Open floor plans and collaborative work zones have defined commercial office trends over the last decade, but a spate of recent research and reporting (examples here and here) weighing the pros and cons of these types of arrangements have prompted designers and their clients to reconsider taking such a hard line. The result: products and systems that give occupants more control over their environment, from integrated tasklighting and personal storage to demarcated zones for individual and team work. All that and more was on display at this year’s NeoCon contract interiors tradeshow in Chicago, which turned the city’s Merchandise Mart into a lookbook for the office as a destination. Among the highlights: integrated power, noise buffers, and comfortable and versatile seating.


Power to the People
Opportunities for workers to venture away from their desks and into collaborative zones are only as good as the available power supplies. A handful of manufacturers showcased new ways to bring outlets off the wall: Knoll’s Horsepower wired channel (shown above) doubles as a bench with optional seat cushions or as a divider with the addition of a panel screen. Steelcase’s slender Thread hub runs beneath the carpet to bring power to the middle of a room. And Group Dekko’s Ashley Duo, which offers two outlets and two USB ports in a single unit, allows for tabletop charging of multiple devices.

Marco Covi

Silencing Sound
Acoustic panels add color and design while lowering the volume on office chatter. Italian designer Lievore Altherr Molina created the Parentesit series (shown above) of round and square acoustical wall modules for Arper that can integrate speakers and lighting. Acoustic panel maker Snowsound showcased its modular space dividers, partitions, and screens that are Class-A rated for sound absorption. Turkish studio Koleksiyon took the concept a step further with Oblivion, a circular enclosure whose walls dampen noise while forming a quiet workspace free of visual distraction.

Herman Miller

Raised Heights
Adjustable-height desks were aplenty around the Merchandise Mart last week, with nearly all of the leading office furniture manufacturers promoting their counter to the threat of death by sitting. Other surfaces are now being raised. The centerpiece of Herman Miller’s Exclave modular collaborative furniture system (shown above) is a fixed, standing-height conference table designed for use with an interactive media display. The 42”-tall versions of Teknion’s Cavu table and HBF’s Parker function as casual lunch counters and meeting spaces with wood construction in the former and interchangeable inlay tops in the latter rendering​ them duly for show.


New Seats
Product designers are making sitting a more interactive experience while improving ergonomics. The seat and base on KI’s Sway lounge (shown above) connect via gliders to create the subtle effect of a single ball joint, allowing the user to move back and forth, side to side, and anywhere between. Inscape combined features of lounge and task chairs in Sweetspot, whose ergonomic shell, foam cushion, and 17-1/8” seat height supports focused work away from the desk. And what’s NeoCon without one or 10 very technical task chairs? Steelcase showed off its 2013 Gesture chair with the addition of concept technology that employs integrated sensors to track users’ movement, take their pulse, and prompt them to take a break every now and then.