Furniture manufacturers bring offices to life at NeoCon


The Suite Case goods line, which is designed for the executive suite. Courtesy Haworth

West Michigan furniture manufacturers are headed to Chicago this week for The National Exposition of Contract Furnishings, better known as NeoCon, the industry’s biggest design exposition and commercial interiors tradeshow in North America, which is being held at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart June 9-11.

NeoCon offers 1 million square feet of showroom and exposition space dedicated to commercial interiors and design. More than 40,000 architecture and design professionals are expected to attend the three-day event to check out the latest in fabric, furniture, flooring, interior building products, interior finishes, international partnerships and technology for commercial interior environments that include health care, hospitality, retail, environmental, government, educational and general workplaces.

This year West Michigan companies will be showing off a variety of products focused on creating collaborative atmospheres and individual choice options.

Izzy+ compared its showroom this year to a Gazelle Sports retail store, saying that one chair isn’t going to fit everyone just as one running shoe doesn’t work for every runner.

The company is bringing its newest seating products, the Wabi and Nikko chairs, along with some old favorites, to encourage the idea of choice and eliminate the one-size-fits-all mentality in the workplace.

Also popular this year are products and office systems that can easily be reconfigured from a collaborative space to a more “heads down” environment.

Studies are showing that employees are moving around the office a lot more, seeking out a variety of different spaces throughout their day to accommodate differing tasks.

“We really aren’t working in a static way anymore,” said Nancy Stryker, Haworth’s NeoCon project manager. “Technology has freed us up. It’s untethered more and more people, so people have more freedom and choice and they really demand that.”

Those spaces include heads down environments with a level of privacy, common spaces modeled after residential dwellings, hustle-and-bustle environments like a busy coffee shop or restaurant and everything in between.

Haworth worked with designer Patricia Urquiola, of Studio Urquiola, on Openest, a collection of lounge elements that when paired allow for the creation of a variety of spaces.

The company’s theme — create, collaborate and rejuvenate — reflects three key environments people are regularly searching for while at work.

“Patricia really wanted to get at the heart of this oxymoron where it’s open. People want this kind of space where they feel drawn to and comfortable and it’s inviting, but it’s also more of a nest where it creates a comfort zone for people, a space where you can kind of get away from things and have a little privacy,” Stryker said.

“It also comes with the idea of repurposing and reinvigorating spaces that were maybe neglected, because when these pieces are brought in people feel very drawn to them. They want to be in those spaces. So it helps to reinvigorate those spaces.”

In addition to designing the Openest collection, Urquiola also provided design support for the Haworth showroom space.

“I think you are really going to see the Patricia Urquiola footprint on not just the Openest product, but on the entire space,” said Adam Russo, communications specialist at Haworth. “A lot of the colors and architectural elements are going to be really soft, inviting, a little bit more of a residential feel.”

Urquiola is known for her focus on providing comfort.

“She really wants her pieces to be comfortable for people versus just looking good,” Stryker said. “It’s important to her that people feel comfortable in those spaces.”

Another product Haworth is excited to present is Suite, a case goods line aimed at bringing the open office atmosphere to the executive suite.

Haworth hopes to give executives opportunities to create a variety of environments within their private office spaces to encourage different types of interactions.

The line includes tables with adjustable heights. Adjusting the tables to a lower position creates an invitation to come and have a seat, whereas the higher height option is more likely to encourage quick, impromptu types of interactions.

“We are really excited for people to come and take a look around and get some ideas for ways they can create inspiring spaces for themselves, their employees or their clients,” Stryker said.

Last year, Herman Miller introduced the concept of the living office; a human-centered space that accommodates workers’ changing needs for accomplishing a variety of tasks during the course of a day.

This year the company is taking that concept one step further: its employees will actually be working out of its showroom during NeoCon.

“Now let’s show you how it works,” said Ron Reeves, public relations and social strategist at Herman Miller, explaining the company’s showroom design.

Herman Miller’s living office showroom will give visitors a chance to really understand its product functionalities in today’s office environment.

The living office philosophy is based on research the company has been conducting over the past several years, which has found people want and need adaptable environments.

Several new products will be highlighted throughout the Herman Miller showroom that support the living office concept, including the Public Office Landscape and Locale, both office systems, and Renew Sit-to-Stand Tables and the Mirra 2 chair.

In addition to providing adaptability and options, the Renew Sit-to-Stand Tables also emphasize movement in the office, another important idea Herman Miller wants to convey.

Designed by Brian Alexander, Renew makes moving from sitting to standing — and back again — a natural part of people’s day, Reeves said.

As workers accomplish tasks throughout the three days, visitors will be able to see firsthand how they adapt the products to suit their everyday needs.

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