Seeyond has packed a ton of good ideas into one custom modular wall systems.  One begins with an app that allows them to design a wall without limits.  The software then assesses the shape parametrically in order to create the grid that will break down the wall into parts.  The pieces of the wall are then manufactured from flat lightweight material.  Go to the website for even more about this product. 

Some might think it easier to sell a chair than design services, but at NeoCon a chair is a commodity and they all serve a similar function. In my mind, what distinguished one chair from another were the good ideas that made one a better sitting experience than another. Similarly, interior design is the creation of a better overall experience. Having seen and touched so many products at NeoCon, I can now create with more than just pictures in a catalogue. NeoCon gave me a "palette" of products that can enhance an experience.

Learn more about Gabby and view her interior design portfolio here. Learn about NeoCon 2012 here

Thank you for sharing your story Gabby! 

. . .   
All photos by Gabby Markowitz unless otherwise noted.

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