Last week, the entire VARA Design team was very excited to experience NeoCon, the largest commercial interiors show in North America. Taking up over 1 million square feet of display space, NeoCon introduces thousands of the latest products and covers a wide variety of markets including Workplace, Healthcare, Hospitality, Retail, Education, Public Spaces, and Government. It is necessary for anyone in the design industry to be knowledgeable on these trends as they are continuously evolving. Fortunately, this showcase is held annually at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, which makes it very possible for local designers to stay up to date!

The workplace was one of the biggest markets displayed at the event. We visited many wonderful workplace exhibitors including: Kravet Contract and Mannington Commercial. It was fascinating to see all the new products these exhibitors are launching. Though, it was even more intriguing to hear the stories of how the designers found their inspirations. Two projects that the VARA team enjoyed hearing about were Kravet Contract’s Tanzanian collection and Mannington Commercial’s Traction Avenue Collection.


Image from

The founder of J Banks, Joni Vanderslice, was motivated for this collection after traveling to Africa. Her travels consisted of mission trips with her husband, which brings “Tanzania” its emotion and meaning. While helping out at orphanages and meeting many people, she was educated on how important specific fabrics are in distinctive countries. She learned that each area has unique styles that are recognizable to them. Kravet has collaborated with J Banks Design group to launch the new, ethnic inspired, fabric collection, “Tanzania”. The collection contains vividly striking patterns and textures that put a modern twist on traditional African tribal designs. But behind this appealing collection, lies a deeper meaning.

“The varied, beautiful and colorful fabrics, buildings, animals and surroundings stayed with me long after each trip. I love the way the women mix patterns and fabrics as they cover their head from the sun or swaddle their babies on their backs,” said Vanderslice. The exquisitely patterned cloths, woodcarvings, and the Serengeti Desert’s picturesque colors are some of the inspirations Africa provided for this collection.

Another fascinating inspiration was from Mannington Commercial’s Traction Avenue Collection, a line of stylish modern textiles that display crossings of texture and pattern. This creates sophistication and visual interest while still being somewhat simple.

Traction Avenue Collection

Image from

Whether you notice it or not, the flooring was designed to resemble the tire treads of Michelin Tires. Mannington’s designers admire how tire treads are interestingly alike to patterns appearing in nature. While Mannington venerates an organic aesthetic, they decided not to look to the environment, but instead manmade products like tires and the treads they leave behind. They want the meaning of this patterned flooring to remind us that built and natural environments are thoroughly related.

Seeing these collections and the rest of the exhibitors at NeoCon was very inpirational for our team. We are excited to see how we can feature our findings at NeoCon within our projects this year.

Here are some additional photos from our trip: