LightSpotting: NeoCon 2009 Lighting Highlights

June 29, 2009 / no comments

I had the opportunity to walk the many, many floors of Chicago’s gigantic Merchandise Mart for the recent NeoCon trade show. While definitely focused on furniture and fabrics, the show offered some stunning showrooms with lots of lighting inspiration.

In general, it is really striking to see how modern office furniture has become so intensely open-plan. It is certainly not a stretch to proclaim “cubicle walls are dead” after seeing all the largest manufacturers featuring contemporary lines with low or no partition walls, translucent dividers, user-adjustable privacy dividers, etc. Also, the shift to lower ambient light levels with individually adjustable task lights was heavily promoted; each manufacturer offered a range of task fixtures.


Steelcase is clearly the “big dog” in the Merchandise Mart, with numerous showrooms for both its flagship brand, and for several sub-brands.


The main showroom offered a dramatic, curving entrance wall with unusual faceted column covers.


From the outside of the showroom, at first glance, this looked like a large window wall. In reality, it is entirely composed of plasma screens, tightly butted together for a stunning view.


Steelcase created a unique, open partition wall of criss-crossing materials. Even with almost no direct lighting, it looks fantastic and models well.


Note the trick detail: the glowing strip of light set into the floor underneath the curtain track.


A nice solution for introducing a feeling of brightness into a workspace without increasing the overall lighting levels: positioning an under-cabinet fixture below the task plane.


Elegant fixture design for personal task lighting that maintains a sense of openness in an office, but the fixture output suffered from the dreaded LED multi-shadows.

Steelcase Nurture

Steelcase had a stunning showroom for their Nurture brand. At first, it looks like a hospitality line, until you enter the showroom and realize it is intended for healthcare projects – shows how far the trend of hospitals-as-hotels has come.


Lots of earth tones and natural materials throughout the showroom.


Modern nurses’ station. Can you spot the task light?


In a very cool detail, Steelcase incorporated an LED task light into the adjustable arm of a monitor stand.

Steelcase Coalesce

Coalesce had an absolutely gorgeous showroom that demonstrated fantastic use of dark materials throughout. While it is so easy to get caught up in trying to light every surface with uplights, wallwashers, task lights, and so forth, the Coalesce showroom reminds one of how eloquently a dark palette can be used to create visual focus and highlight.


This image is deceptive: even the lightest material was actually a medium grey. Natural concrete floors, unfinished Homasote ceilings, natural metal trim and hardware, and dark gunmetal grey wall panels really make the furniture pieces pop.


Dark ceilings and floors are contrasted with a rear-illuminated stretched fabric wall and translucent signage panels.


Amid all the dark surfaces, one wall really popped with fabric samples. Lightly etched one-inch-thick acrylic is used with brilliant wall washers to command attention and create a neutral backdrop for the colorful samples.

Human Scale


Human Scale was showing a line of fluorescent and LED adjustable arm-mounted task lights. In particular, their new LED task light was striking.


A great example of using the inherent challenges of keeping LEDs running cool to create a striking design.

Three H

Three H showed a desk fixture with a softly glowing band on three sides.


This is certainly one of the most distinctive concepts in task lights in a long time. While hard to photograph, the fixture created a wonderful feeling of brightness, and plenty of useable light on the desk.


Bernhardt’s showroom features an extraordinarily elegant minimalism.


The front entrance is visually framed with glowing reveals at the bottom of each wall, with a glowing reveal along the side wall that peels away as it progresses back.


Behind the bar is a clean, discreet graze of light slipping down the back wall. To the right is a striking rear-illuminated texture wall, composed of sheet metal that was CNC-cut and backed with a translucent fabric, creating a brilliant, sparkling effect.

Herman Miller

Herman Miller had another massive showroom, with a striking entrance.


A vivid orange cove shows how elegant a splash of color can be as a lighting effect, which is echoed in the showpiece wall behind the faceted glass entrance.


The wall consists of three glass panels stacked at angles and curving around the length of the wall, with a sultry orange tint and grey frit texture. Lots of watts are needed, though, to bring out the orange; note the bands of continuous incandescent grazing lights above.


Allsteel’s showroom had a trio of competent, well-executed lighting features.


Super-clean shelf lighting, with the light fixtures completely integrated into the thickness of the shelves.


A series of fabric-wrapped cylindrical pendants gives the conference room an incredible feeling of softness and warmth.


An internally glowing cube creates a nice visual punch under an oversized wood counter, with clusters of simple pendants above.


Allsteel was showing a whimsical LED task light that looks like a retro-futuristic flying saucer; unfortunately, it produced little useable light and was too cool in color temperature.


Our architectural clients love 3Form materials, and 3Form has certainly been busy adding new materials and hardware to flush out a more complete service offering.


They’ve recently launched a line of “light forms”, sculptural assemblies using their materials.


They are also offering wood laminates with laser-cut patterns, which can be used to create fantastic luminous, backlit surfaces.


Inscape’s showroom includes a signature lighting feature that works really well in an open office environment.


A stretch fabric-wrapped internally lit structure runs the length of the space.


The long, voluminous light source makes the space feel bright, with lots of useable, soft task light.


Inscape also enlivened a windowless, internal conference room with a simple backlit wall that really makes the space.

Joel Berman Studio

Joel Berman had their traditional range of decorative art glass, but is also launching a new resin product.


They were showcasing the new resin with an interesting decorative LED pendant that takes the limitations of LED point sources and artfully exploits them into a sparkling feature.


Molo is a company that makes folded paper walls, à la old 1960s papier-mâché party decorations.


They were promoting a large wall complete with internal LED lighting. I didn’t get to see the source, but the effect of a huge, softly glowing, curving form was unique.


Teknion’s showroom offered up a couple of great design solutions to enliven interior spaces with limited access to daylight.


The lobby featured large, internally illuminated boxes concealing the structural columns, contrasting with rich, darkly finished wood floors and ceilings.


The signature wall consisted of one-inch-thick recycled white plastic cut into a random criss-cross texture, set off by a few inches from an internally illuminated backing wall to create a tremendous feeling of depth.


The glowing columns from the entrance were repeated throughout the space. Although the overall ambient levels were fairly low, the glowing columns really made the space feel visually bright.


Much like the conference room at the Inscape showroom, an internal, windowless wall was enlivened with a backlit glass panel.

NeoCon offers an opportunity to view the latest products in hospitality, health care, retail and corporate interiors; while inspiring new and innovative ways to incorporate lighting into these creative settings.

Photo Credit: Brad Koerner / Lam Partners Inc – © 2009 All Rights Reserved