Event: NeoCon review

The key protagonists of the furniture industry converged on NeoCon 2017 in the middle of June to witness the latest designs and innovative ideas from this rapidly-changing sector.


Now in its 49th year, NeoCon is considered the premier global platform for learning about and conducting business in commercial interiors. With over 500 companies exhibiting, this year’s event which was held at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, US, from 12-14 June, attracted more than 50,000 design professionals from across the globe. 


The event caters to a range of verticals from healthcare to hospitality, but as always ‘the future of the office’ was a core talking point, with ‘wellness’ another topic that’s becoming mainstream. Cutting across these macro themes, the organisers saw four main trends in evidence at the show:

Biophilic design: An increasing number of commercial interiors are now taking their cues from nature. They are incorporating natural materials, natural light and vegetation into the modern office environment as studies have shown that this makes employees happier and more productive. 

Privacy on demand: In the open plan workplace people also need private areas where they can escape distractions. Solutions to facilitate this – from agile partitions to mobile pods – were all on display, with many manufacturers showing new solutions to satisfy these needs.

Adaptive furnishings: In the fast-evolving office environment furniture that can adapt to changing uses is key. Exhibitors featured the latest reconfigurable and highly-adjustable solutions, with versatile, modular and flexible designs offering a myriad of options.

Acoustic comfort: Employee surveys show that acoustic problems are a prominent source of dissatisfaction within the office. NeoCon highlighted plenty of resources that can help mitigate unwanted noise and minimise disruptions.

Learning opportunities

The NeoCon exhibition was once again complemented by a comprehensive educational programme that comprised over 100 seminars, special events and presentations. Headlining the programme over the course of the event were three keynotes, all of them “providing solutions that enhance the built environments of today and tomorrow”, according to Monica DeBartolo, NeoCon’s Director of Programming.

On the first day, Arianna Huffington – founder of The Huffington Post – took to the stage to discuss Thrive Global, her new venture which aims to end the epidemic of stress and burnout by offering companies science-based solutions to enhance well-being and performance.

World-renowned scientist Jessica Green, on day two, encouraged attendees to think about bacteria in entirely new ways. As founding director of the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Centre, she works with architects and engineers to advance urban design that promotes sustainability, human health and well-being. In her presentation, Green explored how the microbial blueprint of human beings, homes, cities, and forests impacts the world and the future.

Chicago-based architect John Ronan rounded off the keynotes on the final day of the show. He talked about iterative design methodologies that explore and test a wide range of ideas in order to find the one that feels intuitively correct for each situation, based on its unique site and cultural, economic or social context. 

Many NeoCon attendees described the furniture industry as currently undergoing a renaissance, while others went as far as to call it a ‘revolution’. The pace of change in the commercial interiors space has certainly never been faster and that requires a nimble sector that can rapidly adapt to this new normal and provide the solutions required.