What I Learned at My First NeoCon

NeoCon Wall Quote


Ask any commercial interior designer what the biggest industry event of the year is, and they’ll have the same answer – NeoCon. In its 51st year, NeoCon is considered the most important annual event for the commercial design industry that influences the trends and aesthetics of the built environment. This three-day extravaganza brings the world’s leading manufacturers, dealers, architects, and design professionals together at the historic ­– and massive – Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago.  


Merchandise Mart at NeoCon

Merchandise Mart – Photo Courtesy of NeoCon


Fun fact: The Mart is so large it has its very own zip code.

This year marked my first time attending NeoCon. Although slightly overwhelming at first, due to the sheer size of The Mart and the staggering number of people, it was a phenomenal experience.

As far as interior design trends are concerned, I would summarize this year’s NeoCon showing in three words: color, pattern and comfort.


1. Color

Across the board, we saw an expansion in color palettes for flooring, wall coverings, textiles, and furniture. Blush, or dare I say mauve, was among the most popular colors introduced into new collections. Usually, this color was paired with a darker green to contrast.

In furniture, we saw color introduced in several ways, but the most interesting and trendy method was colored wood. Manufacturers offered this wood in an array of hues, using an opaque stain that allowed the natural grain and texture of the wood to show through to make for stunning pieces.


NeoCon - Color

2. Pattern

New textiles are always exciting to see, and this year there was an abundance of large-scale, geometric patterns, and stripes and plaids made a comeback. Blush, mustard yellow, and hunter green were among the most prominent colors in the new styles. Heavy textures like raised and embossed processed were common in the textile showrooms. Privacy curtains were also given new life with fresh patterns and color palettes.

We also saw a distinct flooring trend incorporating abstract, artistic patterns (think paint splatters and brush strokes), as well as the geometrics we saw elsewhere. Color palettes included neutral on neutral with an emphasis on texture, solids offered in nearly every color of the rainbow, and neutrals with pops of bright colors.


NeoCon - Pattern

3. Comfort

There was also a lot of emphasis on ergonomics and comfort in furniture design. Even lounge furniture was slightly increased in scale to offer extra cushion and a stronger resemblance to residential furniture.

My favorite showroom hands-down was Hightower. Hightower specializes in the manufacturing of furniture, and their showroom emphasized comfort and high style. They exhibited fully furnished settings ranging from lounge, small meeting areas, café-style seating, private nooks, and bar seating, utilizing a mostly neutral and pastel color palette.


NeoCon - Hightower


I think it’s safe to say our group of interior designers had a great time in the Merchandise Mart and can’t wait for NeoCon 2020!


NeoCon Group


If you are interested in seeing how we can implement some of these trends into your designs, reach out to us.

Becoming an Interior Designer

Interior Designer
While our interior designers do make great material and color selections, they do much more than that.

We all have our stereotyped image of what interior designers do from design shows, design magazines, and social media. However, the reality is much different.

A common misconception is that interior designers only select interior finishes, but structural knowledge of the building is necessary (and required) for understanding how interior spaces can be manipulated. Interior Designers think about the way a space functions and design it accordingly. They take a building shell and create a safe, functional, aesthetically pleasing space specific to each owner, in coordination with the architects and engineers.

From fixtures and furniture, to materials and finishes, Interior Designers help spaces come alive. A wide range of product knowledge is required for interior designers to make the most informed and appropriate decisions during the selection process.

But how to do they learn these skills? Registered Interior Designers begin with an education—either a Bachelor’s or an Associate’s degree in Interior Design.

There are many reputable universities with great Interior Design programs, but it is important for future students to do their research and find the right fit for what they need.

The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) is an independent, non-profit accrediting organization for Interior Design programs in the United States and internationally. Not all Interior Design programs are CIDA-accredited—and this is a great way to help students compare programs. Some students will choose to enroll in a non-accredited program and still be just as successful; or some will start at one and move to the accredited program to finish. Every student has their own path, and there are a lot of options.

However, just because a college degree has been obtained, one is still not a registered interior designer.

Any professional with a degree in Interior Design looking to gain registration (not everyone chooses to pursue registration), must then begin gaining professional experience (3,520-5,280 hours, depending on the degree). This professional experience must be in the Interior Design field to qualify for sitting for the exam.

At different times throughout their education and professional experience, professionals must sit for all sections of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.

This exam is broken into three sections:

  • The Practicum Exam (PRAC) – 4 Hours
    • Codes and Standards
    • Building Systems & Integration
    • Programming & Site Analysis
    • Contract Documents
  • Fundamentals Exam (IDFX) – 3 Hours
    • Design Communication
    • Building Systems & Construction
    • Programming & Site Analysis
    • Construction Drawings & Specification
    • Human Behavior & the Design Environment
    • Furniture, Finishes, Equipment, & Lighting
    • Technical Drawing Conventions
  • Professional Exam (IDPX) – 4 Hours
    • Professional Practice
    • Building Systems and Integration
    • Contract Administration
    • Project Coordination
    • Contract Documents
    • Product and Material Coordination
    • Codes and Standards

Each section is taken, and passed or failed, individually. Once the individual passes all sections and has met all the other requirements, he/she can apply for registration with the State of Indiana. Once this final hurdle has been cleared, the celebration can commence, and one can officially call him/herself a Registered Interior Designer.

Continued Education Units (CEU) are also required, similar to what other professions must do to keep their registration updated. Once CEU’s are obtained, each Registered Interior Designer is responsible for tracking and meeting the credit requirements.


Also see what it takes to become an architect.

Q&A Session with Asia Coffee

From beautifully decorated cakes to cupcakes to confections of all imaginings, Asia Coffee—a registered interior designer at Schmidt Associates—is just as sweet as the beautiful creations she makes. Below, we take a few minutes to get to know her.



Tell me about your background.
I was born and raised in Indy. In high school, I had a growing interest in art, so I enrolled into a special art Program at Broad Ripple High School. From there, I went to art school for a year in Chicago, where I met my future husband. I moved back to Indy and started the Interior Design program at IUPUI.

With such an interest in art, what inspires you?
I love the elements and principles of design—color, texture, composition … I also love to look at other people’s work and stay current with trends on social media.

And your family?
My husband, William, and I have four sons—David, 13; William Jr., 10; Benjamin, 3; and our newest ,Elliot. We don’t have any pets (yet). William keeps talking about getting a dog, but we haven’t taken the plunge.

How did you get into cake decorating?
Several years back, I took a few classes and really enjoyed it. The instructor asked me if I had ever thought about teaching, but I didn’t think much of it. Instead, I started doing cakes on the side for family and friends. Not long after, I decided to fill out that application to teach. Now, I teach cake decorating at several stores around Indianapolis and decorate cakes as a side business. I have an Instagram account—“mrs.coffeescakes”—if you would like to see some of my work.

Do you feel like your two worlds—interior design and cake decorating—intersect at all?
I feel like because I teach, it carries over into my interior design world when having to do Owner presentations. The crazy thing is that I am up in front of people teaching nearly every weekend, but I still get nervous doing presentations for work. I can’t figure it out!

Do you keep anything special at your desk?
I have sat on the board of IIDA (International Interior Design Association, Indiana Chapter) for four years now. When the current president took office, she took a quote from the person who nominated you about why they enjoy working with you. I keep that at my desk to remind me to keep doing my best.

And, just for fun, what is your favorite food on Mass Ave?
Ohhhh, I love The Eagle. They have a chicken sandwich that is amazing. Boneless chicken, coleslaw, and pickle. It is magnificent!


So when that sweet tooth hits or you want to see some of the latest trends in the industry, feel free to come by. Asia would love to chat with you!


Also learn about Sarah HempsteadTricia SmithCharlie WilsonTom NeffJoe RedarDave JonesPatricia Brant, Liam KeeslingSayo Adesiyakan, and Ben Bain


Q&A Session with Liam Keesling

With an extroverted personality and a smile that lights up the room, interior designer Liam Keesling is happiest building things around him—from Owner relationships to finished spaces, Liam is always in creation mode.




Tell me about your background.
I grew up in Richmond, IN and have always loved the creative process. I grew up in a household where every weekend we had a project, a renovation of some sort. Because of this, I knew growing up I wanted to be an architect, landscape designer, or a culinary chef. Unfortunately, I am terrible at math and I didn’t want to work in a restaurant. Interior Design seemed to be a great marriage of the creativity and process of creating that I craved. For me, it was the marriage of all components coming together for that final dramatic reveal.

Why Indianapolis?
My junior and senior year of college, I was interning for an Architecture firm three days a week. In that time, I had made great connections with other designers and manufacturer reps. All the networking landed me four job interviews that turned into four job offers. Though I had always planned on living in Chicago, it was when I had those four envelopes sitting in front of me I realized this was my chance to leave my mark. I immediately got involved in the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and have been building a network of my peers to continue to grow as a designer as the industry continues to expand. I do not see myself in Chicago anymore. This is where I am. This is where I want to stay.

What do you do in your free time?
My friends have always deemed me the King of Hobbies. I guess you could say that I am the Jack of All Trades, Master of None. My attention span is short sometimes, so I will pick up a hobby for a bit, but then move on. Consistently though, I have always loved working with my hands—gardening and building things have always been therapeutic for me. When I have something on my mind, I go and dig in the dirt to sort it out.

I also really enjoy meals and cooking for friends. I use recipes for inspiration, but create my own implementation plan. Oftentimes, I will see something growing in my garden and become inspired to create a meal around it.

One of Liam’s Projects

Liam’s Garden

Knowing your love of creating food, what is your favorite to eat out?
My guilty pleasure… I must say I do eat extremely healthy these days, but if I am going to cheat and pretend it never happened, the macaroni and cheese at The Eagle on Mass Ave is so good. I drizzle a bit of the spicy honey on top and it just takes me to my happy place. Okay, I cannot just have one. The kimchi meatloaf at Union 50 is also one of my all-time favorites. The pickled cabbage takes the flavor to a whole other level.

Where is your favorite place in the city?
I just love to walk the Cultural Trail and see all the people out. It gets me energized to see the hustle and bustle. In fact, on my way into work just today, I saw a guy in a full suit and roller skates on his way to work. I love that.

What’s one thing not everyone knows about you?
Because it would be the most awkward way to break the ice with someone, I actually have webbed toes on both feet. Fun fact, celebrity Ashton Kutcher also has webbed toes—though I take the cake. Mine do not even separate.

Next time you are in need of a fresh perspective for your latest project or just want to grab some good macaroni and cheese with even better conversation, give Liam a call!


Also learn about Sarah HempsteadTricia SmithCharlie WilsonTom NeffJoe RedarDave Jones, and Patricia Brant



NeoCon 2017 Update

NeoCon is a chance to see new products, immerse yourself in each showrooms’ unique design, mingle with other designers, and bring back inspiration for our clients. Whether it be ideas for comfortable, collaborative office breakout spaces or a twist on a traditional textile, this event showcases everything you could dream of as a designer. Consider it a small slice of a interior designer’s paradise!

With about one million ideas to take away from NeoCon, let’s hear from our team about a few of their favorite design trends from this year…

Liam Keesling

My favorite trends seen throughout the furniture showrooms were the combination of solid textiles and exposed wood frame construction in many of the side chairs and lounge furniture pieces. The furniture appeared lightweight but well-crafted, using interlocking joints that were celebrated rather than disguised or hidden. My favorite part of the craftsmanship was the natural wood finish used to see the beautiful grain.


Asia Coffee

I was really excited to see the Tandus/Centiva/Johnsonite showroom! This was their first year in a larger, more prominent showroom on one of the main floors of the Merchandise Mart. It was a fantastic space for them to display the wide variety of flooring options that they offer (i.e. carpet, luxury vinyl tile, rubber tile). I was especially impressed with the digital imaging capabilities that were showcased. They can take any image or photo and not only print it onto luxury vinyl tile but wall base as well! This capability allows us to be more creative in the ways we can bring an Owner’s brand into the design of their space.


Laura Hardin

I find myself trying to remember all of the carpet, textile, wall covering designs, and new furniture trends. But what I typically am in search of is unique glass design. I don’t get a chance to specify this product often but I do find it fascinating on the inspiration and overall design created for decorative glass. Skyline Glass doesn’t disappoint, this year’s glass designed by Suzanne Tick won two NeoCon gold awards. Two patterns in particular caught my eye, Diffuse & Disperse as they are simple and timeless with the ability to layer and scale to a design for the perfect fit into a project. I look forward to the official release of these new patterns as well as the other new exciting products we saw.

Bringing Your Home to Work

When Schmidt Associates began in the mid-70’s, office design was based largely on the assumption that a worker was assigned a single, functional space, suited to a single task. The idea of comfort in the workplace was confined largely to the individual’s desk and focused on things like surface space, storage, and ergonomic design of things like telephones, chairs, and pens. This approach made it difficult to think of the impact of design on worker productivity outside of this narrow scope, and as a result, offices were often functional and even somewhat clinical.

In the past decade, smart designers have begun to think differently about how we use our spaces at work, and how productivity is affected by more than the comfort of a desk chair.

Looking Beyond Productivity, Great Design Considers a Worker’s Wellness.

Big companies are spending big money on their workers’ wellness to attract top talent and drive down insurance costs, but it has a larger impact on the organization in terms of productivity. But how can design help foster a worker’s wellness, happiness, and productivity? It starts by thinking about the space they occupy beyond the desk.


Regenstrief Headquarters – In-Office Gym

Consider a typical office environment with about 150 square feet of space per employee. Most of it isn’t occupied by their individual workspace, it’s common areas like break rooms, restrooms and the like. In order to really create a great work environment, it’s those extra, shared spaces that have become the area of focus. Adding some of the comforts of home to common areas in the office has recently become the norm.


Regenstrief Headquarters – Office Breakout Lounge Space

The stereotypical startup office is probably the easiest example for most to recall. The offices of Silicon Valley tech giants like Google and Facebook are often lauded for their quirky, comfy amenities that workers are free to use at their discretion. But you don’t have to be worth billions to give your employees the right kinds of spaces to enjoy away from their desk.

By re-imagining and devoting just a little extra time, effort, and resource to these common areas, we can see how the bland and boring break room can become a coffee bar that employees love to take meetings in. A breakout room can replace cold, stiff tables and chairs with lounge seating and a whiteboard for low-stress meetings away from distractions.


Regenstrief Headquarters – Cafe

A 2015 study by Human Spaces found that simply having natural elements in the workplace created a 15% higher level of well-being and a 6% increase in productivity. Now, the office plays into recruitment and retention. How do you stack up?

In the 40 years that Schmidt Associates has been designing office and work environments, a lot has changed, but our commitment to our client owners has not. How can we incorporate some homey comfort into your workplace to increase wellness and boost productivity? We’d love to work together to find out.

View our workplace projects here

The Tenant Build-Out Design Process

Tenant improvement/build-out projects occur when a commercial real estate agency works with a building owner to lease an entire building or a suite within a building. When a prospective tenant wants to lease a space, their space needs could vary widely, but they typically need:

  • Additional Restrooms
  • Private Offices
  • Accommodations for additional technology
  • Interior Finishes to match their company’s brand, and
  • A furniture plan showing accommodations of existing furniture that will be reused


Before permit drawings can commence, a designer must create a preliminary space plan from the prospective tenant’s program. The designer must also take in account the BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) standards for properly measuring and calculating square footages. This preliminary space usually becomes an attachment to the tenant’s lease agreement after it’s approved. Once the lease agreement is signed by both parties, the proposed preliminary space plan quickly becomes the basis for the construction drawings. A few minor revisions are possible at the point in the project, but the majority of the new plan remains as is.

For example, a drawing set for a project under 2,500 SF can be as minimal as 5-pages consisting of a:

  • Demolition plan
  • New construction plan
  • Power and reflected ceiling plan
  • Mechanical plan
  • Elevations (usually of new casework and windows)
  • Schedules (i.e. room finish schedule and door schedule)
  • Details (i.e. wall sections)


The commercial real estate firm usually works closely with a contractor to manage construction costs from the very beginning of the project; with this information also being included in the lease agreement signed by the tenant. Usually the building owner agrees to pay for some construction expenses, and the tenant pays for other items such as special equipment or furniture. The permit drawing set only needs to show basic placement of mechanical and electrical components with general notes for these trades to engineer the project as needed. Interior finish materials are indicated in the drawing set, but specific manufacturers, patterns and colors are not required for the permit set. Furniture is typically shown for reference and to rationalize placement of electrical and data outlets.

Once the construction drawings are complete, they must be stamped by a registered architect and submitted to the authority having jurisdiction. When a project exceeds 100 SF of new construction, it must be submitted to the state for approval. When it comes to tenant improvement and build-out projects, speed and efficiency are invaluable. In many cases, the time frame for drawing completion could be as brief as two weeks.

While the drawings are being reviewed, the interior designer can assist the tenant with fine details. We can work with the them to select furniture as well as recommend furniture dealerships to help with procurement. Interior finishes can vary widely, but we can also work with the tenant to brand their new space and add any special touches with consideration to the overall project budget!

One example of how Schmidt Associates designs spaces that are specifically tailored to a unique brand

Part Two: When Did you Know?

This second series of “when did you know?” focuses entirely on our talented interior design team, each telling their story about when they first realized they wanted to be an interior designer.

Liam Keesling


The moment I realized that I wanted to be an interior designer came after I had spent my entire childhood helping on many home improvement projects with my parents and older brother. Growing up in the Keesling household, there was always a weekend project to be done – and we all did our part to help. Whether it was painting a room, building new walls, or running electrical, we always had something going on. I loved every minute of it.

When I was 12 years old, we were upgrading the electrical from the old knob and tube, and (because I was the only one that could fit through the small hole to access the attic) I was the one to go in, pull the wire, and make the connections. Then, my dad and brother left for football camp one weekend — it was not even 15 minutes after they walked out of the door that mom and I started gutting the bathroom and did a whole overhaul over the weekend to surprise dad. I learned a lot from my parents, especially my father who said to me once, “find a career where you are not going into work, but merely starting your day and having a damn good time doing it.”

Laura Hardin

Laura Hardin

“In high school I was really into art and taking all the art classes I could, as well as architecture and the technical aspects of architectural design. As a freshman in college I started classes at Heron Art School while taking art history courses along with the general classes. While I was going through my freshman year of college my mom, an elementary education teacher, was moving into her new elementary school. It was then that I realized how I really enjoy that process and seeing how a building develops. From then on, I knew interior design was a strong direction for me — the commercial side of design being my focus. While having art and general education credits established I found the best Interior Design program for me and moved on from there. Once in the Interior Design program the classes where challenging, but at the same time, it just all clicked with me. I knew I was making the right decision.”

Asia Coffee

“I had moved back to Indianapolis from going to art school in Chicago for a year. I was working at Kinko’s (now FedEx Office), and one day I met a young lady who came to the store to make copies for a class project. She was an interior design student at IUPUI, and she explained that her assignment was to convert an old fire station into a condominium. I was instantly intrigued! I thought that if I could have a career in which I use my creativity in a practical way, that it would be very rewarding. I looked into the program at IUPUI and enrolled the following August. The rest is history!”

Inspiring a Drive to Create

I had the pleasure of speaking to the Senior Designers at Purdue University for their Professional Development course this week. It is always great to step back into the classroom and talk about our industry from a professional level while reflecting back on my experience preparing for graduation and finding the job that is the right fit for me. I wanted to share my introduction to my class presentation in hopes that it will rejuvenate the young designers in our community.

“What does Interior Design mean to me? Interior Design is inspiring a drive to create, to inspire. What do I mean by that? How many of you walk into a room or walk by a building and immediately begin to analyze the materials, layout, and function of the space; maybe even pull out your camera and take some pictures? It is safe to say that many of us do this on a daily basis. In doing so, we would have had a physical or emotional impact by those surroundings that grasped our minds and made us think of how we can replicate or transform that space. Within seconds and before we had time to even pull out our smart phones to document, we have begun to design and re-imagine those different elements putting our basic understanding of design principles into action.

Therein lies what I feel to be most true, that interior design is inspiring a drive to create, to inspire. Meaning, to influence others. From the beginning of any project, we as designers are already thinking of how our clients will like and fully experience their new surroundings. Can we inspire them? If all I said is true, and you share similar feelings, then the road ahead is the beginning of a great journey full of opportunities in the design industry.”

Interior Design that Encourages Collaboration in the Corporate Environment

When planning for corporate environments, the color of the walls and pattern of the carpet are important but not nearly as critical as creating an environment that encourages collaboration. Two main styles of collaborative spaces should be considered.

  1. Laid-back Lounge

Comfortable areas in business offices are trending within the interior design world. By using sofas, ottomans and smaller tables in place of the typical desk and chair, employees can feel more at home. Kicking back and propping your feet up for a casual meeting with a few colleagues can allow for creative juices to flow more naturally. Including a lounge-style setting in the workspace, breaking up the traditional use of cubicles and offices, is also more appealing to the younger employees. Millennials gravitate toward an open concept space because it meets their need for social interaction while brainstorming business ideas. Playful pops of color, patterns and use of different textures help bring the space together. Legos, writable furniture surfaces, and moveable furniture allow employees to interact with their environment. This type of collaboration setting naturally works for businesses like marketing agencies, sales-focused businesses and design firms — but should also be considered as an option for meeting spaces for much more traditional professionals.

  1. Flexible Structure

If designing for a more formal office setting, an enclosed conference room may be more accommodating for serious meetings. Employees may need to spread out papers, take notes on their laptops, or shut the doors for a call. While a large, wired work surface and more traditional work chairs may be more appropriate in these spaces — productivity can be enhanced through technology integration, operable partitions and a variety of display options including writeable wall surfaces, multiple monitors and accommodations for video conferencing. This type of collaboration setting works meetings where formal presentations are necessary.

B&T Conference Furniture

Barnes & Thornburg Conference Space

It is not uncommon to see a mixture of lounge and flexible structure settings worked into the interior design of an office. Both of these styles do require the element of flexibility in order to function properly. In both, employees need to be able to move the furniture around and customize the use of the pieces to best fit the function of the meeting.

Consideration of multiple types of different collaborative spaces can help your client function more effectively and feel at home in their office space.