The good news is that the economy seems at last to be turning around and the worst seems to be finally over. The government’s monthly jobs report beat economists’ expectations by adding 244,000 jobs in April, and even the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association is cautiously optimistic about the near future: its latest forecast predicts that 2011 office-furniture shipments will increase by 16.6 percent, at a value of $11.5 billion. Design firms seem to be rehiring, and anecdotal evidence suggests that projects are back on track in the corporate, health-care, and educational sectors.
There’s no better place to see the latest office trends than at this month’s NeoCon World’s Trade Fair, in Chicago, where more than 40,000 architects and designers take stock of the newest solutions to our ever-changing work spaces. Last year’s buzzword—multipurpose—has been supplanted by collaboration, and companies like Haworth, KI, Allsteel, and HBF have created versatile and intuitive furniture that promises to create a platform for increased dialogue and productivity. That said, there is a move away from technology being integrated into the furniture itself. As for surfaces, the contract carpet and textile companies continue to innovate in delivering sustainable and performance-driven solutions. Here are our favorite NeoCon introductions—plus a few non-NeoCon products that we couldn’t resist including—that take eco-friendly and versatile approaches to furnishing the constantly evolving spaces where we work.