Office Furniture Takes on Comforts of Home : Designers, architects and suppliers view design trends at annual trade show.

Associated Press

New directions in furnishings and interior design that will affect Americans where they work and live were introduced recently at NEOCON, the nation's preeminent trade show for commercial furniture and accessories.

The annual event attracts 50,000 designers, specifiers, architects and suppliers to Chicago's Merchandise Mart.

In both products and design ideas, the emphasis was on trying to provide for the office some of the comforts of home.

"There is a great overlap between office and residential design these days," said Janice Hall, a colorist for Allied Fibers. Her comments were repeated by many others.

According to Holly Hunt, who represents about 60 top design firms in the Midwest, two trends predominate in executive and residential interiors where no expense is spared.

'Modern Classics'

"They are rooms filled with modern classics--clean-lined and not glitzy," Hunt said, "or traditional interiors with furniture of the most luxurious materials and careful workmanship."

As offices become homier and homes more functional, traditional designs and softer colors and textures are coming to the fore. At this year's show, a noticeable trend was toward more traditional executive furnishings.

Charles Pfister's executive office designs for Baker Furniture is a case in point. Baker has scaled down the dimensions and lightened the wood, and they will introduce the line at the residential furniture market in North Carolina this fall.

Meanwhile, ICF, whose lively accessory pieces and classic designs by modern architects often wind up in homes as well as public spaces, found its newest designer, Bob Josten, in a Los Angeles furniture store. Josten's cast aluminum tables shown in ICF's NEOCON showroom can also be purchased at the store Design Express.

One of the cleverest new designs for home or office computers is an adjustable stand from Unifor Inc. of Italy. It will be available from See, a retail furniture store in New York City. The stand, in black and colors, will sell for about $620.

Hiding Wires

A number of office furniture manufacturers have come up with novel ways to hide the tangle of wires and cables from computers, printers, fax machines and phones that run our lives these days. From Corry Hiebert and Steelcase comes furniture with a hollow portion where wires can rest. Access is from a door or removable panel.

Other attractive products appropriate for home and office or other public space include area rugs designed by the Rosita and Tai Missoni and a vinyl flooring that imitates the dimensional quality, color and texture of natural surfaces such as mosaic inlays, stone, terrazzo, granite and wood planks. The material is imported from Japan by Matico of Commack, N.Y.

A feature of NEOCON is that not only new products but new methods of designing spaces are previewed, including those for the elderly. Today's idea is to make them homey rather than institutional, said Dr. Thomas Fairchild, a gerontologist, and Arvid Elness, an architect. Elness described a senior citizen facility in Minneapolis that features bright colors and soft furniture in a homelike setting calculated to make it easier for seniors with disabilities to remain independent.

Both men said that appliances, home accessories and furnishings can be designed to compensate for deficits such as arthritis, hearing and visual impairment and difficulty in walking.

Fairchild summed up the new approach and attitudes: "Instead of meals on wheels, modify the environment so people can cook their own."

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