NeoCon: A History

NeoCon: A History


By: Brittany Adkins

It’s almost here! The 49th annual NeoCon trade show is set to take place June 12th– 14th at the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. IDO is graciously sending myself along with Victoria Numbers, Catie Sterling, and Sara Kotarski to the event to scope out new products and vendors. As we have been gearing up and laying out our game plan, I wondered; how did an event of this scale come to be? So, I did a little research.

Since 1969, NeoCon has been the premier trade show event for the commercial design industry. It’s home, the Merchandise Mart, takes up a full block in the heart of downtown Chicago and was once the largest building in the world covering over 4,000,000 square feet. The building’s architects, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed the building in the Art Deco style and was originally built for the merchandising giant Marshall Field and Co. The structure was a combination of warehouses and department store spaces to accommodate Field’s expanding business.

At one point in time, Marshall Field’s on State Street had a model home that spanned the entire 7th floor and was furnished with all the latest design trends of the time. It was during this time that the Interior Design profession was starting/growing within the furniture industry. Prosperity during the mid to late 19th century pushed manufacturers to provide full lines of home furnishings in a number of different styles. As a result, the furniture industry took on the role of advising current interior fashion and began offering amateur design services to their clients.

The combination of an in house showroom along with these design service offerings proved to be a valuable advertising tool for both Field’s State Street and Merchandise Mart locations. The Interior Design profession eventually separated itself from retail and furniture manufacturing, but the two had a lasting impact on each other. Showrooms are still one of the most tangible and effective tools in selling design products from furniture to wallpaper. So, it is no wonder that a building and a city so tied to that early industry has become the home to one of the largest trade show in the contract interior furnishings world.

Eventually the Merchandise Mart was sold to the Kennedy family who owned the building for over 50 years. During which time, The Mart effectively created a hub for Chicago’s wholesale goods market by consolidating architectural, interior design, and trade vendors all under one roof. NeoCon was made possible due to the success of the Mart and the first trade show took place in 1969, which coincided with the American Institute of Architects Convention.

Now thousands of exhibitors and design professionals flood Chicago for three days every June to show case and unveil products, attend seminars, and network within the field. We will be there along with them and I think I can speak for all of us when I say we can’t wait to see what NeoCon surprises us with this year!



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