Powerful NeoCon 2024 Takeaways


What did we learn during NeoCon 2024? In the final episode of this year’s NeoConversations series, SURROUND producer Hannah Viti turns the tables on this year’s host, inviting Rajagopal to share his top takeaways from NeoCon—and what they mean for the future of interior design. You’ll also hear from Gia Kieu, the winner of SnapCab’s Be You Pod Design Contest. You don’t want to miss this recap episode.

NeoConversations is produced by the SURROUND Podcast Network in partnership with Turf.


Avi: [00:00:00] Welcome to New York Conversations. I’m Avi Rajagopal, your host today and the Editor in Chief of Metropolis. This year on New York Conversations, we’ve been talking to some of the most exciting thinkers and doers in the design world about the power of interiors. If you haven’t heard those episodes, this is a great time for you to catch up.

For this episode, though, we’re doing things a little differently. You’re going to hear about some powerful design trends at Neocon from attendees at the event. And then my producer, Hannah Viti, is going to talk to me about my takeaways from Neocon. This series of Neoconversations is brought to you in partnership with Turf.

Hannah: Hi, Avi. Hey, Hannah. It is Wednesday. about 3 p. m neocon and that means that The halls are finally starting to empty, and it seems like things have settled. Because I’m [00:01:00] the producer of Neo Conversations with you, I thought we could take this time to learn more about what you’re taking away from Neocon this year.

Avi: Oh, absolutely. It’s been such an amazing fair this year, and it’s been great to hear all the incredible voices who spoke at Neocon, and you can get a little sample of them. Those of you who haven’t caught up on our Neo Conversations podcast, go back, listen to our older episodes. We have all the amazing speakers on here.

It was also nice to get some time talking to Turf, who are our partner for this year’s Neoconversations. It’s been a fantastic show. 

Hannah: Absolutely. How would you describe the energy or the vibes this year? 

Avi: If people remember the days of Neocon where you couldn’t walk through the hallways without excusing yourself a hundred times or bumping into people, what would you That’s how it was this year again.

Just a lot of interest, a lot of engagement. And I think just looking at all the people who passed through the different showrooms I visited, but also the folks who came to our Sustainability Lab space, I’m of course Editor in Chief at Metropolis, and we hosted a [00:02:00] space on the 11th floor of the building, and we got a pretty good cross section of this year’s attendees go through our space, and it was not just folks at design firms.

We saw a lot of Uh, decision makers, uh, from clients, facilities folks, owners come through the show. Uh, so I think, I hate to say it feels like, you know, pre pandemic levels, because I don’t think you can compare. I think we’re in a different world right now that, that event changed us completely, but certainly the energy is back.

Uh, and I think there’s real intention to opening up creative possibilities, doing things differently. We got lots of questions, really good questions from visitors at the fair. So very excited, very excited by the energy this year. 

Hannah: Absolutely. And with so much energy and so many people, I’m wondering if there were any specific design trends that you noticed across all of the various products this year, Neocon?

Avi: Look, I think on the surface, you know, there’s a few things, of course, that you can’t miss. I [00:03:00] think just sophistication and color. We saw some brands really, really invest. In color research, in really picking up some progressive color ideas, and of course, this year’s a bunch of Best of Newcon awards, including for Best Booth, went to Yinka Laurie’s collection for momentum, wall carvings, and textiles, and of course, Yinka’s amazing artwork was also projected on the mark as part of Art of the Mark, so I feel like that kind of set the tone.

People really were taking chances with color, so that’s one thing, but going a little deeper, Although not suggesting color is not deep at all. There’s a color is a whole area of psychosocial research. But just looking beyond that, I would say there’s been a trend towards simplification. Office furniture and commercial furniture is expected to do a lot of things all the time.

And that in the past used to mean a little bit of feature overload. Oh, this thing does five things, and you gotta press six buttons to make it do that, right? Here, pull this lever, press that button, push back, pull up [00:04:00] ahead, unscrew this, re screw that, you know, lots of things. What we’ve seen is the same level of versatility and multifunctional sort of use.

But with extremely simplified designs, and I think that’s been a great, great trend to see, not just from the point of view of the user experience, I think that makes furniture more accessible, it makes it more inviting and open to a broader group of people than ever before, but also, and I’d love to talk about this from a sustainability point of view, You know, just, we need to dematerialize as much as possible, and I think we saw some really significant moves towards that this year, and I’m very excited by it.

Hannah: Me too. I had the opportunity to produce Iinka’s interview for Once Upon a Project, and he said that color is affirmation, and I’ve been thinking about that all week. That is such a beautiful idea. 

Avi: Color is affirmation. I’m going to take that away too. Right? 

Hannah: Yeah, I’m pondering on it, and I really did notice so much bold color.

Stepping out [00:05:00] a little bit, one of my favorite interviews, you can listen to it on the Neo Conversations podcast that went out with Turf, featured Faraz Shah and Caroline Noble, and you three were speaking about just the power of senses and the importance of senses and that sensory experience actually needs to be prioritized in design in a way it hasn’t been, and so I’m wondering, coming out of that conversation, is that something that you saw the rest of the conference and the fair kind of grappling with?

Avi: Well, color has a really important connection to our senses, so I would say maybe that’s the one first and very big way our senses were challenged, excited, and soothed here at Niakan, but our other senses too. I think we saw more daring use of texture and surface than we’ve ever seen before. And my eye and heart are especially drawn to some of the more unpredictable textures we’ve seen with bio based materials and recycled materials.

It gives us a different textural language for the built environment, and one [00:06:00] that we should start getting used to and start embracing more and more. And I think I’m very excited by that. Sound was everywhere at Neocon this year. Some folks made some really interesting choices with their music in their booth.

You know who you are. But you know, I think, more broadly speaking, a sensitivity to acoustics was everywhere. And the third big thing I think related to sensory design that I noticed at Nia Khan is a number of conversations I had with folks who were Starting their journey, maybe, or even just trying to learn about neurodiversity, right, thinking about the fact that all of us don’t have a uniform experience of the world.

Let me put it this way, the way we take in stimuli and the way our senses kind of process them and the way we understand space is not the same for everyone. And so understanding that is a really powerful, I think, new frontier for interior design. And I was really happy about the number of conversations where somebody brought up neurodiversity with me.

So, absolutely love that as well. [00:07:00] 

Hannah: Wonderful. As this is not our only podcast that we make together, you’re also the host and I’m the producer of Deep Green. I want to know, what are your sustainability takeaways from your time here? How did you feel about sustainability overall at Neocon? 

avi: Oh my God. Well, first of all, Hannah is one of the most amazing producers ever, and we’ve loved collaborating on Deep Green since episode one.

If you haven’t listened to Deep Green, it’s available wherever you get your podcasts and also on Surroundpodcast. com. For anybody who is interested in sustainability, I don’t know why you wouldn’t come away just optimistic and energized from this year’s NeoCon. I think a number of manufacturers, depending on the product category they’re in, face such diverse challenges when it comes to sustainability.

For folks who are in textiles, wall coverings, flooring, surfaces, their challenge is in looking at material chemistries, thinking about carbon emissions, thinking about installation methods, replacing certain problematic chemicals in the industry. I was just so heartened. I [00:08:00] mean, fully recyclable, PVC free surfaces.

Incredible, right? It feels like we hit a milestone. When you think about furniture, so much attention to supply chains. A real honest start on thinking about circularity. At several furniture manufacturers, I was greeted by news that they are investigating a furniture second life or reuse or refurbishment initiatives.

You know, things that our industry maybe tried a decade ago, but the time wasn’t right. And I really hope the time is right now. Over and above all that. The one thing I’ve heard consistently is finally, finally, manufacturers are hearing loud and clear, the demand for more responsible manufacturing, not just from architects and interior designers, but from Which we’ve always been a pretty, you know, I would say sensitive crowd when it comes to that.

But also from clients, from end users, from owners and developers and facilities folks. Some of the research done by our sister organization, [00:09:00] ThinkLab, shows that about 9 percent of specifiers today place a priority on sustainability. Almost 73 percent of architects and interior designers So we’re talking three quarters of our industry feels that it’s their responsibility as design professionals to at least present sustainable options to their client, whether or not those end up on the project.

That is true, true, true progress. And I, felt that viscerally this year at Neocon more than ever before. As I said, Metropolis, we also organized a sustainability lab on the 11th floor at Neocon. We’ve been doing that for a few years now. And every year as part of that effort, I take a group of interior design specifiers through the lab and through the mark, and I pay very close attention to the kinds of questions they ask and the things that they’re looking for.

And I will say this year, that group did not let anyone off the hook, but the best thing was. They received really convincing, authentic, sincere responses from the manufacturers. And [00:10:00] so it felt like both sides have been preparing, have been learning, and we are hopefully ushering a real materials renaissance, as we say in the new issue of Metropolis, a real materials renaissance in the industry this year.

Hannah: That must feel amazing. I know you’ve devoted your career, your research, everything to this. Oh my 

Avi: god, I couldn’t be happier. I’m not, I couldn’t be happier leaving Neocon this year. Well, 

Hannah: you heard it here first. Avi’s a happy man. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with folks before we wrap up today?

Avi: All I would like to say is there’s still a lot of unknowns in our industry. You know, the experiences that we went through over the last four or five years, I think, have transformed us forever. You don’t step in the same river twice, right? And so life has moved on, the world has moved on. We do things differently these days.

Many things look familiar, but when you dig a little deeper, the nuances are really different. And that is good. Progress is good. Evolution is good. But I think we [00:11:00] have to keep in mind that Uh, we want to work towards a future that doesn’t leave anybody behind, that does no violence to anyone, that doesn’t cause harm to anyone.

And when I say anyone, I mean all living beings on this planet. We have to learn to be stewards of both the built environment and the natural environment. I see real intention towards that this year at NIEACON. I see real sensitivity to the actual needs and aspirations of people. I see interior designers really take on the mantle of representing the experiences of people in space.

And that is really powerful to me. It’s why I do what I do, and I’m walking away really heartened from NEACON this year. 

Hannah: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and your takeaways with us, and I hope you feel proud after completing such a wild schedule. To everyone at The Mart who pulled this together, it was really a wonderful weekend, or week, and I’m walking away with a lot too.

Thank you. 

avi: See you all at Neocon next year. Woohoo! But before you go, I want to talk to you about [00:12:00] SnapCab’s Space to Be You pod design contest. Our wonderful partner here, who make Neoconversations possible by providing us this beautiful SnapCab booth at Neocon. Designers can submit designs working with Snapgrab’s fully customizable privacy pod system and get their own pod manufactured and shown at Neocon, plus an all inclusive trip to the show.

So I’m going to leave you today on Neoconversations with the voice of the winner of this year’s Pod Design Contest, and As well as a little taste of the auditory experience of what it feels like to be inside her Zen pod. My name 

Gia: is Gia Kings. I’m originally from Vietnam and I’m based in Atlanta. I’m a third year interior design student at [00:13:00] Georgia Southern University and I also do a minor in sustainability.

My future goal is to become a registered commercial designer that can design space that welcomes everyone and promote diversity and also contribute to a healthier planet. Currently I’m interning for HOK at Houston, Texas office this summer. So very excited about this opportunity and very excited about being here today.

To see my desire to come to life. 

Hannah: Wow. Thank you for sharing. We are in your design here right now. We’re recording from it. Will you tell us a little bit about how SnapCab or the opportunity first was presented to you or how you came to know? 

Gia: Oh, yes. So I came to Neocon last year that I got to see, um, the customized pods, uh, of the winner from last year.

So. I was inspired from the biophilia and the customized pot by the competition that get to know about all [00:14:00] the information. And I thought like, maybe I should do it next year because it’s a good opportunity. And I just ended up designing the Zen Garden Pot in December 2023. And yes, and I’m here today and very happy to be the winner and seeing my design come to life as a student.

It’s the, the best opportunities that I can have. That’s wonderful. So you were here, 

Hannah: you saw the opportunity, you went for it, and now you’re sitting here a year later in the pod that you designed and won. Yes, it’s really 

Gia: beautiful. How does it feel to be in it? It feels so real. I have doubt a little bit about my other material selections that I made before because it came in like very different colors and.

Tone. So I don’t know if they can be cohesive, but right now I think I made the right choices for, Oh no, I have a knee that I made and I think they came out pretty good. [00:15:00] She is absolutely exactly what I want. Yeah. 

Hannah: I really like how you use sound and light. You really feel a bit more Zen as soon as you step.

Gia: Yeah. Yes. The goal is to create like an immersive experience for the users. So they can come in, have some time to relax, so we can focus and concentrate on their work and have some quiet moments. Yeah. 

Hannah: Yeah. Well, I’m appreciating it. So with the collaboration, the fully customizable pod, can you tell us a little bit more about how that works and how the collaboration with SnapCab went to create this?

This, this beautiful pod that we’re now sitting in right now. 

Gia: Yeah. So I work with Snap Cabs. Uh, we have a couple of meetings just to finalize all the materials, uh, selections and the wood tones for the back accent wall, the two panels on both sides and the furniture’s design on the hop [00:16:00] holster, like the hop holsteries and of the color of the carpet.

I think for the manufacturing process is from the Snap Cab. We were just like trying to make sure that we’re on the same page, and they tried their best to make the real design to look exactly like my submission for the contest. And yes, I’m very grateful for that. But during the process, I didn’t get to see the chair or like the table in real life because they tried to surprise me at the part review.

So, yes, that’s the process, and I think I really enjoy it. Well, congratulations. And 

Hannah: we’re excited to see what you create next and your future designs and good luck with your internship this summer. 

Gia: Yeah. Thank you so much.

Avi: Neo Conversations is produced by the Surround Podcast Network in partnership with Turf. During Neocon, you can visit us at the Surround Podcast booth by SnapCab. On [00:17:00] the first floor of the mark and after Neha Khan, head on over to surroundpodcasts. com. A big thank you to our guests, to our producers, Hannah Vidi and Bob Schulte, and the rest of the amazing Surround Podcast team. And thanks of course, to our partner, Turf. Stay tuned for more Neo Conversations, wherever you get your podcasts.


Avi Rajagopal

Avinash Rajagopal is the editor in chief of Metropolis, an award-winning architecture and design publication. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at events related

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