Commercial Design Influences: NeoCon 2019


This year marked the 51st anniversary of NeoCon in Chicago – the world’s leading event for the commercial design industry. Sunbrella Contract had the unique opportunity to partner with Haworth, Gensler Chicago, and Forward Fruit Branded Environments to style the all-new ‘Urban Boardwalk’ known as the NeoCon Plaza, which reinforced how the changing dynamics of commercial spaces – indoors and out – are evolving design for public spaces.

The movement toward bringing the outdoors in, and vice versa was noticeable at the show this year. Along with this mode of design, the Sunbrella design team spotted several notable shifts, emerging innovations, and style trends at NeoCon 2019. In case you missed the show this year, here are five takeaways from the viewpoint of our Sunbrella designers.

A Shift toward Outdoor Design

This was the perfect year for the Urban Boardwalk concept to unveil at NeoCon. As noticed over the past decade, office spaces are trending toward open concepts, more natural light, and fewer window-less spaces. We continue to see the evolvement of this movement, as commercial architecture styles are showing an “opening of the doors” to encourage use of outdoor spaces.  Along the boardwalk, NeoCon guests found different sheltered and unsheltered areas for catching up on emails, meeting with partners, and having team huddles in a true celebration of an alternative work space.

Using furnishings and fabrics typically expected in an indoor environment helps to create a space that is comfortable and energizing to increase productivity, restore and replenish.

Sunbrella Contract high-performance fabrics on lounge seating, pillows and shade features, demonstrate the importance of durable and fade-resistant fabrics for meet demanding commercial needs


This movement stole the show at NeoCon. This trend is a direct reflection of the changing workforce, reinforcing that design and architecture styles must shift to increase employee engagement and retention. The co-working spaces of the world have certainly made an impact by proving that when you capture a “work from home” vibe in a corporate environment, employees respond positively. The lines are blurring between residential and commercial with more and more people working from home, using coffee shops or rooftops as office spaces. With both resi-mercial and indoor/outdoor working space, it’s apparent that today’s workspaces require flexibility and creativity.

Beyond just office spaces, resi-mercial trends are blending into healthcare and education design as well, blurring the definitions of ‘commercial’ vs. ‘residential’.

Herman Miller

Blues are Back

… and lighter than before! Even with the spatial planning of commercial and residential design beginning to merge, NeoCon highlighted a sharp difference when it comes to palettes. Soft blues, gray cast blues, and clay colors were the foundational colors in many showrooms. From upholstery and accent tables to décor, these colors were integrated to ground patterns and pops of color, such as deep greens or coral.

Photo 1, 2: Herman Miller showroom; Photo 3, NeoCon Plaza featuring Sunbrella Contract upholstery

Design Inspired by Nature

In both commercial and residential spaces, the infusion of green plants has become the norm, bridging indoors and out and providing naturally clean air.  This year, natural elements were not limited to the infusion of greenery and wood accents as the indoor/outdoor movement continues to gain traction. We noticed the patterns of nature showing up in textile installations, wallcoverings, and upholstery patterns with an artisanal feel in patterns inspired by the natural environment.

Photo 1: Steelcase, Photo 2: Haworth, Photo 3: Herman Miller

Mid-Century Goes Commercial

While trends come and go, some styles reign supreme over decades. Mid-Century Modern continues to infiltrate both residential and commercial design styles year-over-year. Thick, textured plaids and embroidered elements were prevalent in upholstery options at NeoCon, mostly accenting Swedish and Mid-Century clean-lined furniture design.

While the mainstream residential MCM styles trend toward more muted colorways, the commercial interpretations are incorporating bolder color palettes. The clay and spice colorways pulled through in mid-century vignettes at NeoCon, paired with orange cast yellows and saffron shades that bring a 60s-themed nostalgia to mind.

Photo 1: Teknion, Photo 2: HBF Textiles, Photo 3: Herman Miller

To learn more about Sunbrella Contract fabric offerings, visit our website.

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