• Shawn O'Hara

Notes from a NeoCon Newbie: The Latest Trends from the World's Design Show


As a commercial interior designer, I'm introduced to hundreds of new materials, fixtures, and furniture throughout the year. It can be daunting to maintain a comprehensive awareness of all of them, much less evaluate the new options for our clients. That's why the annual NeoCon Interior Design Conference is an amazing opportunity to get the whole picture on the industry's latest introductions.

In June, I made it to NeoCon for the first time, accompanied by my colleague Stephanie Sartori. The show, in its 50th year, boasts over 500 leading design companies spread over 1 million square feet of exhibition space at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. The three day event attracts over 50,000 design professionals, all ready to see the latest innovations in interior products.

Entering the exhibit hall one of the first things I noticed was the level at which each company was trying to catch my attention. The showrooms and exhibits were truly designed for designers, each with their own take on the latest aesthetic trends. Fortunately Stephanie and I had developed a game plan beforehand and had mapped out the companies and products that we knew we wanted to see. Truly evaluating new products requires seeing, touching and, when possible, using the latest introductions. Of the thousands of products on display, here are some of my favorites that stood out to me:

Recycled P.E.T. Felt: It was everywhere. Applications included cubicle fabric, furniture upholstery and sound absorption ceiling clouds, wall dividers and privacy solutions for open office environments. The look of the material is soft and it really helps reduce the amount of noise in an open area. Plus, the fact that it’s made from recycled plastic bottles makes me feel good.

Luxury Vinyl Tile: In the flooring world, Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) has been popular for a long time, but aesthetics were focused on emulating wood and natural stone looks. Now, I was pleasantly surprised and excited to see available patterns fully expanded into colorful, abstract, and playful design elements.

LED's everywhere: Though it's been years since LED lighting became cost effective and ubiquitous, manufacturers are really pushing the shape and design of LED powered lighting. LED is allowing for smaller, brighter and unexpected ways of using light in interior spaces.

Work from Home, or Home at Work?: In office environments and furniture, we saw the use of wood, soft fabrics, and lounge style seating areas. The workplace continues to evolve with an emphasis on comfortable environments with elements one would normally find at home.

Every product had an environmental story. Many products used design, texture, and color to bring the outdoors in. Couple this with recycled content and cleaner manufacturing and the results are many beautiful, environmentally conscious products.

After miles and miles of walking and three of the most jam packed days I’ve probably ever experienced, I returned to Rochester excited and inspired by what I experienced. I feel fortunate to work for a company that invests in my role as a designer and allows me to seek opportunities to continually gain expertise.

About the Author:

Shawn O’Hara is an Interior Designer focusing on educational, municipal and healthcare projects. He is a member of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and resides in Rochester, NY. He enjoys urban exploration, photography and traveling. You can find him on his days off relaxing at a local coffee shop. Connect with him on Linked In.

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