CHICAGO — For those in the office furniture industry, NeoCon is akin to the Super Bowl or the Oscars. And there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that showroom visitors never see. Most of Caitlin Terpstra’s work year is spent getting Haworth’s showroom ready for North America’s biggest office furniture trade show. While NeoCon, which launches Monday, June 12, only lasts three days, the prep work takes months.
“We almost wipe out 30,000 square feet and start again — add or take away walls, ceilings and flooring,” Terpstra said. “We do a full project from start to finish.”
Terpstra is the program manager for Haworth’s 13 showrooms across North America, but the Chicago showroom, on the third floor of Merchandise Mart, gets 60 percent of her time.
She likes to say it takes a village to get the job done. Her role is to coordinate those efforts. For the past three weeks, she has lived in Chicago, only returning to her Coopersville home on the weekends to spend time with her young son.
Terpstra has been joined in Chicago by a few dozen employees who work long hours getting the showroom in order. In the days leading up to the show, they were often in the showroom until midnight or later assembling furniture.
For the past three weeks, Ray Kennedy has traded suits for jeans and sneakers. It’s his 35th year of coming to NeoCon. The last 8 years have been as Haworth’s director of North American marketing. Before that, he was with Zeeland furniture-maker Herman Miller.
“It’s always a challenge from getting the product here on time to working in Merchandise Mart,” he said.
This year, 10 tractor trailers, each 53 feet long, brought Haworth’s products and sets to Chicago.
Part of the job is being prepared when things go wrong, he says.
That happened three years ago during a photoshoot of the showroom. Photographers cluster their light stands too close to a ceiling sprinkler. It went off, drenching about 10 percent of the showroom in four inches of water.
Fortunately, the flooding came on the tail end of NeoCon and after the showroom had been judged. But there was still an event that night, and the area had to be roped off. There was a similar flooding scenario during the construction process, which began in early April.
“I tell everyone not to put lighting near the sprinkler heads,” Kennedy said.
Nearly every department has a hand in the show from engineering and product design to purchasing and logistics.
Haworth doesn’t just add its newest furniture, but creates a new canvas with the showroom every year to demonstrate the flexibility of the company’s products from portable walls and raised floors to desks and seating.
A completely new experience gives designers one more reason to visit, says CEO Franco Bianchi, who prides himself on being involved in the showroom’s design process.
His touches include placing Haworth’s new Ferrari chair near the entrance to spotlight the relationship between the Holland furniture-maker and the iconic Italian sports car. Haworth owns high-end Italian furniture group, Poltrona Frau, which makes the Ferrari interiors.
The dramatic green cabana near the showroom’s entrance was inspired by his insistence the design team use Haworth materials for the structure instead of drywall. Inside the walls is an interactive art installation by U-M professor and ArtPrize finalist U-M art and design professor Osman Khan featuring the company’s new Poppy lounge chairs.
“We are trying to stay current — and to anticipate where work is going with a very unique blend of innovation and design,” Bianchi said. “If we do a good job, when you walk inside our showroom, I hope you feel the preciousness of place where you want to work — where you want to stay.”
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