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NeoCon Review 2021: An Ode to Designers

Last week, Innovative happily visited NeoCon for the first time since our world was rocked by a global pandemic- and we were thrilled to get out of the house.

Innovative was fortunate enough to return to some sense of normalcy about six months ago when our office reopened- with a fresh new look- but we too, have felt the effects of this ongoing war against COVID-19. We have learned to work and collaborate in a new way, and still are practicing a work from office/ work from home flex schedule.

This pandemic, like most events of historic proportion, has affected more than just the day-to-day lives of the people living through it. It has affected art and design. Artists and designers absorb and react to the world around them, and it is clear that COVID-19 has made a lasting impact on commercial interior design.

When the camera was invented in the early 19th century, portrait painters decided that one thing this metal box couldn't do was express the abstract inner worlds of the artist's mind and voilà! Abstract expressionism was born! Cue mic drop.

When COVID-19 (coupled with technological innovations that make working from home so appealing) threatened the commercial interior design industry, designers reacted by making the office look like home. But better. They have designed office interiors to look like the home you dream of having when your kids are old enough to stop grinding Cheeto dust into your upholstery. They have designed a place you want to go to, even if there is no need to be there. They have designed a place where people can appreciate the finer things in life while working on Excel spreadsheets. They have designed a bespoke work environment.

Design trends at NeoCon this year show that designers are at the top of their game. They are solving problems while demonstrating the importance of aesthetics to human beings. Utilizing geometric shapes as an aesthetic trend throughout the furniture and textile design underplays the plug-and-play necessity of privacy and health divider screens and makes them feel like a choice. Overstuffing office chairs and covering them in luxe upholstery makes that glassed-in pop-up office space look more like a beautiful display case and less like a hermetically sealed anti-virus protection room. Task lighting and occasional furniture take on a sculptural quality for which the visual appeal is as important as the function. Even design systems that weren't new this year shone in their flexibility paired with layout strategies intended to maximize comfort (physical and psychological) and address the real safety concerns of working in a post-pandemic world.

One of our designers noted that "one of the coolest things that I saw was office/workspaces that were completely separate from everything else, either closed off by a curtain or glass door or even your own little box."

I second that notion. If there may be any good that has come from this pandemic, it is that the (too) open office plan trend has finally reached its expiration date. Perhaps it takes a major shake-up to return from extremes, but it seems like there is finally room for a compromise between the "anti-wall-stare-your-office-mate-in-the-face-all-day- everything-is-exposed-down-to-the-brick" open office plan and the whack-a-mole inspired cubicle farms of yesteryear.

In the face of seemingly endless reasons to not have to or need to come back to the office, designers at NeoCon are determined to give it a comeback.


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