Architecture & Design, Human Resources, and Manufacturing

Haworth to debut Social Spaces at NeoCon

Furniture maker will promote gathering — and privacy — settings in double its usual showroom footprint.

May 17, 2019
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Haworth's Cabana Lounge is a one- or two-person seat with a privacy screen that comes in different heights. Courtesy Haworth

Haworth is shining a spotlight on the social side of work life — and the need for privacy solutions — at NeoCon this year.

The Holland-based maker of adaptable workspace solutions will take part in the 51st annual NeoCon, the commercial design industry’s premier North American trade show.

NeoCon is set for June 10-12 at Merchandise Mart, aka The Mart, a 4-million-square-foot art deco building on the river in downtown Chicago that houses permanent showrooms and 500 exhibitors from around the contract furnishings world on 10 of the building’s 25 floors.

In addition to its usual permanent indoor showroom space, Haworth this year is adding a separate display room for its Haworth Collection, a family of brands that includes BuzziSpace, Cappellini, Cassina, GAN, Poltrona Frau and more.

Combined with its indoor presence in The Mart, Haworth will be the exclusive furniture supplier for an approximately 60,000-square-foot “giant pop-up” activation of the Chicago Riverwalk bordering The Mart that will be filled with Haworth products outfitting restaurants, bars, outdoor workspaces and indoor work lounges under tents.

“We more than doubled our real estate this year because we added collection space, which is brand new, and we added this outdoor space, which is bigger than our indoor spaces,” said Kurt VanderSchuur, director of global brands at Haworth.

“You don’t even have to go into the building to experience us. … We’re taking our story outside, which is very new to us. We’ve never done this before in a super-large way.”

Social Spaces

Julie Smith, public relations and communications manager for Haworth, said the opportunity to do an outdoor pop-up fit perfectly with the focus of Haworth’s 2019 NeoCon display: Social Spaces.

Social Spaces is a term Haworth trademarked that refers to “inspiring spaces where people gather, connect and refresh — indoors or out.”

The idea is to provide options for productivity and collaboration while pushing back against the sameness, sterility and lack of privacy in an open-plan office.

Historically, the term “ancillary furnishings” has been used to describe environments Haworth now defines as Social Spaces — such as a break area with lounge seating, a café with benching or individual round tables, bar-height furniture and high-top tables, lobby areas, booth seating, sheltered cubbies and more.

VanderSchuur said the idea isn’t new — although some of the pieces on display will be — but it’s a term Haworth chose to trademark because of its relatability and resonance for customers.

“Social spaces are usually where it’s the opposite of heads-down work, where I want to go into a private office to have a meeting, or I’m going to do heads-down/concentrative work in a touchdown space,” VanderSchuur said. “Social spaces are for gathering. They can be for two people to gather. They can be for 50.”

The outdoor pop-up space at NeoCon will put on display combinations of possibilities from Haworth’s catalog that fit with the definition of Social Spaces.

The main indoor showroom — which Smith said had “a huge traffic flow problem” last year, with visitors blocking the guest services desk — also has been redesigned with Social Spaces, so people will be drawn to the seating instead of standing together in clumps.

First, VanderSchuur said, the showroom will have a large café that serves illy coffee, an Italian brand, and the café will contain bar, dining and lounge seating “in all different kinds of applications.”

Secondly, the new showroom will let Haworth clients come with their consultants and design firms to do “charrette,” or the process of drafting solutions to design problems. This year, the showroom has space for those discussions to take place that will include sample materials for clients to see and touch.

“We created a space that’s more collaborative and social about materials that’s not just for a designer because clients care about this stuff,” VanderSchuur said. “The materiality reflects your own persona of your company or your brand.”

The indoor showroom also includes a maker space area that will let Haworth show how products are made “by a person for a person.” Haworth will also use the space to talk about its new products made with digital knitting, a technique the company expects will revolutionize the office furniture industry.

Privacy solutions

In addition to all of the Social Spaces components, Haworth will highlight private spaces in the NeoCon showroom to provide a balanced approach, so it’s not just about “open plan or closed plan or just social,” VanderSchuur said.

Private spaces in the showroom will include large and small meeting rooms, touchdown spaces, phone booths for private calls and more. Touchdown spaces typically are described as a laptop centric, informal setting such as a private concentration room, lounge, presentation room, or a collaborative area.

“We’re going to show in this one end of our showroom multiple applications and how to create private spaces — small ones, medium-sized ones, stand-up ones,” VanderSchuur said. “We’re trying to show the variety in private spaces and how that balances between your open, social spaces.”

Haworth will debut “a ton” of new products at NeoCon. One example is an adaptable, modular privacy screen called BuzziBracks from its new brand BuzziSpace.

Another is the Cabana Lounge, a one- or two-person seat with a privacy screen that comes in different heights and with optional accessories, such as armrest tables and hanging storage solutions.

VanderSchuur and Smith said the main point of the Social Spaces theme at NeoCon is to follow what customers in the market are saying about what is wrong in the office and to find flexible ways to solve those problems.

“It’s kind of that pushback against the open plan,” Smith said. “If people really hate coming to work, why? What can I do in my spaces to help that?”

VanderSchuur added office design migrated from being “Dilbert land,” with a labyrinth of cubicles, to seas of open desks and benches in no time flat, and the change left heads spinning.

“A lot of people revolted. It’s not that benches and desks are bad,” he said. “But if you are in a concentrative job, that’s the worst place you could work. You need to be able to concentrate. You’re writing or you need to be thinking. You don’t need four people staring in your eyeballs, like, ‘Oh, what did you do last night? I went to this restaurant.’”

“I think what we’re trying to show is the variety, and how different spaces — even in social applications — can support different levels of privacy.”

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