NeoCon 2020

our view from home

Contributors: Gil Cavada, George Guffey, Erik Moses, Jake Vail, John Hannon, Elizabeth Merchut

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For many of the past years, PDT’s designers have been attending one the largest office/hospitality furniture shows in the world at the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. In recent years, we’ve seen designed environments and objects tailored for productivity, collaboration, creativity, and modularity. However, when this year’s show came around in early June, it was met with a very different reality than it had in the past.


Moving as much content as they could into online sessions, product reports, and summaries, NeoConnect “attendees” were left digesting all of the content from the confines of our homes, and through a completely new lens. Human to human interaction had been a driving force throughout the show’s past, and now companies were left trying to adapt their concepts to a socially distanced, six-feet-apart-world, in which many of our “offices” are now just down the hall.


Here are our comparisons to years past and observations looking forward…

going virtual

Webinars + Product Previews

This year, the majority of the content for the show was converted into a series of live webinars and Product Preview guides categorized by floor. The content was then released for viewing throughout the month of June.

Creative Spark

Interior+sources and some Savannah School of Art and Design students did sketches overlaid with callouts to represent many of the planned showrooms that were not able to be experienced in-person. We found this to be really engaging and fun to explore vs the typical product stock photography. While not the full thrill of being in the space, it did provide some of the stimulation and creativity one experiences when you’re able to be there in real life.

Digital Showroom

Scandanavian Showrooms went a step further than most others by showcasing their would-be space as a digital walkthrough on their homepage. They also hosted a live webcast of their showroom being continually changed out with new pieces to the soundtrack of local DJs spinning in-house.

work spaces

2019 Topic: Solitude

In 2019, individual working spaces were an obvious theme. Helping to aid in personal productivity and focus, many were designed for large open floor plans and tech-infused environments riddled with distraction.


View Last Year's Report >

2020 Topic: Solitude  Isolation

In 2020, we see similarly singular spaces but with a completely different intent. We now see these spaces not as an escape from the main working area, but AS the main working area. High dividers and appropriately spaced modules aim to keep everyone at a safe distance.


It was clear which companies tried to “Covid-proof” their furniture vs those that didn’t. The majority only had time to add some sort of panels or dividers to their existing pieces.

Artfully Divided

Sedia Systems approached their divider panels with a bit more personality than others. Using customized hardware, whimsical shapes and colors, it gives a much warmer presence to the panels than just rectangular plexi.

Too Close for Comfort

In past years, spaces for collaborating and personal interaction have been plentiful. This year, the ones that were showcased throughout NeoConnect were hard to see past the proximity and confined spaces that we have all grown accustom to avoiding outside of our home.

Aerospace Similarities

The “quick” and “obvious” solutions we are seeing to the pandemic in the hospitality and funiture industry is not unusual. The aerospace industry has been seeing the same sort of divided and segmented seat proposals and concepts as we all navigate our new reality. Also similarly to the hospitality and furniture industry, these air travel designs are becoming more creative, more integrated, and less obvious as time passes and these industries learn how to best protect customers while providing desirable experiences.


Patterns and Textures

We saw a lot of sophisticated and playful geometric patterning. Additionally, there were a lot of  biomimicry and naturalistic driven designs.


In our 2019 topic “Unapologetically Colorful”, we saw a lot of spaces starting to flaunt and showcase bright colors within their spaces.

This year, some experts think color trends will continue to move in that exaggerated and/or brighter direction and move away from neutrals with even more desire for natural light.

"We have been thinking about how interiors changed after the 1918 pandemic and how the rise of modernism started soon after in the 1920s. We are thinking more light colors and more natural light." -Patricia McCaul Assoc. Principal Rottet Studio


In 2019, we saw a lot of materials used in the way of natural woods and veneers along with brass, other soft metals, and natural fibers such as felt. In a post COVID-world, where high-frequency and potency cleanings may be the norm, we wonder how these materials will hold up to these cleaning compounds, UV light, steaming, etc.  Will we see industries shift away from these natural materials to more durable manmade products?


Environmental Feedback

This year, we saw environmental signage dictating new behavior in spaces due to the virus. Stickers showing where to stand to maintain social distancing have become a new normal, and we expect that people will look for these visuals to provide comfort and ensure safe distancing while in these spaces.


At PDT, we've been wondering what kind of notifications and environmental feedback we will need or want moving forward in a post-COVID world. Will we look for notifications about the health or cleanliness of people, objects, and environments?

And the chairs, of course

We always love trying out all of the new and different seating options at NeoCon, and even though we couldn’t do it in-person this year, these were a few that caught our eye.

work from home

Visiting the show in the past has always left us envious of new office spaces, materials, and forms that we’d love to see in our own studio. However, this year we naturally looked at everything through a “home office” lens. With the help of our coworkers, we were able to get a glimpse of how people have been working at home vs our typical space at the office. Will future NeoCons focus more on this large pool of workers whom may be at home for much more of their time?

Multiple monitors

Printing station

Raised monitors

At-home shop & equipment

Outdoor views

Desk speakers

Furry friend coworkers

Organized tool storage

Pool table doubles as workspace

Hand sanitizer

questions? comments?


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