Should interior designers be paying attention to the metaverse?

We consult designers working to produce digital furniture, lighting and spaces to find out where the opportunities are.

The relationship we have with our homes is a special one. We curate rooms and pieces to ensure that, when we are in them, they are spaces of comfort.

It’s a process that is also driven by utility. We put soft furnishings in living rooms and bedrooms, and easy-clean surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms. “Interior” spaces in the metaverse have neither pressure weighing down on them.

Graphic designers have been experimenting with crypto art and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) since they came into the public consciousness last year. Meanwhile the world is becoming more au fait with immersing themselves in digital worlds –or at least this is companies like Facebook and Google would have us believe, as they throw their weight behind them. But are there opportunities for furniture and interior designers to work in these spaces?

An NFT, designed by Luca Baldocchi, showcasing some of Nemo’s lighting solutions in a digital space

“The metaphysical interpretation of tangible reality”

Earlier this year, lighting design and technology company Nemo announced it was the “first” design business to crack the NFT world. It did so with a collection from Luca Baldocchi, a digital interior designer.

Baldocchi worked with Nemo to reinterpret some of the brand’s iconic physical lighting solutions in a “metaphysical direction”, according to the company. As for why the company wanted to explore this avenue, Nemo CEO Federico Palazzari says: “The metaphysical interpretation of tangible reality and design products has an incredible appeal to the general public, which goes beyond the design community.”

He admits newcomers to the crypto space will find the allure “complicated to understand” – not least because of the idea of taking a very tactile skill like furniture making, and making it digital. But Palazzari adds there are plenty of benefits for designers looking to enter.

Beyond the relatively “safe” nature of buying and selling via Blockchain – a kind of digital ledger that guarantees ownership rights – one particular benefit Palazzari points to is the incorporation of all the materials that go into a piece. While the buyer might personally only be interested in the digital piece, the Nemo’s NFTs come with rights to the associated drawings, renders and sketches – thereby telling the story behind each piece.

An NFT, designed by Luca Baldocchi, showcasing more of Nemo’s lighting solutions in a digital space – this time in an eclectic curation of supporting furniture

“Spontaneous and unintentional”

Furniture and lighting NFTs do not need to acquiesce to the physics of the real world – and Palazzari says Nemo’s NFTs are good examples. As they are maximalist creations “the creative process, spontaneous and unintentional, blends various unrelated components, finding balance”, he says.

Designer and digital artist Andrés Reisinger’s “impossible” furniture pieces are yet another example. Last year, one of his pieces fetched $70,000 (around £51,000) at auction, while the collection as a whole garnered much attention in general online.  His Deep Space sofa is a bulbous, moving lilac piece, while one of his most viral pieces is his Hortensia chair, seemingly constructed with thousands of pink petals.

Reisinger’s work is symbolic of his desire to “play, experiment and explore”. “My designs represent a hybrid reality of physical and digital and I think many perceive them to be ‘impossible’ because I work beyond generally accepted borders,” he says. “I like to depict ambiances that feel slightly distorted, slightly odd, surreal if you wish but never impossible – I think we need to reconsider what is actually impossible these days.”

While his pieces blur the lines between what is familiar and what is not, how they’re actually “fabricated” doesn’t differ too much from traditional furniture design. Materials and use cases are an important part of the design process, but where a designer in the real world would translate these considerations to physical manufacture, Reisinger moves to 3D modelling software.

Reisinger’s “impossible” Hortensia chair – auctioned last year

“It’s not an ultimate decision between digital and physical”

Reisinger’s work raises an important question: where do you “put” virtual furniture? The designer and digital artist says his pieces can be placed in any shared 3D virtual space – think Decentraland or Minecraft. Alternatively, they can be used as part of virtual and augmented reality spaces.

As we progress ever further into the digital age, Reisinger expects these spaces to become increasingly important. “Our social codes and living codes will evolve, as they’ve always done,” he says. “We are heading towards a greater involvement, and I hope trust, in the digital realm.”

Indeed, Reisinger suggests designers will have an important hand in earning that trust. “We [need to] learn how to enjoy living in a digital sphere, develop a unique way of owning and curating objects and artworks,” he says. Being able to curate digital spaces in the same way we do our homes might go some way towards helping people achieve that comfort.

Decentraland is a good example of how this conversation is playing out right now. Using the platform, users buy “land” in the form of NFTs using the MANA cryptocurrency. Then, much like in the real world, users are able to “decorate” their plot as the wish, and explore and visit others.

For Reisinger, there is beauty in accepting both spaces as part of the future, for designers and the wider public. “We just need to understand that it’s not an ultimate decision between digital and physical: the two worlds can coexist and enhance each other,” he says.

Reisinger’s Deep Space sofa – also auctioned last year

“The high-value connection between reality and virtuality”

While there is some natural skepticism in the space – environmental impact and just understanding it being the main ones – as more people begin to curate a personalised online presence, virtual furniture and interior spaces could become a more important part of design. Palazzari stresses that “meta-reality must be studied and interpreted”.

“Designers should start approaching new digital assets and explore the expressive potential of these new languages,” he explains, adding that NFTs are foremost a “powerful communication tool”.

“Nemo’s classics have been inserted into surreal scenarios and have inevitably acquired a new power of speech – maybe it’s possible to start a conversation about the high-value connection between reality and virtuality.”

Reisinger’s Complicated Drawer

Do you think the metaverse will impact furniture and interior design? Let us know what you think in the comments below…

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