Ah NeoCon...it's that time of year again! I'm a little late in my post-show round up, but that's okay. For those of you who don't know, NeoCon is an annual contract furniture trade show that takes place in the beginning of June at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.
This year, I went with one of my coworkers and had an absolute blast! We flew in late Sunday night and left midday on Tuesday feeling completely exhausted. The Wednesday after was spent combing through pictures, filtering through promotional emails, and figuring out which brochures and magazines to keep and which ones to toss. In the past few years I have found this to be the best time to process information and observe patterns or trends. While I didn't see anything life changing, I think this year's show did a good job of reinforcing ideas and concepts that were introduced last year and the year before. That being said, I did spot a few trends that I haven't seen previously, and will be discussing on the blog. I originally planned on cramming it into one big recap, but quickly realized that two posts would be necessary. So stay tuned for Part II next Thursday!
Before we get into trends, it would be amiss to not discuss the biggest surprise of all: the major lobby and food hall renovation at the Merchandise Mart!
To be honest, I had no idea about any of it until I walked in and saw it for myself. First impression? MAJOR improvement. As one of Chicago's greatest examples of classic Art Deco architecture, the Mart has always had an unapologetic adherence to its era of origin. It was completed in 1930, and despite having transferred ownership several times throughout the course of the past century, it has preserved this aesthetic while continuing to stay relevant in today's market. The building in itself is beautiful, but architectural constraints have made it difficult to keep up with the technological and commercial changes of the past 86 years. For example, not all of the elevators go to every floor, the staircases are confusing, and there has never been enough space to sit and take a break. Because 23 out of the 25 floors in the building are comprised of commercial showroom space, 90% of the traffic only accesses first two levels.
Completed in 2016, the $40 million renovation is composed of three major components: The Grand Stair, The Lounge, and the Food Hall. Before the renovation, the lobby was defined by eight marble columns, terrazzo floors, and a frieze of seventeen murals featuring different types of commerce form around the world. Now the space is anchored by the Grand Stair, a soaring 50ft wide marble staircase and seating area that connects the 1st and 2nd levels. Stadium-style seating with upholstered pads sits between both stairways to allow visitors to eat, rest, or wait for friends. Believe me, throughout the two days I spent in this building, this space was full every time I passed.
One of my favorite parts of this addition is that it makes getting to the 2nd floor idiot-proof. Anyone who has ever tried to surpass the elevator line by taking the stairs knows that each staircase is not what it may seem. I'm not sure how, but at my first Neocon my college roommate and I were trying to get from the 7th to the 2nd level and ended up somewhere in the basement. There is an escalator by the Herman Miller showroom on the 3rd floor, but it only goes down to the 2nd. From there you have to find a different escalator to get back down to the 1st floor. For directionally challenged people like me, navigating around that building is a real task. Thank goodness this staircase is pretty impossible to miss!
At the top of the stairs is The Lounge, a cafe with meeting areas and an amazing view of the Chicago skyline. I wish I knew who made those sofas, but I couldn't figure it out. Oddly when I was there, this space was less busy than the Grand Stair. It might have been the time of day, but it also could have been the furniture. In general, I have found that people tend to limit one person to one piece of furniture. Meaning if one person is already sitting there, people are more likely to view the sofa as "in use" even if it could fit three or four more people. Interestingly enough, this pattern does not apply to park or airport benches. My best guess is that sofas feel more intimate and familiar. They make you feel like you're cuddled up at your house. I certainly would not want a stranger to sit down next to me at my house. However at an airport, any extra bench space is fair game. I digress. Overall this space is comfortable and trendy. I don't know if they are already doing this, but if I were in charge, I would lease the space to furniture manufacturers and rotate every six months.. That way the Mart could make money while giving each company prime real estate to showcase product. If they aren't already doing that...they are missing out.
Around the corner, the renovation continued into the new and improved Food Hall. All designers rejoice! Remember when I was talking about the building as beautiful example of Art Deco architecture? Forget all of it, because the old Food Hall was AWFUL. If we're being honest, having a food court that ugly whilst housing some of the greatest design manufacturers in the world is downright offensive (jokes). As someone who designs food halls for a living, walking into this newly designed space brought a joy to my heart that can really only be equated with the feeling you get when you start to see summer displays at Target after a long winter. That "Oh for the love of God, FINALLY!" burst of joy.
The architects did us proud too! I absolutely love it. At the center of the space, a glamorous mirrored ceiling cloud hangs above a winding bar-height counter. Custom community tables flank both sides of the counter with a sea of polished globe pendants (love love love) floating above. The crisp white of the solid surface contrasts beautifully with the blacked out exposed ceiling above, and the glamour of the pendants and ceiling keeps the exposed concrete floor and columns from feeling too warehouse-y. A large curvilinear bench with a built in planter greets visitors at the very front of the hall and gives people waiting for the train a space to sit and wait without taking up food court seating space.
Can I ask a question to the designers though? HOW ON EARTH did you convince the client to let you use wood veneer tops and wood chair legs? Our clients won't go near wood in a food court! My coworker and I were drooling over the slick knife edges and black powder coat table bases. GORG-OUS. And for all of the curious minds out there, the chairs and tables were from Andreu World. You better believe we checked. There is an old joke that states "you know someone is an interior designer when they shamelessly flip chairs and tables to check who the manufacturer is." And we sure did!
Overall, I think the renovations are a huge success. The functionality of the Grand Stair feels very fresh and new, but the natural stone and gold accents blend in with the existing architecture beautifully. The Lounge serves a great purpose as there are never enough places to sit during Neocon, and it's a great opportunity for manufacturers to showcase product on rotation. As the years go by, the Mart has continued to reinvent itself to ensure its relevance in the modern world while maintaining its historic integrity. I believe that these renovations bring it into the 21st century in the best possible way.
Check in next week for a recap of my favorite ten trends that we observed at the show!
Photos Found At:
Channick, Robert. "Merchandise Mart unveils $40 million renovation." Chicago Tribune 10 June 2016. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-merchandise-mart-renovation-0612-biz-20160610-story.html>.
Ori, Ryan. "Photos: A $40 million reinvention for Merchandise Mart." Crain's Chicago Business: Chicago Real Estate Daily 9 June 2016. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.chicagobusiness.com/realestate/20160609/CRED03/160609813/photos-a-40-million-reinvention-for-merchandise-mart>.