Neocon, the contract furniture trade show held in Chicago every year, is the place to go for businesslike items like a conference-room table or motorised blinds. The show fills several floors of a gargantuan brick block of a building with products designed for commercial and institutional settings: schools, hotels, hospitals and especially offices. Typically, the scene is a field of laminates and steel. But this year visitors to the show, which ended on June 13, were greeted by the unexpected sight of a bright yellow quilted chair that would cheer any workplace — a color so jaunty you might even want it at home.
Hosu, as this happy chair is called, is intended for any easygoing workplace, home offices included. Designed by Patricia Urquiola for Coalesse, it evolved from research suggesting that wherever people commune with their hand-held digital devices, they like to lounge close to the floor and even sprawl a bit. As a result, the chair, which starts at $2,000 and will be available in September though Coalesse’s online store, has a grommet at the base that allows a power cord to be neatly drawn up around the seat, and a pocket at the back for storing a tablet computer. Users are encouraged to wedge a smartphone into the narrow slit that borders the seat cushion.
And Hosu, it turned out, was not the only piece at NeoCon with a laid-back attitude.
Apparently it’s no longer enough simply to fend off carpal tunnel syndrome; now office furniture is expected to promote emotional satisfaction, too. Work-related furniture has a greater duty to relieve the tedium of long, sedentary hours.
At NeoCon this year, the word “ergonomic” seemed to have gone out of fashion. Mark McKenna, design director at Humanscale. “We like to say comfort is not a privilege, it’s a universal requirement,” he says, whose company introduced the Diffrient Smart Chair, a no-fuss-to-adjust desk chair by the octogenarian industrial designer Niels Diffrient. (The chair will be available in October, starting at $1,330)
LOFTwall, a company founded in 2009, showed partitions that can be used to carve out a home office from a larger room. The walls are made with panels in a variety of materials, from translucent plastic to adhesive squares on which users can stick almost any fabric.
There was also a new iteration of IdeaPaint, a product that turns interior walls into erasable whiteboards: Create is a clear coating that can be slathered onto walls of any hue, so that users can maintain a consistent color scheme even if one of the walls in the room has become a giant memo board. (It is sold in kits that cost $225 and cover 50 square feet.)
Another piece of playfully wobbly seating could be seen in the showroom of the office furniture giant Haworth: Shetland, a rocking stool that the company first released in a limited number in 1997. Michael Welsh, who designed the revival, says the piece was “meant to be informal, supple and iconic in its shape,"”plus you can stow a briefcase underneath it. The stool, which comes in a stationary version as well, will be available in September in a painted finish or a walnut veneer, and will range from $700 for the stool alone to $2,000.
Office furniture, it seems, is not just adopting an accessible, informal appearance — it actually is more accessible.
© 2012 The New York Times