At the recent High Point Market, one of the buzziest furniture debuts was a chair no one could sit on. Amid the punchy yellow-and-black themed Nathan Anthony showroom, screens displayed the image of the company’s first non-fungible token (NFT)—a digital version of chairs from its new cryptocurrency-inspired collection, ÆTHR.
“This is our first introduction to putting things in the metaverse,” said Courtland Sciortino, brand ambassador for Nathan Anthony Furniture. “And we’ll introduce more furniture and accessories to the platform.”
NFTs are non-interchangeable units of data stored on a blockchain, a form of digital ledger, that can be sold and traded. Many NFTs are associated with digital files such as photos, videos, and audio. In the metaverse—a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection—NFTs allow people to own virtual goods such as homes, cars, sneakers, art and furniture.
While the metaverse and NFTs may sound like futuristic concepts that have little to do with the reality of the home goods business today, Mize insists that this is simply the next iteration of the internet, and consumers will adapt to it the way they have to the world of social media.
“They’re thinking of it as a person wearing a VR headset, and they’re not seeing it as a website,” she said. “Web 3.0 means it’s decentralized, and it’s a new form of community, like Web 2.0 with Instagram and Snapchat.”
And Mize said the metaverse and NFTs will open a new world of creative expression to not only users of the interface, but home companies and designers who want to cater to those consumers looking to outfit their virtual world.
“It really is the next realm of where we go to for home,” she said. “For designers, they’re going to be able to go into the metaverse and create little home scapes.”
Over the past year or so, several companies and makers have launched furniture NFTs. Instagram designer Nicholas Baker, 3D artist Alexis Christodoulou, and designer Rômulo Temigue have all created NFT furnishings, as has Dubai furnishings company 4Space, which launched its Meta4Space NFT furniture collection earlier this year.
Last year, artist Andrés Reisinger created 10 pieces of virtual furniture, which sold via auction on online marketplace NiftyGateway for $450,000 total, selling out in 10 minutes. Following that sale, Reisinger even made some of his NFT pieces, including the Hortensia chair—a plush, curved seat covered in the pink petals of its namesake flower—into real, three-dimensional pieces that could actually be bought for real-world homes.
While Reisinger said he’s out of the furniture business now and has opted to focus on creating art, NFTs remain a medium of choice for his work.
“I understood at a very young age that through digital tools I could become the creator of my own worlds—I saw it as an unparalleled opportunity for freedom and power,” he said. “I haven’t stopped working with the medium since. It offers artists the rare opportunity to create unique and non-replicable pieces, while being able to reach the end collector without any intermediaries.”
After creating both NFT and physical versions of his designs, Reisinger said he sees the relationship between the metaverse and the real world as interconnected realms, rather than being two separate places.
“I think the digital realm will integrate more with the physical one—the two experiences together offer much more than when separate,” Reisinger said. “And we, as a society and humans, will learn and appreciate our presence in both worlds not as alternatives but as complementaries.”
That coexistence between the digital and physical world informed the design process behind Nathan Anthony’s NFTs and their real-world counterparts. Nathan Anthony founder and creative director Tina Nicole partnered with multimedia artist Sahara Novotna for their new ÆTHR collection, which includes dining chairs, counter stools, barstools and accent tables. The pieces feature resin artwork handmade by Novotna, inspired by cryptocurrency, the decentralized digital currency system used in the metaverse.
As the physical chairs made their debut in High Point, their NFT counterparts appeared on the OpenSea marketplace, a site specializing in NFTs. Nathan Anthony created 10 NFTs for the ÆTHR collection.
“In this day of social media and living online, this just felt like a logical next step for the brand,” Sciortino said.
While some may resist the idea of living in a digital realm populated with NFTs and other intangible objects, early adopters like Reisinger see the metaverse and NFTs as an opportunity. For makers, that opportunity means more space to grow creatively and reach new audiences. And for users, particularly in regard to home goods, the metaverse affords them an opportunity to build and outfit a dream home that may not be possible to achieve in the physical world.
“People are curious, and they are somewhat comfortable with the digital as they spend so much time on it, while at the same time skeptical of what is still unknown to them,” he said. “Some acknowledge the astonishing novelties that the digital has introduced in the art world, perhaps more from a distance, while others are interested in discovering and expanding their experiences, and therefore possessions, to a different dimension. The idea of being the only owner of a virtual item in the world wide web, the land that belongs to everyone, is also quite appealing.”