Known as America’s grandest and oldest exposition of contract interiors, NeoCon returned to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart with a plethora of exciting designs for the various commercial markets, from office and education to hospitality and healthcare. We scoured the show floors to share our favorites with you but also took the time out to get inside scoops from some of the product designers and principals themselves (video below). In this first of a three-part series, we present the best new furniture and seating, with a focus on workplace design.
Designed by Chris Adamick, this collection boasts sexy, slim and tapered legs on which weighty seats and tabletops seem to float. The family includes a Club Chair, Club Plus Lounge (extra-wide seat), Sofa and Coffee and Side Tables. The legs are available in Polished Chrome or Carbon, Silver or Brilliant White paint finishes.
Arper: Catifa 46 New Edition
The Lievore Altherr Molina–designed favorite has been refreshed with a soft yet striking palette: rosé, petrol, yellow, ivory and smoke. Any combination of these colors can be specified (on bases, seat and back interior, seat and back exterior and seat pad), though monochromatic looks are also available. Catifa 46 leg options range from tubular metal or wood legs to sled base and trestle swivel on casters.
Bernhardt Design: Mellow
Although contract-grade, this sofa can easily suit a residential living room. Designer Océane Delain ingeniously created a corded bottom that individually controls tautness of each button in the seat’s tufting to customize for comfort.
The Belgian felt-furnishings and acoustical company collaborated with 13&9 on pieces that enable movement and interaction in the workplace. BuzziBalance is a pouf, while BuzziBalance Board is a standing board, and both sport a convex bottom that allows for rocking, stretching and leaning as desired by the user to awaken both body and mind. Along the same lines, a special installation — BuzziJungle by Jonas Van Put — was designed to give workers a break to play or relax. A taller version of the structure was installed in a lounge in the Mart's lobby (see video).
Coalesse: Customizable Lessthanfive
Weighing less than five pounds, the Lessthanfive chair is a beautifully slim but sturdy carbon-fiber stacker that usually comes in any of six finishes. However, it can now be customized with more colors, gradients and ombre effects and even a designer’s own artwork that can be uploaded to the Coalesse website, scaled and printed onto the back, seat or all over.
Davis: Ginkgo Lounge – Low Back
Answering the needs of today’s changing contract setting, the Jehs+Laub-designed chair now comes in a low-back lounge version. Its pleasing folded-shell design is realized with wood veneer on the exterior and comfortable upholstery on the interior. Base options include four-prong pedestal, wire or wood.
One of the categories that Davis does so well is modular seating that can be arranged in long, serpentine configurations. This year the manufacturer didn’t disappoint: Its Wolfgang C.R. Mezger–designed Laura is a minimalist modular lounge series with an easy recline, tapered base and either gently curved or straight shapes. Optional ganging mechanisms are available to keep the modules in fixed configurations.
Michael Vanderbyl’s latest seating line for HBF is at once both a work and lounge chair well-suited to office spaces, lobbies and receptions, hospitality settings and more. Its slim form features a walnut-wood shell that merges with the upholstery for a clean, elegant edge. The chair’s pitch accommodates working postures for tablet- and laptop-users but has slight give for sitters who want to relax. Full upholstery is also an option.
Herman Miller: Plex
London-based Industrial Facility started with a rectangular seat as the foundation of the Plex modular lounge series and then built on it with six optional elements that transform the pieces into armchairs, benches and sofas capable of supporting several postures and activities. Designers and specifiers can further customize the seating with different legs and bases, height-adjustable headrests and tables.
Herman Miller: Striad Lounge Chair and Ottoman
We can see this lounge series, designed by Jehs+Laub, becoming an instant classic. Its shape is reminiscent — yet not a copy — of midcentury modern icons that came before it with some contemporary tweaks. On top of the upholstered interior, individual foam cushions add another layer of comfort for the sitter. The four-star, auto-return swivel or fixed, four-leg wire bases come in three finishes.
Although it was previewed last year, Todd Bracher’s Trea chair wasn’t actually available until now — but it was worth the wait to get it right. This multipurpose chair embraces and supports the sitter in a shell with an integrated articulation inspired by the lobster shell: In essence, it’s an exoskeleton that moves in harmony with the sitter as s/he reclines. The shell can be paired with a sled or caster base or four fixed legs.
Nemschoff: Aspen Lounge
Healthcare design is also getting a dose of residential touches. Aspen Lounge, for instance, combines healthcare seating with a midcentury modern look. Pieces include an armchair, loveseat and footrest.
The sophisticated Belleville chair, designed by the Bouroullec brothers, recalls the familiar shape of classic French bistro seating. Its structural frame supports a slender seat shell with a colored polypropylene, molded plywood veneer, leather or fabric cover detail. The plastic versions are usable outdoors.
The German manufacturer highlighted its 3D-printing capabilities with this fun stool design that allows sitters to take various postures, stimulating joints and muscles to promote wellbeing in the office. Presto’s body is made of a plant polymer that’s hard-wearing yet biodegradable, while the plywood seat is upholstered with CFC-free polyurethane foam and vegetable-tanned leather. The balancing bottom is nonslip foam rubber.
DESKING, TABLES AND SYSTEMS
HOK and BMW Designworks teamed up on this cabana-style system that addresses semi-privacy differently from many other booth- and pod-style seating we’ve seen in recent years. A room-within-a-room concept, the freestanding Clubhouse provides respite from open office environments with soft seating, a frame and translucent screens. Options include media walls, worktops, storage units and wire integration.
Arper: Parentesit Freestanding
We were floored by the original Parentesit series, which functioned as a sound-dampening accessory while resembling postmodern wall art. Now the line includes a freestanding space divider that’s at once easily repositionable yet substantial in feel. The minimalist modules can be specified with round panels of different sizes, square panels or a combination of square and round.
Davis: Valet Tables
Simple yet attractive, Valet is an occasional table with an intriguing base that melds a sled form with three or four legs, allowing for partial nesting and clustering when used in multiples. The round tops come in flat or tray styles (the latter featuring subtle rims) in a range of diameters. The tray tops are removable for using separately.
The Saranac collection of wood furniture adds rustic warmth to private-office or collaborative and conferencing spaces. The line, designed by Mitch Bakker and IDa Design, includes round, rectangular or square tables with hefty tree-branch-evoking legs as well as coordinating stools and benches.
HON: Voi Desks
A bulky desk can be both an eyesore and impractical space-hog in the shrinking office footprint. Fortunately, desking systems like Voi offer a slim-profile design that doesn’t sacrifice functionality. The clean-lined, modern system can be customized — from leg style, finishes and materials to work-surface shape and height — for a variety of settings, whether private office, reception area or open-plan benching zone. Coordinating addons include storage cubes, marker boards, modesty panels, bookcases and drawer organizers.
Knoll: Rockwell Unscripted
It comes as no surprise that Rockwell Group — which designed a stylish co-working space in New York City for Neuehouse — would develop a full collection of furnishings and elements that marry office functionality with hospitable touches. Knoll’s Rockwell Unscripted consists of lounge seating, tables and open and closed storage units. But our absolute favorite in the lineup was the Creative Wall systems that bring back some privacy and productivity into the open-plan office. It can be completed with a range of slab, screen or drapery materials.
This lightweight partition is also flexible, bending into convex or concave curves to adapt to a variety of situations and spaces. Its fabric panels, which are also tackable, come in 42-inch widths and offer sound absorption.
This benching system can be reconfigured in several ways to adapt to changing individual user or group needs throughout the day. For instance, it can function as one large conference or spontaneous team table with a media wall, but rearrange mobile screens or desktop panels and it becomes a benching desk with vertical tack surfaces that offer semi privacy. Optional mobile pedestals pull up to house personal belongings, desk accessories and files.
Steelcase: High Density Storage
In open-plan benching settings, where’s a team member to keep his or her belongings? Enter the HD storage piece. The 42-inch-high unit pulls out like a drawer but features a vertical storage interior with thoughtful options such as a coat hanger, shelves, a mirror and a magnetic board.
Teknion: Community Table
Designed by Michael Vanderbyl, this attractive bar-height table becomes an architectural anchor within a space where employees can gather to eat, socialize and even work using its central power trough. The table is offered in a variety of Flintwood veneers and other specialty finishes.
Clean-lined glass-wall systems are on the rise in office design as they afford open sight-lines and allow light to penetrate deeper into spaces. But not all of them are equal in acoustical performance. Focus systems offer varying levels of acoustical privacy with single or double glazing and internal drop seals. Frames and trims can be specified in clear anodized or polished aluminum and in powder-coat paint finishes.
Turnstone: Campfire Personal Table
With workers toting their laptops to comfier lounge seating in their office breakout areas, they need a practical and ergonomic work surface on the fly. The Campfire Personal Table addresses this issue with its simple c-shaped bent-plywood form. Weighing less than 14 pounds, the portable table is light enough to carry and move around as needed. It can be surfaced in a wide range of veneers or laminates.
Designed by Konstantin Grcic, this system is an edgy, hip design consisting of clear-finished OSB wood panels that fold up to create practical “boxes” to work, chat or relax in. Hack features an adjustable-height OSB worktable, anodized aluminum corner connectors and black polypropylene straps for assembling. It can be dismantled easily for storing away when not in use.
West Elm Workspace: Beam Height Adjustable Benching
One of the best-looking height-adjustable desking systems we’ve seen, Beam is less techy in appearance thanks to a cohesive design of bases clad in wood planks that match the tabletop and a central wood beam running from end to end.
West Elm Workspace
Special thanks to Rich Brilliant Willing for hosting us on the Chicago River cruise where we captured city architecture footage for our video.