Acquisitions. Partnerships. Alliances. For me these words conjure (my favorite!) a late-night re-run of Dynasty – Alexis Colby perched imperiously at her desk sipping champagne and serving witty repartée while patiently plotting her next business venture. But as several major furniture brands showcased new partnerships and alliances at NeoCon’s 50th Anniversary show in Chicago, these were the unexpected bywords of the year and made my visit to the Merchandise Mart about much more than just the latest trends. There is actually a Dynasty-level business case to be made for these new relationships.
Herman Miller has acquired a 33% stake in Danish furniture brand Hay. Steelcase has expanded their stable of partners beyond Minneapolis-based Blu Dot and Danish design company Bolia, and announced a partnership with West Elm to offer a selection of that brand’s furniture designed specifically for the workplace. Not to be “out-Daned,” HBF has partnered with Danish manufacturer Gubi on an exclusive reinvention of the latter’s iconic Beetle chair.
Big + Boutique = Ideal Match
This trend comes out of a strategic response by major market leaders in the furniture business to changing tastes among clientele, as they move away from showroom-like interiors, preferring a more curated and varied aesthetic. One-off collaborations are still popular, but bigger brands are looking to boutique design houses to infuse new and different styles on an ongoing basis, with a view to creating a one-stop-shop offering.
Speed-to-market demands are also an influence—fast-food and fast-fashion have infiltrated the upscale brands of their respective realms, and now commercial and institutional furniture buyers want high quality fast-furniture (and fixtures and finishes). Big + boutique = an ideal match. Smaller brands bring an agile and responsive approach to design, while the larger, more established houses have the infrastructure, production, and distribution relationships to release on-trend pieces in real-time.
Let’s Get Trendy
Moving from the business of design to design trends—NeoCon showcased the growing trend towards a “resi-mmercial” approach to commercial interiors. Over the past year, we have seen first-hand that clients across many market sectors have lost that loving feeling for a traditional, uniform approach to interior design. One such example is healthcare. For Cedars-Sinai, we created a distinctly upscale, hospitality-inspired aesthetic in their new Playa Vista Physician Office & Urgent Care clinic.
Contributing to this trend is corporate acknowledgement that the workplace is a second home for much of the workforce—and it’s not just tech firms and startups that are rolling with it. More and more, unexpected pieces, vibrant textiles, and cozy unassigned workspaces are becoming the norm for law firms, like Stoel Rives in Portland, and corporate headquarters for household name brands such as Publishers Clearing House in New York. The impact of this design approach is tangible, with reports of improved employee recruitment and retention, reductions in absenteeism, and a more collaborative work environment.
Alas, there were no Dynasty-style catfights (that we know of!) and Dame Joan Collins was nowhere to be found, but Neocon 50 was full of memorable moments, great products, and excellent design. Click through the image gallery above to see some of my favorite moments.
You can also check out James’ perspective on NeoCon noticeable trends, interesting products and standout showrooms in Office Snapshots!
James Woolum is a principal at ZGF and splits his time between the Los Angeles and New York offices. With a career in architecture and interior design spanning 27 years, James has significant experience designing corporate, healthcare, research, and institutional environments. He’s also the resident expert on all things Dynasty.