Insights from NeoCon 2019—What's New in Commercial Design

NeoCon 2019 in Chicago, Illinois

NeoCon 2019 in Chicago, Illinois

NewStudio Interior Designer, Jan Mankarious, recently attended the event to see all new things in commercial design—NeoCon 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Here are a few highlights from his trip.

What's new and exciting?

I considered everything new and exciting, since it was my first-time attending NeoCon. Having the opportunity to see all the varied designs was inspiring! It was amazing to see some of the same trends, but with different approaches that fulfill both my tastes and needs as a designer, as well as the needs of NewStudio’s clients.

This year, the NeoCon Plaza was designed by Gensler Chicago, and was created on South Drive along the river frontage of The Mart. Playing off the idea of an “Urban Boardwalk” this space provided a variety of outdoor spaces to work, meet, and be refreshed. It worked great and was well used.

What trends did you see?

There were many trends this year, but what really caught my eye were the following:

Work-from-Home feeling with open spaces

“Resimercial” (Residential + Commercial) office spaces were everywhere at NeoCon. The traditional workspace environment is starting to fade out as office design is heading into a more residential feel. Furniture is designed for employee comfort and engagement, creating a more home-like and comfortable environment, allowing for personalization, comfort, and collaboration at work. Movable walls, lightweight furniture on gliders, and customizable case goods were on display for commercial offices—breaking down the structure of cubicles and opening up a space so you can actually see your colleagues’ faces. Plus, reinventing common areas to encourage and foster creativity and collaboration.

Going Green

The push toward sustainability continues. Numerous brands have been approaching their products from the angle of sustainability and focusing on minimal harm to the environment. Companies were eager to share how they are going green in unconventional ways.

Soundproof Booths

It might seem like a contradiction to the trend of open office floor plans, but the open office trend has highlighted the need for privacy and sound-absorbing spaces in the workplace. The most popular acoustic solution I saw was modular soundproof booths. These can be used for meetings or phone calls within an open office space and provide privacy. Primary exhibitors of these cutting-edge pod solutions included Framery and Zenbooth.

Midcentury modern

Midcentury modern was one of the commercial design trends featured to some degree by most of the manufacturers at NeoCon. The trend of a lighter scale continues into overall furniture design, with finer lines on legs for soft and hard seating options, case goods, and occasional tables. 

What was your favorite new product or thing?

  1. Home-feel office furniture

  2. New ideas for collaborative common areas   

  3. Variation of acoustic / sustainable materials and ideas

Who was your favorite speaker or presenter or vendor?

There were 3 keynotes speakers during the show, covering a variety of human-centric design, led by some of the industry’s most creative minds. They include:

  1. “The Familiar and Unusual: An Investigation of Balance and Experience in Design” by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, of Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors in New York;

  2. “Stuff Matters: The Material World We Make” by Ilse Crawford of Studioilse in London;

  3. “Do No Harm: The Role of Design in Complicated Times” by Liz Ogbu of Studio O in New York.

I attended the first 2 keynotes and had these takeaways:

  • From Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, I love the idea of mixing the familiar with the unusual. In other words, how to bring together history and past knowledge with innovative ideas to create a timeless design! When asked about what is next, Robin’s words were memorable. She said: “Next is about looking back and layering on the past to create the most innovative and interesting future.”

  • Ilse Crawford focused on creating environments where humans feel comfortable, public spaces that make people feel at home, and homes that are habitable and make sense for the people who live in them. A memorable quote from Ilse was, “Our starting point is human experience, how to upgrade and enhance daily life, and how to create a sensory connection to our environment.”

What was your overall impression of NeoCon 2019?

The event was very well organized. It was very easy to find whatever I was looking for.

What are your personal learnings and/or reflections from the event?

NeoCon was an excellent opportunity to connect with industry colleagues. I appreciated the ability to learn more about what’s new in a single location. I have much to share with my colleagues at NewStudio!

Architectural Cornerstones: The Meaning, History, and Intent

This Toronto building, originally a church, features two different cornerstones.

This Toronto building, originally a church, features two different cornerstones.

In relation to architecture, a cornerstone is traditionally the first stone laid for a structure, with all other stones laid in reference. A cornerstone marks the geographical location by orienting a building in a specific direction.

Cornerstones have been around for millennia, in some shape or form. In ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, the equivalent of a “ground-breaking” ceremony was the “foundation ritual” which allowed the gods to protect a building. “Foundation deposits,” or hollowed out stones filled with small vessels, animal deposits, and other symbolic items, were standard in the construction of temples, palaces, tombs, and forts. Depending on the type of structure, the deposits were placed at the corners of buildings, or at points of importance in a structure, such as the entrance. This ensured that remains of the building’s original content were preserved with the structure throughout its life, until demolition.

This Philadelphia Navy Yard building features a cornerstone over the entrance indicating 1874 as the year of construction.

This Philadelphia Navy Yard building features a cornerstone over the entrance indicating 1874 as the year of construction.

Over the years, cornerstones have served a variety of purposes. As a means to preserve time, buildings have been marked with a numerical representation to remind people when the building was erected. This has given correlation to architecture and the design of the time. Additionally, cornerstones have become a strong symbol of a new era. They have indicated prosperity and opportunity—showing a sense of pride for what is possible at the time of construction. Cornerstones have also been turned into pieces of memorabilia, marking present buildings or denoting previously standing buildings. One example is the downtown Minneapolis Macy’s building, formerly Dayton’s Department Store. At the exterior base of the building is a plaque telling the story of the site’s previous tenant, Westminster Presbyterian, which was destroyed by fire in 1895. George Draper Dayton, the owner at the time, believed that the story, and recognition, of the church was important to display on the new building, even though the church had relocated to its current location at 12th Street and Marquette Avenue South.

This Philadelphia Navy Yard building was erected in 1904, as indicated on the cornerstone on the facade.

This Philadelphia Navy Yard building was erected in 1904, as indicated on the cornerstone on the facade.

As the commemorative qualities of cornerstones have become recognized, the locations of craftsmanship have expanded to stones near or above the front door of a building. Architects have used these spaces to declare ownership of the building’s design. There are many instances around Minneapolis and Saint Paul where the architect has left their name in the stone of the building.

Today, cornerstones are more commonly placed ornamentally as interior walls, the floor, or the façade of a building, depending on whether the intention of the stone is inscription or preservation. Often laid with a ceremonial trowel by a person of prominence, a local celebrity, or politician, it can be said that the primary purpose of a cornerstone is the publicity that comes with the ceremony. Preservation, in some cases, has become as important as the marking of a building as is seen with time capsules, hollowed-out stones filled with popular objects, or something significant to the occupants of the building at the time of completion.

Meet the Architect: Wale Falade

Wale Falade, Architect

Wale Falade, Architect

From where do you draw your inspiration?
Everyone and everything around me. Sometimes, the greatest ideas can come from the simplest conversations.

What should every home include?
A TV—it’s the 21st century fireplace.

What design element do you think people should use more?
You’ll be surprised how simple alignments make design look deliberate and ordered.

What colors or materials are you loving right now?
I love wood but I am looking for an opportunity to do something in adobe or rammed earth.

What's one of your favorite design memories?
This may sound weird but building a paper scale model of a house between ages 8-9 and then setting it on fire. Maybe I was trying to convey something existential about design? Who knows!

Besides that, I recently enjoyed working with a client on a shorefront house in New Jersey. It was a mutually engaging design process.

Shop the Look: Updated Classic Bathroom

A clean and modern bathroom remodel by NewStudio Architecture blends with the home's early 20th century aesthetic.

Recently completed, this Minneapolis basement remodel by NewStudio includes a new full bathroom with sauna. Special care was taken in making the space feel comfortable and clean—key for a basement—while also presenting a quality of detail and materials consistent with the home’s early 20th century craftsmanship.

Shown in the photo above, the new bathroom vanity features a marble hex tile floor, tile wainscot, and beadboard walls. The sink is an updated take on the classic console, while matte black hardware throughout adds a modern touch to the space. A frosted glass window insert above the sink disguises the glass block behind while also providing access for cleaning.


Hardware & Fixtures

Lastly, the cedar sauna, glimpsed to the right in the photo, is custom by Superior Sauna of Ashland Wisconsin. The glass wall is held in place by CR Laurence clamps in Matte Black.

Meet the Designer: Jan Mankarious

Jan Mankarious, Interior Designer

Jan Mankarious, Interior Designer

From where do you draw your inspiration?
As Grace Coddington, creative director for US Vogue, once said, “Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you see can inspire you.” I try to get my inspiration from everything I see around me—nature, buildings, and even people. You will be amazed by what you can be inspired by.

What should every home include?
Every home should include something I call the “relaxation innovation corner.” I believe that everyone—no matter what you do for a living—is looking to find a place to relax and get innovative. It might be a corner in a room, or a whole room, but it’s a place to paint, draw, listen to music, read a book, enjoy a nice view, or practice your hobby. In this space you can forget about your problems and gain the energy you need to continue!

What design element do you think people should use more?
I consider seven elements in every design: space, line, form, light, color, texture, and pattern. All of these elements are important, although many people focus on color and light. I would like to see more texture incorporated into designs. Texture can play a part in every object selected, so care and consideration must be taken in order to add depth and contrast to a design.

What colors or materials are you loving right now?
For me, it’s less about a specific color or material, and more about what creates balance in a design. I have learned not to love or hate a specific element, since all can work together to bring a wonderful and unique design. Think of elements, such as color and material, as a team, and I, as the team manager, have to find a way to make them work together perfectly.

What's one of your favorite design memories?
Every project I work on leaves me with design memories, since each one is unique. However, nearest to my heart was the designing of the Sonesta Hotel Extension in Cairo, Egypt. The challenge was to design a new 10-story extension to an existing and well-known hotel, that was in keeping with the original spirit while also bringing a unique look.