On the plus side

Yes, as was predictable in these tough times, attendance at NeoCon — North America’s largest commercial interior design show and conference — was down. While last year’s show drew 50,500 to Chicago’s venerable Merchandise Mart, 36,800 attended this past June, which means a drop of about 27 per cent. While all the major design firms were there to see the latest product offerings, they brought fewer people along, as did the exhibitors themselves. It’s as simple as that.

Lower attendance is not necessarily such a bad thing. To put a positive spin on NeoCon ’09: the rank of attendee was high, with the decision-makers out in full force; the big showrooms were as showy as ever; executives spent less time locked in meetings and more time on the floor; it was easier to get around, the halls a little less crowded, the showrooms not so densely packed; and, as those of us who’ve attended NeoCon on a regular basis marvelled, when you pressed an elevator button, an elevator — after a short wait — would actually arrive.

Most importantly, the show had what it takes in terms of cool, innovative products. In my report, I’ve focussed on six companies I thought shone the brightest at the show. Five of these — Knoll, Haworth, Herman Miller, Teknion and Humanscale — introduced two or more notable products (I’ve chosen two from each company). The remaining company — Maharam — introduced my personal best of show: the first two installations of an ambitious series of Digital Projects, both stupendous (see for yourself on page 46).

I’ve rounded out my report with four “singular sensations” — one introduction each — from Allseating, Coalesse, Designtex and Interstuhl.

NeoCon 2010 will run at the Merchandise Mart from June 14 to 16. I predict attendance will be way up.



Created in collaboration with Kent Parker of Formway Design, Knoll’s Generation chair takes the idea of elastic design (where a product rearranges itself in response to its user) to a new level: it works when it’s sat in regularly, sideways or backwards. The design process entailed stripping away the bells and whistles found on the current crop of task chairs, resulting in a control mechanism known as dynamic suspension, which uses few parts. Support is provided by the chair’s figure-eight frame of reinforced polyester. A high-performance thermoplastic polyester-composite elastomer creates the flexible back (which facilitates changes in posture and position throughout the workday) and flexible top (which extends the range of movement). The base is made of either plastic or aluminum.


The Spark series of stacking and lounge chairs, designed by Don Chadwick, features a one-piece construction of waterproof, UV-protected polypropylene. Light, sturdy and easy to clean, the chairs are made for both indoor and outdoor use. Spark is available in three pop colours and three cool neutrals. knoll.com

Herman Miller


Herman Miller’s latest task chair was designed by the late Bill Stumpf (co-designer of the awesome Aeron) and Jeff Weber. An “instinctive” back, inspired by the human spine, adapts to your unique spinal curvature. When you move, the seat moves with you: using a matrix of pixels, its three-layer construction of materials and technology conforms to micro-movements and distributes weight evenly. The chair’s tilt mechanism encourages working recline, the most healthful working position. PVC-free, Embody has 45 per cent recycled content and is 95 per cent recyclable.


Designed by Berlin-based Studio 7.5, Setu is a multi-purpose chair, used when people sit for short periods and frequently move. Setu’s flexible polypropylene Kinematic Spine and elastomer fabric are designed to eliminate the need to adjust the seat. Made of few parts, it weighs less than 20 pounds. Initial models include the Setu 5-star, 4-star, butterfly, butterfly stool, lounge and ottoman. HermanMiller.com



Haworth’s multi-purpose, multi-task LED light — the “LIM” stands for Light in Motion — is elegantly refined. Its simple, lightweight aluminum form can meet open- and closed-plan requirements for task lights — including desktop, slat/panel mount, floor mount, under work surface and studio table solutions. A magnetic and pivot platform enables 180-rotation and easy adjustment.


This new collection of ergonomic height-adjustable tables was designed to blend well with all of Haworth’s product settings and spaces. Planes includes six mechanisms — incremental, crank, torsion and three versions of electric — in sit-sit and sit-to-stand height ranges. The base is made of steel; worktops are available in laminate or veneer and standard or GreenCore. haworth.com


7–Optos curved wall

Teknion has added a new shape to its award-winning Optos line of glass wall systems. With its frameless glass-to-glass connections, Optos provides a virtually transparent aesthetic; these connections are used to maximum effect with the Optos Curved Wall. It accommodates two planning options. The first involves faceted glass modules that vary in width and angle to conform to the desired radius. The second incorporates new corners that allow the angle of the wall to change, after the corner; they can be used with straight Optos or the new faceted modules.


A variety of table rails enable the components of fx — an accessories collection designed by Carl Gustav Magnusson — to be mounted above the worksurface, freeing valuable workspace. A slim aluminum channel neatly organizes various fx items. Components include a personal charger, headphone hook, in/out tray, personal box (with a mirror on the underside of the lid) and a lockable utility drawer. teknion.com



Current-generation LED task lights use a series of LEDs in a cluster or bar to generate illumination, which can created shadows; these lights also provide inadequate illumination, oddly shaped lighting footprints and bluish light quality. Element, by Mark McKenna, eliminates each of these shortcomings with a single low-watt Multi-Chip LED — which doesn’t cast shadows, meets industry guidelines for comfortable ergonomic reading and offers a large footprint of neutral white 3500K light. A series of metal fins keeps the unit cool to extend the life of the LED, which is rated at 60,000 hours.


Humanscale takes the adjustable monitor arm to a new level. Where current-generation arms use a bulky, failure-prone gas cylinder to counterbalance the weight of the monitor, M2 utilizes an automatic spring mechanism. The result is a longer life, more streamlined aesthetic, and more eco- and value-conscious choice. The ultra-simple, ultra-thin M2 accommodates most monitors up to 24 inches in size, and offers 10 inches of dynamic height adjustment and a 20-inch reach. humanscale.com


11–Maharam digital projects

On show were the first two installations of an ambitious series reflecting the increasing convergence of art and design. In collaboration with artists, photographers, illustrators and designer of every stripe, Maharam is producing meticulously rendered, digitally generated wallcovering installations — printed in high resolution with UV-resistant pigment-based inks on a variety of substrates — meant for commercial and residential application. Two Minutes Playing Dead (a), by Scottish-born Douglas Gordon, is derived from a single-channel video instal
lation entitled “Play Dead: Real Time,” in which an Indian elephant lies down and plays dead repeatedly on camera. When viewed in installation, the 450,000-frame film sequence (set in a grid structure) becomes a micro/macro black and white ombre. Dutch Clouds (b) is by Amsterdam-based Karel Martens. His clouds are on an abstract colour field formed through the use of thousands of highly complex multi-coloured icons. maharam.com

Singular sensations

12–Common threads

Designtex’s limited-edition rug collection was created in collaboration with Arzu, a not-for-profit organization that provides sustainable income to Afghan women by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. Common Threads comprises six modern rug designs produced with the goal of minimizing environmental impact: weavers use wool from sheep in Afghanistan; natural dyes derived from local plants and fruits are used in place of chemical-based dyes. Each rug comes in three colourways and is available in 5-by-7-foot, 6-by-9-foot and 8-by-8-foot sizes. designtex.com


Innovations that challenge the conventional mode of seating are rare — Interstuhl’s Fit is one. A knitted Treviva fabric is stretched on a chrome-plated steel frame slanted 60 degrees. The user backs into the chair and sits. Thanks to the open mesh structure, no heat and moisture accumulates, and no hard parts come into contact with the human body. Fit’s creator is Zurich-based Christine Lüdeke (ludekedesign), who has been designing for the aviation industry for many years. interstuhl.de


Designed by Lee Fletcher and Terence Woodside of figforty — in collaboration with Cooler Solutions — Ray features a frame inspired by postmodern icons. An innovative mechanism called React intuitively adjusts to the most ideal sitting position based on the weight of the user, making it suitable for multi-users and multi-purposes. “We were excited to partner with figforty on its first foray into seating design,” says Gary Neil, president and founder of Allseating. “As a Canadian company, we’re particularly proud to support Canadian design talent.” allseating.com


Coalesse’s collection of modern casegoods — designed by Otto Williams and Jess Sorel of WilliamsSorel — could fit as easily in the home as in office settings. Made with sustainable materials in their purest form (oak, teak and ash), the line includes worktables, benches, secretaries, credenzas, towers, overheads storage and display components. Special features include self-closing doors and drawers; and integrated, clutter-free technology access points. coalesse.com