Privacy to headline 2018 NeoCon


The Living Office Settings collection by Herman Miller provides a “fine-tuned” array of settings, furnishings and digital tools for doing solo and small group work. Courtesy Herman Miller

Visitors to the 50th NeoCon will see West Michigan furniture makers unveil products designed to meet an increasing need for spaces that offer both privacy and collaboration.

The annual NeoCon design show for companies in the built environment runs June 11-13 at Merchandise Mart in Chicago.

All the major West Michigan furniture manufacturers will be at the event.

Mark Kinsler, president of Holland-based Trendway, told the Business Journal last year that his company was witnessing a “pendulum swing” back to privacy, with increasing demand for Trendway’s moveable dividing wall products.

That trend has continued into 2018.

At NeoCon, the company will debut the physical integration of its high-, mid- and low-priced moveable wall products — Clear Wall, Volo and TrendWall. The three will now be able to interface, thanks to newly compatible hinges, sliders and door walls.

“We had over 50 percent of our engineering resources for 18 months dedicated to rationalizing that,” Kinsler said.

Trendway’s decision to redesign those products follows another year of moveable wall sales growth in the furniture industry.

“The industry organization BIFMA (the not-for-profit Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association) two years ago began to measure that product category,” he said. “It had been measured as miscellaneous before. Now, we get to see what the industry is doing versus what we are. The full-length wall category was up 25 percent over last year.”

Kinsler noted this trend follows a shift away from individual workstations over the past few years.

“If you look at the floor plate of the office and see what people are purchasing for each part of that floor plate, soft seating and hospitality seating are becoming more important,” he said. “Individual workstations are down.”

He said he thinks “the pendulum has swung too far.”

“People at benching stations are wearing earbuds. It’s one of the biggest challenges we are looking at,” he said. “That’s why it’s been good for the floor-length wall business. They still need heads-down spaces.”

Each furniture manufacturer is attempting to solve that balancing act with slightly different approaches.

Brian Walker, president and CEO of Zeeland-based Herman Miller, said the company and its family of brands — which includes Geiger and Naughtone — will display innovations at NeoCon in the areas of workstations and collaborative areas.

This will include a “Living Office Settings” collection that provides a “fine-tuned” array of settings, furnishings and digital tools for doing solo and small group work.

Walker said the collection answers the ongoing need for “third space” collaboration areas that are neither individual workstations nor conference rooms, but also still offers the latter two.

“There’s a lot of activity around third space collaboration areas,” he said. “There’s a lot of investment from us and others in the industry. At the same time, we are continuing to look at and develop innovation around individual workstations — also, space division and closure. As the floor plate continues to change, there will be an increasing need for enclosure.

“We are also continuing to move on the technology front and how that affects the workspace. How should the conferencing products work in the era of microdevices in our hand rather than more desktop-based things?”

Grand Rapids-based Steelcase took a similar approach when last year it unveiled five “Creative Spaces” that integrate with Microsoft technology.

Jim Keane, Steelcase CEO, said the company has seen “a fair amount of demand” for the “ecosystem” since its launch.

Holland-based Haworth also will be at NeoCon. Franco Bianchi, president and CEO of Haworth, said the new products it showcases will fall into “the usual suspect categories,” including seating and lighting.

But wall partitions and private office areas, both large and small, will share the spotlight.

“More and more, our clients are learning to tailor spaces and products to the needs of people,” Bianchi said. “This has changed a lot the way we operate, (creating products with a) different look and feel, different heights, different levels of privacy, different functions and a feel of hospitality in the work environment.”

He said the needs of the talent employers are trying to attract will trump any innovation geared solely toward productivity.

“We don’t design offices for people who have to be there; we design spaces for people who want to be there,” Bianchi said.

“When we succeed, we drive our clients to become our partner toward that goal to help them understand space matters, and it can create a competitive advantage.”

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