For the past 50 years, interior designers, architects, and manufacturers have converged on Chicago at the Merchandise Mart’s one-million square feet of event space to showcase and experience cutting edge design products. The three-day event features everything from textiles and floor coverings to furniture and hardware. This year, interior designers Michelle Coady, IIDA, Jackie Driscoll, CID, IIDA, and Danielle Lewis, CID, IIDA, attended the event to experience and be inspired by over 500 exhibitors. While there are countless products and designs to be inspired by, here are eight top trends from Neocon 2018.
1. Saturated Palettes
This year’s showrooms strayed away from “pops of color,” instead embracing explosions of varying hues and chromas. Flooring, furniture, and upholstery manufacturers showcased both muted hues (including the culturally pervasive “Millennial Pink”) as well as vibrant tones from all parts of the visible spectrum. Several manufacturers showed bold, monochromatic palettes, while others utilized a blend of colors to create exciting color stories. First-time exhibitor Scandinavian Spaces created a lively, color-blocked experience that transitioned from mauvey-pink to high-energy yellow and teal.
How-to: If using a rainbow of color is too much for your project, consider highlighting key areas with highly saturated, color-blocked palettes. Use colors that are central to your branding to create a cohesive look.
2. Rich Texture & Pattern
Upholstery and carpet manufacturers again dominated the texture and pattern game. Textile manufacturer DesignTex featured whimsical and bold patterns with multiple levels of color, while flooring manufacturer Atlas Carpet Mills released lush, multi-pile carpets. The key element throughout each showroom was layering. In several furniture showrooms, organic plant-life, rustic brick and luxuriant upholsteries and soft and hard flooring created a rich interior.
How-to: Consider pairing soft and hard flooring throughout your space as well as expanding beyond painted walls for accents. Textured wallcoverings or acoustical treatments can add visual interest and function to a space.
Easily customizable products were featured throughout many of the Mart’s showrooms. Furniture manufacturers again displayed solutions the allowed each user to customize his or her workplace to fit comfortably and promote productivity. Flooring manufacturers Shaw Contract and Tandus Centiva revealed quirky, interchangeable shapes that allow designers to create unique patterns with standard materials.
How-to: Have your designer experiment with patterns and color to create out-of-the-box looks with running-line materials. Many flooring manufacturers also offer custom coloring for a square footage minimum. Look into easily adaptable furniture and storage solutions as well.
4. Natural Elements
Biophilic design has been a common trend at NeoCon and in the design world at large for quite some time now. With showrooms like furniture manufacturer Haworth Inc. heavily featuring “wellness” as the central theme, natural materials were a central element. Most furniture silhouettes were composed of organic shapes and surface patterns were inspired by textures found in nature. Mohawk Group debuted a new Living Product Certified carpet line that was directly influenced by the natural patterns of weathering. In other areas, motifs of wood textures, natural hues, and moss walls were seen in multiple manufacturer lines. On a much more literal note, living walls, planters and preserved moss were heavily promoted throughout the show.
How-to: Plan your space to maximize natural light wherever possible. Use wood tones in finishes to create warmth in your environment. Living walls create huge impact and increase happiness while also contributing to LEED and WELL standards.
5. Acoustic Solutions
Acoustical solutions were even more popular this year, with many sculptural wall and ceiling solutions showcased, as well as acoustic materials built into fixtures. Many workplace systems manufacturers utilized acoustical felt in the structure of their pieces. Darran furniture debuted a new line of desks with acoustical felt made of recycled plastic bottles. Products from Benetti Moss and BuzziSpace combined biophilia and acoustics with sound dampening moss panels. Even light fixtures were adorned with acoustic materials such as Green Furniture Concepts’ Leaf Lamp.
How-to: Try acoustical moss in your next project to increase biophilic and acoustic design. Utilize soft seating or systems with upholstered or felted panels to aid in sound absorption.
6. Spaces within Spaces
Pretty much every furniture manufacturer designed their showrooms to have layers of privacy. Acoustical pods or “phone booths” created clear separation, while numerous lounge pieces utilized high backs and arms to form more subtle, intimate areas for discussion. Standalone privacy screens that doubled as pin boards or acoustic treatments were scattered throughout the Steelcase showroom. Floor treatments with multiple colors or patterns were used to create visual distinctions between types of spaces where physical partitions weren’t required.
How-to: Simple changes in flooring materials, colors, or textures can be used to delineate different space functions. Furniture pieces can be arranged to inherently be more open and public, or intimate and private.
7. Work Life Balance
It’s no surprise that the line between work life and home life has blurred. As more and more employees opt to work from home, employers needed to create value in the physical workplace. Workplace furniture manufacturers developed a language of residential inspired pieces, with large sofas, over-sized poufs, floor cushions, beanbags and area rugs juxtaposed with standard desking systems and conference tables. The overarching idea was to promote cozy, approachable, and personalized areas within the office setting.
How-to: If you’re not convinced by the tech trend of bringing ping-pong and foosball into your workplace, introduce small breakout areas of soft seating at key teaming areas. Even a handful of soft ottomans at the end of a row of desks can encourage informal discussion.
8. Integrated Technology
As always, power and data connectivity was dominant throughout the Mart. Charging stations were built into lounge and desking pieces in discreet, tasteful ways that blended with the overall design rather than stood out against it. This year saw interactive screens incorporated into architectural panel systems. Mobility was also key with powered modular furniture, mobile charging stations, and plug-and-play screens. David Edward’s Kutee line featured a small storage ottoman that concealed a small charging port. Just like an electric car, the mechanism connected to a standard wall outlet to charge and held power throughout the day.
How-to: Work with your designer and electrical engineer to coordinate power needs early on in your project. In new-builds, make sure to provide hard power connections in areas central to your furniture placement. For existing construction, consider under-carpet systems or mobile power towers.
About the Author:
Danielle Lewis is an interior designer focusing on educational, municipal and recreational projects. She resides in Rochester, NY and enjoys coffee, traveling and getting lost in a good book. Connect with her.
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