NeoCon 2021: This year’s show, while short on exhibitors, had plenty to offer in terms of design - Nov 2021
By Darius Helm and Anne Harr
NeoCon 2021, held at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart in October rather than June and following a virtual NeoCon 2020, was smaller than normal due to continuing Covid impacts but still had a lot to offer in terms of design and innovation. On the flooring side, there were about 15 exhibitors-in 2019, there were three times as many-and traffic was also fairly light by NeoCon standards, with nearly 20,000 attendees over the three days of the show. However, all the exhibitors came to the Chicago show with a full range of new products and innovations, and enthusiasm was high for the strengthening commercial market.
Because it is adhered to the subfloor, there hasn’t been a way to truly reuse tile in new flooring installations. But that could soon change. Lea Ceramiche, part of Panariagroup (which also owns Florida Tile), unveiled a pa
CARPET: AREA RUGS
GOLD: Mohawk Group, Rheo Morph
GOLD: Mohawk Group, Urban Shores
SILVER: Patcraft, Inspired Connection
GOLD: Shaw Contract, Collective Collection
SILVER: Patcraft, Spatial Palette
SUSTAINABILITY: Mohawk Group, Data Tide
HARD SURFACE: NATURAL MATERIALS
GOLD: Tarkett, Color Splash Speckled Rubber Tile
HARD SURFACE: VINYL/LVT
GOLD: Armstrong, Rest & Refuge rigid core flooring
SILVER: HMTX/Aspecta, Aspecta Contours
SUSTAINABILITY: Shaw Contract, Bottle Floor
INNOVATION: Shaw Contract, Bottle Floor
GOLD: Armstrong, MedinPure PVC-free sheet
TRENDS AT THE SHOW
There may not have been a lot of exhibitors, but there were strong designs on display this year, including several carpet collections that were designed to represent the convergence of nature and human society through the dynamic interaction of textured organics with geometrics and irregular grids, most notably from Interface, Tarkett and Shaw Contract. Geometric visuals conveyed through fractured grids and stippling effects-often overlaid or merging with organic and biophilic elements-were a key design expression.
Texture did a lot of the work of conveying these designs, including multilevel loops and mixing chunky and recessed loops. Here and there, glossy or metallic yarns played understated roles.
Deconstructed designs were also on high display (Interface, Tarkett, Bentley, Patcraft), with some medium- to larger-scale designs conveying a sense of reinterpreted installation patterns, like chevrons.
One of the most evident trends was the use of blue as a neutral. Almost every carpet mill showcased some products in blue colorways-some were grey-blues while others came in richer hues. And there were also plenty of reinterpreted black-and-white colorways, though the black was generally shades of darker greys and the whites ranged from off-white to creams, with the best examples from Shaw Contract and Interface.
In resilient flooring, many of the wood looks were pale, though there were some medium-toned products on display as well. And some wood visuals were enhanced with new elements, like angled metallic strips (LX Hausys, Patcraft).
One of the biggest trends in resilient flooring, however, was non-wood looks. Terrazzo visuals were prominent, including from the Mohawk Group and Armstrong Flooring. And textile looks were also more prevalent, ranging from Ava’s carpet tile visuals on LVT to linen looks by Patcraft and Tarkett’s textile-and-stone blends.
In terms of overall interior décor developments, gentle curves, soft edges and solid color fabrics defined a lot of the furniture trends. Golden yellow, orange pinks and different shades of lighter blue were prominent colors-often looking like a reinterpretation of nostalgic retro hues.
It’s hard to know why some showrooms at NeoCon were busier than others, but that was certainly the case with Shaw Contract on the tenth floor. It’s probably a combination of brand strength, beautifully designed product, recent awards and social media presence.
From a new product perspective, Collective and Bottle Floor, both of which won awards, attracted most of the attention in Shaw’s space. The Collective won a Best of NeoCon Gold award in the carpet tile category. Inspired by the need to bring people together and connect with each other, the collection is composed of eight different products, three of which are large-scale patterns and five of which are textures. The plush textures come in 18”x36” formats and the loop textures are 9”x36”. All styles in Collective, which use 100% recycled nylon, are carbon neutral and Cradle to Cradle Certified.
Bottle Floor is an innovative needlebonded PET carpet tile product that combines the cleanability of hard surface flooring with the soft, quieting attributes of carpet. Constructed with a felted visual in a 12”x48” plank, Bottle Floor contains an average of 61 post-consumer plastic bottles in each square yard. The product is chlorine free and contains no plasticizers. And for those spaces with moisture issues, Bottle Floor carpet tiles can be installed over 100% RH subfloors.
Bottle Floor won Best of NeoCon awards for sustainability and innovation in the specialty flooring category.
Shaw Contract also showcased another innovative technology in the form of rigid core products designed for the commercial market. The magnesium-core products are designed for gluedown applications and feature the firm’s proprietary Exoguard+ scratch- and stain-resistant surface finish, with the scratch protection conveyed through a melamine-based application.
A third collection of coordinated LVT and carpet tile products in Shaw Contract’s showroom was called Dialogue. The visuals in this collection were inspired by vintage type, Braille, Morse code and hand-written script.
On the first night of the show, Shaw hosted 300 designers at a Summer of Color NeoCon Party at the City Winery in Chicago. Those who attended were elated to be back at a social event, which required proof of vaccination or a negative test to attend.
Interface, which exhibited its products at its showroom across Wells Street from the Merchandise Mart, offered two stunning collections, one by David Oakey and the other by Kara Pei, Interface’s vice president of global product design.
Pei’s Rising Signs is inspired by the architectural elements that connect people to each other and the outside world-bridges, staircases, fire escapes-conveyed through junctions of organic patterns and geometric elements across eight carpet tile designs-six planks and four squares. Some of the patterns are largely organic while others are dominated by geometric arrays and angled patterns.
Spandrel, for instance, features angled geometric shapes defined by nubby pindots that diminish across the shape and seem to float above the low-loop field, and Proportional features an array of geometries defined through a crisp design of straight and angled high-contrast lines, almost like an abstracted cityscape. Binary Code uses a similar pattern of angled shapes but with a more organic expression. Karmic Relief is more structured, a linear design of small geometric grids waxing and waning across the length. And at the other end is Up At Dawn, an organic pattern with very little structure but an overall biophilic feel and subtle movement.
Oakey’s Granite Mountain takes its inspiration from Arabia Mountain, site of a former granite quarry, with the designs expressing the convergence of nature and the heavy hand of humanity. The collection will be officially released in early 2022.
One of the core designs in the collection is Mountain Rock, which uses multiple pile heights and loops from flat to extra chunky, creating textural effects and tonal shifts that yield a craggy biophilic visual. Bride Creek transitions across the tile from Mountain Rock to Flat Rock, a low-key, low-pile echo of the main design.
Another key design in the collection is Panola Mountain, which has more color elements than the other designs and uses some of the same construction techniques as Mountain Rock to create a warm, organic design constrained by an ordered geometry, reflecting nature’s renewal of a landscape deconstructed by man.
The theme at the Mohawk Group’s third-floor showroom was the Waterways Project, which was launched earlier this year to help “protect and preserve rivers and their ecosystems,” according to the firm. The initiative includes partnerships with Waterkeeper Alliance and Change the Course, which will help protect global waterways that provide clean water to 700 million people as well as support dozens of domestic river restoration and protection programs.
New products at the show supported the firm’s Waterways initiative, including its Color Pulse Duracolor Tricor nylon 6 fiber system, which offers a space-dyed effect in a solution-dyed fiber. Not only is zero water used in the dyeing process, but its purchase supports donations to Waterways projects.
The firm won three Best of NeoCon awards, including one for sustainability under the carpet tile category for Data Tide, a three-style collection of 12”x36” modular planks in eight colorways. The tonal collection uses solid, twisted and heathered yarns as well as color gradations to suggest the depth and texture of running water.
Another winner was Rheo Morph, from Mohawk’s Durkan hospitality business, which won Gold in the Carpet: Area Rug category. The solution-dyed collection, inspired by the way
rivers leave their traces on the landscape as they shift and swing over time, uses the firm’s Definity technology to create a range of eye-catching colors and patterns.
Also noteworthy was Urban Shores, which won Gold in the Broadloom category, made up of Floating Forms and Drifting Currents. Floating Forms stands out with its rich, mottled organic design overlaying a subtle but crisp linear pattern.
Targeting lower price points is Crossing Currents, a linear organic design reminiscent of rushing waters, featuring the firm’s lightweight Matrix backing. Shape & Flow, also inspired by the action of waterways, is backed in Matrix, as well.
On the hard surface side, the firm showcased 2021 collections in its domestically produced Living Local 2.5mm LVT line, including Optic Hues, Chromascope, Terrazzo and Stonework. Another new LVT is Large & Local, featuring visuals derived from a range of domestic wood species that are home to domestic owls, tying the collection to its Owls carpet tile line.
Tarkett, which is relinquishing its third-floor showroom after this year, won a Best of NeoCon Gold award in the Hard Surface Flooring: Natural Materials category for its Color Splash speckled rubber tile and tread. It seems at first like a surprising result-after all, speckled rubber is nothing new-but it’s how the system works that makes it unique. For one thing, specifiers can select multicolored or tonal chips on a solid base, and Tarkett will match any color, without dye lots. Also, those same customized palettes can be used to generate other styles, like the firm’s Prima Olio and Marbleized designs, to create unified installations.
Tarkett also introduced Modern Refinement, a trendy line inspired by knitting and crafting visuals that comes in carpet tile and Powerbond 6’ carpet, along with an LVT. The standout style is Knot Stitch, which uses large and small denier yarns to create an irregular organic pattern with a handcrafted look that rises and falls across a contrasting field for a lush, dynamic effect. Thread Craft uses two different yarn processes for a linen visual, and Corded Cloth is a more subdued linear textile visual. And the LVT, Artifice, blends textile and stone visuals in a soft organic design.
Another notable LVT, Crafted Cane by interior designer Tara Headley, features angled and linear ticking, gently irregular, that is inspired by the influence of the sugarcane industry in the Bahamas, where Headley has her roots.
Meta Firma, designed by Suzanne Tick, is a carpet and LVT collection. The two carpet styles, Earthbound and Skyward, come in both Powerbond and carpet tile. While Earthbound is an organic interpretation of layered and weathered landscapes (inspired in large part by North American salt flats), Skyward is more of an irregular grid marked by dashes and crosses that contrast against a slowly shifting field. And the LVT, Analog Field, takes that expression one step further, with a similar faded grid design as the field, overlaid with a rustic weathered visual.
Also new at the show was a new Jhane Barnes carpet and LVT collection. Spin-Off is an organic blending of square and rectangular shapes for a modular effect, even in Powerbond, while Corollary offers a fractured linear pattern in accent colors. And the LVT, Polyomino, is a riveting small-scale geometric inspired by Tetris and Sudoku.
Bentley Mills exhibited product at its permanent showroom adjacent to the Mart on Kinzie Street. Recent demand for Bentley’s products has been brisk, and July was a record month from an order entry standpoint. Fortunately, California-based Bentley has managed to maintain its workforce and hasn’t faced the same labor issues that the mills in northwest Georgia are experiencing.
Bentley’s featured carpet collection for this show was Day Tripper, inspired by the emotions evoked by our return to getting out and being together again. The modular tile collection is produced with Bentley Premium type 6,6 solution-dyed nylon in four styles and 12 colors, available in both plank and square formats. The visuals range from the high-contrast Expo Hall and Pop-Up Shop to a more muted Free Day. This collection will be available in January and offers a wide range of price points, depending on which style is selected.
One of HMTX’s big news items at NeoCon was its new permanent showroom on the 11th floor of the Merchandise Mart. As one of the top suppliers of resilient flooring in the world, this family-owned business, headed up by Harlan Stone, has committed to having a permanent place to interact with designers in Chicago.
HMTX won a Best of NeoCon Silver in the LVT category for its Aspecta Contours collection. This commercial-grade LVT product has four realistic wood-look visuals that come in eight colors. You may recall that Aspecta was first launched at NeoCon in 2014, and its Isocore technology makes it one of the thicker and more durable rigid LVT products on the market. Contours’ four styles are Versailles and Chambord with a chevron pattern, Chantilly with a whalebone visual, and Tarascon with a basketweave visual.
A second collection featured in the HMTX space was Teknoflor’s Nature’s Tile HPD, which comes in plank and square tile formats. This bio-polyurethane flooring boasts 42 visuals that mimic both hard and soft surfaces, including some of the most popular wood species. The Floorscore-certified product is PVC-free and contains no red-list materials. And it’s also available in a sheet version, Naturescapes HPD sheet.
The Crossville space at this year’s Neocon was inspired by natural elements in the Chicago area, most notably the focal point depicting the Chicago River that runs by The Mart. Crossville’s objective was to interpret nature within interior spaces through collections using colors and textures evocative of this trend.
Its newest collection, Ardesia a Spacco, features porcelain gauged panels inspired by Pietra di Lavagna slate from Italy. The panels were designed to replicate the appearance and structural depth of split-gauged stone. The line is made in Italy by Laminam and is available in black and white in a large-scale format (47-1/4” x 118-7/64”). Adesia a Spacco, suitable for use on both floors and walls, has a mesh backing that provides enhanced strength and durability. “The way light plays over the true stone dimensions and texture gives the panels great depth and interest,” says Lindsey Waldrep, Crossville’s vice president of marketing.
Armstrong’s temporary exhibit was one of the largest on the seventh floor, and it was right up front by the center elevator banks. This was Armstrong’s first trip to NeoCon since 2018, and the firm made a big impression, launching six new collections, three of which won NeoCon awards.
Rest & Refuge rigid core won a Best of NeoCon Gold in the vinyl/LVT category. Designed for the hospitality segment, this wood-visual collection, which comes in 14 styles, features an IXPE attached pad, Diamond 10 wear surface, and an angle/angle locking system in a 9”x60” format.
A second Best of NeoCon Gold award came in the Healthcare Flooring category and went to MedinPure, a PVC-free homogeneous sheet product that comes in 18 colors. This product is Red List-free and made in the USA.
Armstrong also won a HiP award in the workplace hard surface flooring category for its Terra solid vinyl tile collection with a wide range of visuals depicting exposed aggregate concrete at one end, terrazzo in the middle and natural stone at the other end. This product is also made in the USA with a Diamond 10 wear surface and an eased edge for a seamless installation look.
Just for fun, the Armstrong booth had hidden messages embedded in the booth graphics that designers could decipher using a color filter on their smartphone camera.
Patcraft won a Best of NeoCon Silver in the carpet tile category for Spatial Palette, a 100% PET product with a knitted PET face adhered to its ReWorx PET backing. Each 12”x48” carpet tile includes PET content from 27 bottles to make up its 50% recycled content. The embossed crosshatch design, slightly irregular and playfully out of true, comes in a range of neutrals and warm colors, well suited to education and corporate markets.
Also on display in Patcraft’s tenth-floor showroom was Longitude, a 6mm rigid LVT with a magnesium oxide core and a melamine-based scratch-resistant surface. The 6”x48” planks come in three warm wood visuals, along with an abstract linen look, in colorways of neutrals and deep greens and blues. Patcraft also came out with Inset, a gluedown LVT with the look of deconstructed parquet, including metallic lines that angle through the planks.
The center of the showroom was dominated by Deconstructed Form, a new carpet tile collection. One striking design has the look of a geometric carpet cut up in rectangles and reassembled. Another has a strong retro vibe, using geometrical shapes with curved ends bordered by exposed metallic backings.
Ava, Novalis’ commercial brand, came to the show with Strm, an LVT collection with a convincing carpet tile visual, in 13 colors, including neutrals, neutrals with striated accent colors, and deeper greens and blues. The collection of 9.84”x39.37” planks comes in 2.5mm in a gluedown construction and 5mm for loose lay.
Ava also unveiled a bold and colorful collection called Orbt. The 2.5mm LVT line features an organic textured surface and comes in 12 colors, including a few neutrals and a lot of high-chroma hues, like yellow, orange, soft blue, purple and more. But what takes this product to the next level is the inclusion of multicolored glitter, which adds a new level of dazzle to the line.
The firm also introduced its next generation of Sprk LVT, called 2Sprk, which replaces 18 existing colors with 18 new ones, including some blues and greens, warm neutrals and a rich red, for a total of 38 colors.
Aquafil’s 11th-floor showroom featured a range of carpet by prominent manufacturers using its Econyl recycled nylon 6 fiber, and in its show windows, it displayed apparel and accessories from prominent fashion brands like WAO and Karun, including a blue nylon suit by State of Matter. These fashion brands have become a critical component of Econyl’s success, elevating its use and visibility. Aquafil actually won a Best of NeoCon Gold award in the Seating: Guest category for its Noho Move chair, made entirely of recycled Econyl nylon.
An interior display celebrated ten years of closing the loop with Econyl Regenerated Nylon. The firm has built a robust recycling and reclamation operation in the U.S. in the last few years, including two recycling facilities, one in Phoenix, Arizona and another in Sacramento, California. And about a year ago it purchased a collector/sorter, Planet Recycling, now called Aquafil Carpet Collection, and has already expanded that operation to a second location in Southern California.
Kährs, founded in Sweden in 1857, invented engineered wood in 1941 and has been serving the U.S. market for 40 years. At this year’s show, Kährs introduced a new collection of commercial and residential hardwood flooring, called Kährs Life. The new composite engineered wood collection, constructed with an HDF core, is waterproof, as well as dent- and scratch-resistant, and comes in ten colors. Kährs also introduced 5mm LVT products in a range of wood looks.
In 2012, Kährs acquired Upofloor, a Finnish flooring producer and pioneer in PVC-free resilient flooring, and earlier this year, it integrated Upofloor into its brand as Kährs Upofloor. At NeoCon, the firm showcased its Kährs Upofloor Quartz collection of resilient flooring, in production for more than 60 years, with its new Lines style, which features a linear graphic and is available in 16 colors. In addition, the firm updated the colors in the Quartz Mosaic style. All the styles in the Quartz collection are designed to work together. Also on display under the new Kährs Upofloor brand was the Zero collection of PVC-free resilient tile and sheet flooring, available in a variety of styles and colors.
LX Hausys, which earlier this year changed its name from LG Hausys, debuted at NeoCon a range of commercial surface finishes, including one of the strongest LVT styles at the show through its Artistry collection. The SPC, manufactured in South Korea, elevates itself above typical wood-look products through enhancements in both design and technology. The wood visual is cut through at regular angled intervals with rustic metal bands, creating an impression of a chopped-up factory floor, and the in-register embossing is elevated with two gloss levels-matte and semi-gloss-that highlight the graining from different angles.
American Biltrite had a space on the seventh floor of the Mart to showcase its newest product, UltraCeramic Contract, a resilient floor tile that features a 4mm rigid core construction with a 20 mil wearlayer. The collection gives the look of grouted ceramic tile or natural stone with LVT’s ease of cleaning and installation.
The Schluter Systems team was delighted to be back at the Mart spending time with customers and friends. The firm, which produces a range of technical products, from shower systems to floor warming membranes, was not showing any new products but announced that several exciting products currently in development would be rolled out at the beginning of next year.
HIGHTOWER’S PRESS ROOM
This year, the on-trend furnishings for the first-floor press room came from Hightower, a contract furnishings provider, with warm solid-color fabrics ranging from cream to soft orange with some warm greys in the mix, and gentle, welcoming curves in the contours of the seating and tables. And it’s worth noting that in the IIDA Showroom and Booth Design Competition, Hightower’s 11th floor showroom, designed by Casey Keasler, won the award for small showroom under 4,000 square feet and was also the Best in Competition winner.
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