Happy days

“Happy days are here again / The skies above are clear again.” By mid-afternoon on the first day of NeoCon, the lyrics to the old familiar tune — the tune that helped people through the darkest days of the Great Depression — were running around in my brain. A spirit of hope and buoyancy, so absent from last year’s show, had taken over the venerable Merchandise Mart. And though it was far too early to proclaim, “Your cares and troubles are gone / There’ll be no more from now on,” it was clear that the worst was over.

To those of us returning, it was also clear that attendance at North America’s largest design exposition and conference for commercial interiors was up (we later learned that 41,000 industry personnel had attended, a 10 per cent increase from 2009). More than 700 showrooms featured their products in one million square feet of space. The Best of NeoCon competition netted 340-plus entries, and thousands of products were presented at the show.

In retrospect, the first product I saw, at a special preview the night before the show, turned out to be the signature introduction of this cheery NeoCon: the brash and brilliant Memphis Under Foot collection of carpet tile from InterfaceFLOR. As its designer, David Oakey, puts it, “As the world transforms and evolves and the economy slowly makes a comeback, people are demanding sustainable products made by responsible companies that are both beautiful and joyful. Let’s try to move past all this gloom and doom.”

Other introductions that put a smile on my face include Allsteel’s Seek, a chair that makes an art out of storage; the crisp Cahoots line of modular furniture from Keilhauer; and Steelcase’s node classroom seat, which made me long to be a college student again.

NeoCon 2011 will run at the Merchandise Mart from June 13 to 15.

Designed by Scott Wilson and Minimal for Coalesse, the SW_1 conference collection offers an alternative to the generic conference room. It includes a lowered-height table and a lounge chair, which together create a hybrid collaborative space that’s part conference room, part lounge. Rounding out the collection are standard and occasional tables; low- and high-back lounges; and conference-height chairs. Made of aluminum and steel, SW_1 is almost 100 per cent recyclable. coalesse.com

For their first foray into the furniture industry, the principals of Antenna Design — Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger — have created a remarkably refined system called Antenna Workspaces, which allows for quick transitions from individual to group work. The sleek and deceptively simple collection of desks, tables, storage units and screens can be combined and recombined in a seemingly infinite number of ways. knoll.com

Allsteel’s latest addition to Stride (its versatile platform for furnishing every kind of workplace interior) is Stride Benching, designed in collaboration with Mitch Bakker and his firm Ida Design. Its horizontal plane, punctuated by the vertical form of storage, extends 15 feet without any bracing other than at each end, where the support structure is masked by finely scaled and faceted legs. With the addition of an inboard support leg, the bench is completely customizable and can be specified at longer lengths. allsteeloffice.com

CITE is the latest product from Quebec company Groupe LaCasse. The freestanding collaborative furniture system is organized around a storage spine, where components define the individual’s space while the low profile encourages interaction. Main surfaces are of high-performance themofused laminate; translucent panels are used as screens and back panels of storage units. groupelacasse.com

Steelcase calls node, its first classroom seating product, “an active learning classroom solution” — a dull phrase for what is actually a cleverly designed chair. The swivel seat allows the student to easily rotate and view information being shared throughout the classroom. The open seat design accommodates a change of posture and positions, offering comfort in multiple settings; while the mobile base offers the ability to move back and forth from lecture mode to team-based learning. Node’s base and arm are designed to hold the student’s backpack and personal items. steelcase.com

Designed by Michael Welsh and Nicolai Czumaj-Bront of the Haworth Design Studio, Haworth’s newest task chair is part of the Very family. It offers the industry’s only asymmetrical lunar support along with supporting mesh and a fully functional 4D arm. It comes in seven mesh colours and two trim colours (black and fog); the base may be painted, polished or plastic. Three different arm styles are available. haworth.com

It took German company Wilkahn five years to develop the ON swivel chair. At its core is three-dimensional synchro-supporting kinematics with swivel points that precisely follow the positions of and scope of movement in the knee and hip joints. By pressing two buttons to rapidly adjust the counter pressure, ON is ready to go. Armrests, backrest height and optional seat-depth adjustment can also be altered while seated without additional levers. Not only is ON easy to operate, it’s also exceptionally easy on the eye. wilkahn.com

Parisian designer No Duchafour-Lawrance has created a handsome “21st-centry modern” chair for Bernhardt Design. Corvo is produced by employing Old World manufacturing techniques; it is hand-shaped and -sanded (using 15 different carving tools), from solid American walnut and sealed with a natural oil finish. Each chair is slightly different, reflecting the personality of the artisan who made it. bernhardtdesign.com

Vienna-base design trio EOOS has come up with the Cahoots line for Keilhauer. Based on a modular concept, each piece has its individual function, but all pieces can be combined to create flexible lounge landscapes. Sleek and sophisticated, Cahoots encompasses side and lounge chairs, sofas, sectionals and tables. Some elements are lightly scaled, movable pieces, while others are larger, solid pieces than can define a space. keilhauer.com

The dna collection of lounge seating and tables — by Acer Design in conjunction with Teknion’s in-house design team — was created to meet the need of today’s collaborative spaces for increased flexibility. Modular units are reconfigurable by the user depending on the size and needs of the group; optional bolsters may be positioned left, right or centre on the bench. Integrated and freestanding tables provide support for work, access to power, and laptop use. Upholstery and veneer options allow for a customized look. teknion.com

“A successful occasional table is the equivalent of a design sound bite: it should be clear, concise and easily understood.” Such are the qualities Bernhardt Design assigns to its Curio table, designed by Claudia and Harry Washington — and quite rightly. Crafted in solid walnut or maple, Curio features a bevelled top, with a delicate profile, atop gently tapered legs. It’s available in three different sizes, in a variety of natural wood finishes or bright lacquered colours; tops come in wood, glass or Corian. bernhardtdesign.com

Park Avenue–based textile giant Maharam never disappoints. Among new introductions is Exaggerated Plaid (a), the fifth textile by Paul Smith in collaboration with Maharam Design Studio. Moving beyond his signature stripes, the British fashion designer has created a modern take on his Scottish heritage. In his three distinct wool plaids, bands of goldenrod, sky, crimson and fuchsia punctuate heathered grounds of charcoal, chocolate and loden green. Centric (b) was designed by Canadian graphic artist Marian Banjes. Taking its inspiration from the mandala of Hindu art, Centric appears fluid, as if the pattern was rendered in wet ink, a subtle metallic lustre accentuating the effect. Seven vivid tone-on-tone combinations are available, among them mustard (shown) copper and ruby. maharam.com

Berman Graphics, a new program from Vancouver’s ever-innovative Joel Berman Glass Studios, features several innovative processes to translate graphics and other images onto glass surfaces. These include Print, ceramic frit inkjet printing (shown); Laminated, printed foil beneath sheets of glass; and Screen, ceramic frit ink screen-printing. jbermanglass.com

Rodarte, the cool and au courant American fashion house of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, has created five upholstery and three drapery patterns for Knoll Luxe, the luxury brand from Knoll. Each design in the collection is named in homage to the pair’s favourite poets. The Rodarte Collection represents Knoll Luxe’s first introduction of drapery: Auden has a shaded effect created using digital printing on a woven raffia ground; Emerson features a series of embroidered studs on sheer ground; and Parker comprises various textured threads suspended between layers of gauze. knoll-luxe.com

Inspired by the 1980s Memphis movement, led by Milanese designer Ettore Sottsass, David Oakey of David Oakey Designs has created Memphis Under Foot for InterfaceFLOR. This unabashedly extroverted collection includes the colourful stripes of Beale Street and the bold black and white lines of Union Avenue (a); a library of black and white patterns called Memphis to Milan and Back (b); and the graphic squiggles of Doodle (c). All styles are made with fibre created with post-consumer content. interfaceflor.com

Designed by Cresta Bledsoe for Milliken, the Palisades Collection offers plush weight and makes use of high-lustre fibre that is super sheared to expose organically place loops — taking commercial broadloom to a new level of nuance and richness. Five designs are available in a range of 24 colours. milliken.com

Tandus Flooring’s Urban Nature collection comprises five patterns rooted in historic Japanese art and architecture — patterns that interpret the emotions and cultural nuances of Japan’s rural countryside (from cherry blossoms to terraced rice fields). They coordinate across scale, free-form figures and geometry to allow intuitive transitions when used together. Urban Nature is available as modular carpet (in various sizes) or Powerbond, a hybrid resilient sheet flooring. Tandus.com