There’s a fashion week for office furniture, held each June when Chicago’s Merchandise Mart becomes home to NeoCon, a major commercial interiors trade show. Companies producing furniture, upholstery fabric, and lighting show their wares to office managers, interior decorators, and general contractors. People come from all over the country, looking for ideas on the best ways to decorate their facilities.
Here’s a peek inside the 2016 NeoCon, plus the latest trends in space-efficient, money-saving and idea-inspiring office furniture:
Flexible Collaboration Space
The most-discussed item was a contraption called the BuzziJungle, which is sort of like a jungle gym with couches. The idea is to allow several people to collaborate comfortably in a relatively small space, but it is wildly impractical for most offices. Nevertheless, it demonstrated the strongest trend at the show: collaborative spaces.
Offices need to have places for workers to collaborate. Very few people have jobs that require them to be in one place all day, and very few people can get their work done without talking to other people. Companies can benefit from creating spaces that make it easy for co-workers to get together, without having to reserve conference rooms or disrupt others.
Several companies showed ottomans and similar types of occasional seating. These can fit in a cubicle and be pulled out as needed for a small meeting, or moved to a larger space to accommodate more people.
Bring the Coffee House to You
Another very common idea is Café-style meeting spaces. K1 Furniture’s business furniture showroom looked more like a restaurant than an office. It included cubicle sections with couches and tables rather than desks and file drawers, creating a small space for people to meet in the midst of a standard cubicle farm. It’s less expensive and more inviting than a traditional conference room – and more professional than yelling over cubicles.
Color Me Productive
Finally, there was a lot of color – in upholstery, on floors, and on walls. The sterile, high-tech office look is over, at least for this round of NeoCon. Luna Textiles even showed off its fabrics as jackets to emphasize their fashion sense.
NeoCon Style on a Startup Budget
The NeoCon show’s audience was in the market for new furniture, and many small businesses can’t even think about doing an all-new, top-of-the-line decorator space. However, that doesn’t mean that a company is consigned to having a sad and gray space, either. Yes, cubicles are inexpensive and easy to find second-hand. And yes, second-hand and low-end furniture dealers are inevitably a few years behind trend. That’s okay. You can lighten and modernize on a small budget.
Think about the image you want to present to those who work and visit your office. Is your business cut-and-dried professional? Do you want to project a creative vibe? If your space is too basic, will customers appreciate the frugality or think you are fly-by-night? If your space is too lavish, will customers be impressed at your prosperity or worry about your prices? There’s no right answer, but thinking through how your employees work and what your customers want will give you some focus.
You don’t have to get everything from an office furniture dealer, either. In years past, Ikea has exhibited at NeoCon (although they weren’t there this year); West Elm, which sells trendy and relatively inexpensive home furnishings, had a workspace showroom this year. Home furnishings retailers can give you inexpensive and colorful pieces to liven up a reception area or meeting area. These can be replaced every few years to give your office a quick and inexpensive facelift, too.
If decorating is not your thing, you can look through Pinterest or Instagram (using #NeoCon16 to search) for styles you like, then take them to the store and ask the staff for ways to get something similar. That’s easier than trying to wing it! You can also hire an interior designer. Some only do large projects and expect to handle all of the furniture orders, but many will work on an hourly basis to help you identify color schemes and basic changes. Homepolish is an online referral service if you don’t know anyone locally.
We spend a lot of time at work. The office doesn’t have to be a playground, but it needn’t be a dungeon, either. You may not have a NeoCon budget, but you can certainly add a little style to your day.