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A Behind-the-Scenes Showroom Preview for NeoCon 2024

NeoCon, our industry’s premier commercial interiors design conference, promises to be a showcase of ingenuity and leading-edge trends. We wanted to share a behind-the-scenes look at Watson’s new showroom design, so we sat down with VP of Product Development Lucas Pearl and Design Manager Rachel Whitaker to discuss their approach to designing the space, located on floor 3 of THE MART in suite 341.

What went into this year's NeoCon showroom design, and what was your approach? 

Rachel: Our showroom will feel like a new, fresh space even though we’ve kept about 50% of the product from last year, ensuring an evolution in both product and palette. The furniture from last year will look and feel different, building on the foundation we created.

Lucas: We wanted it to feel like a cohesive space but also a functional office where product lines are blended rather than highlighting vignettes of specific models or collections. It's meant to mimic that real office environment.

We've transformed many of last year's early-stage product ideas into final, finished, and orderable products. While the overall theme of a working office remains consistent, we've made adjustments for functionality, manufacturing, and ease of specification.

What products and details are you wanting to make sure really shine through?

Rachel: Though there are several exciting new products this year, I think the Edison Workbench will be the centerpiece, as it perfectly reflects our guiding principles of functionality, understated beauty, and products that are built respectfully. The workbench has an array of thoughtful accessories like colorful privacy screens and planter boxes that enhance the aesthetic of an open office while giving people the freedom to customize workstations according to personal preference.

Lucas: Brand new to our showroom is a preview of Allé, an unreleased collection that stems from our partnership with Sedus. Something exciting about the Allé introduction is the new product category it creates for us, like casual seating and ancillary items that support collaborative work – some of which we already have available, like Etch Markerboard and the Haven Laptop Table. Essentially, Allé just expands the selection of work tools that we already have and helps formalize that category for Watson.

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How did you ensure that the space feels cohesive even with all the new products?

Rachel: We used a cohesive finish palette across different products, collections, and zones to create continuity. By blending products from different collections, we created an eclectic environment that you’re likely to find in regular workplaces.

The launch of Edison Workbench is a good example. By supporting accessories from Tonic or Haven, you're seeing familiar components even in different products.

Lucas: Environment-wise, you’ll walk through our showroom and get a feel for all the spaces we support from the private office, assigned or unassigned workstations, common areas for quick touchpoints, collaboration, and socializing.

Back to the new Allé release, why are these work tools so important?

Rachel: Allé means “all” in German which points to its purpose – work tools help define and subdivide those open spaces in the office between workstations, private offices, and conference rooms.

Several of the pieces have casters either standard or as an option, and that mobility and just the fluid nature of work, that's intentional – it really invites movement. You can create a space for what you need on a given day, or week, and use it differently later.

Lucas: Allé invites interaction because they're really accessible products—easily moved, easily used–you can make the furniture work for you, work for your team. These work tools help define those friendly, informal spaces in the office where casual conversations can lead to more creative discussions about shared projects or initiatives.

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What other collections will you use in the showroom to demonstrate our focus on flexible and adaptable systems?

Rachel: When you look at the Edison Rail and the configuration of that product, we are showing three different types of desks either connected to the rail, perpendicular to the rail or parallel to it. And that really speaks to all the different ways you can use it and make a space that works for you. So, for me, that's both adaptability and flexibility, because it can be configured one way now and the same components can be rearranged later to work in a different way.

Lucas: Last year, we showed a protype of the Edison Workbench before it officially launched in fall 2023 and this year, we’ll demonstrate the full lineup of accessories, finishes, and laminates. The expanded offerings give designers more options to support a client’s vision.

And our most recently launched collection, Zo Office, will be staged across individual workspace to private office settings. Integrated storage is a big sell for Zo; seeing it in person will help people understand its adaptability to projects of any size, budget, or scale.

What about Watson at NeoCon this year is going to resonate with the A&D and dealer communities?

Lucas: Interacting with our products will showcase the craft and intentional details that draw people in. The Edison Workbench, for example, meets the current need for adaptability and flexibility, making it a product for now and the future. You don't have to explain it when they can see and touch the product—they just get it.

I think if people can walk away thinking that there is something still to the relationships that people form in the office. The purpose of being able to be with your coworkers in an intentional way—that’s what the Edison Workbench does. It can meet you right where you are.

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Rachel: We're not the first company to create a workbench, but the subtlety of our design is really incredible. And the fact that it can be a two-, four-, and six-pack (or 3 two-packs) and you have all the same pieces, you're not having to weld things together. You're not having to decide that from day zero. That’s impactful in this market where we don’t know how the office will be in the next few months or years, but we can still make a safe investment in a product that will be ready for whatever we need.

What takeaways do you hope NeoCon attendees will leave with?

Rachel: We want them to know that we're paying attention and listening to their needs. That’s how Edison Workbench came into being—we were problem solving real-world pain points with a furniture system that could adapt to the shifting density of office staff.

Yes, we're thinking about what clients need now, but also in the future, so ensuring that product has longevity and remains relevant, whatever the future may be.

Finally, what keeps you excited about commercial furniture design?

Lucas: When people used to ask me what I did for work, what I liked about it, I used to just talk about the engineering challenges and being excited about that. But I think the reality is that I find the office an interesting challenge. We get to be a part of aiding and supporting the greater human initiative of progress—whether that’s sending rockets into space or discovering the cure to cancer—I find that to be deeply satisfying.

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