NFT could change the future of the furniture design industry — Quartz
How much would you pay for a 3D rendering of a sofa? Last month, a series of “virtual furniture” brought in nearly half a million real dollars for its creator on Nifty Gateway, one of several online auction sites for blockchain-powered digital assets.
The collection was designed by Andrés Reisinger, a 29-year-old Argentine digital artist based in Barcelona, and includes blob-shaped sofas, a collapsible set of drawers and a pink swivel office chair.
To be clear, these are mostly computer generated files – not actual pieces of furniture. However, winners can use them to set up their virtual worlds and game environments. For example, the person who paid $ 5,000 to render an anti-gravity table called Pinky can upload it to Minecraft.
Reisinger intends to eventually make physical versions of five of his designs, including a bespoke piece that sold for $ 68,000. (These exorbitant prices are more common at collectors’ furniture auctions. For example, you can get a limited edition Salvador Dali throne for a few hundred dollars less.)
Reisinger’s stellar sales benefited from the burgeoning crypto art market, where anything digital art, video clips, or even a tweet can cost millions of dollars in a matter of minutes. Items listed on Nifty Gateway and similar platforms such as Super Rare, OpenSea, Foundation, Zora and MakersPlace come with a non-fungible token that serves as a certificate of authenticity that is verified by the Ethereum blockchain. This allows collectors to resell the work and share the profit with the original artist. Miami-based collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile recently bagged over $ 6 million for reselling a 10-second video clip he acquired for $ 67,000 last October.
Crypto-art fans claim that non-fungible tokens or NFTs will be the future of art collecting. Critics say it will literally destroy the planet.
Cypto-Art and Covid-19
In 2014, Monegraph (short for monetized graphics) became the first platform to sell art using blockchain protocols. Attaching a title deed to a work of art creates a lack of digital content that can otherwise be viewed online for free.
NFTs made news in 2017 when collectors spent over $ 1 million to own a game called CryptoKitties. But crypto art really got blown up in 2020. Driven by the surge in online gaming and the general listlessness during the month-long lockdown, more collectors – including many tech millionaires – are turning to NFTs. The crypto art market is now worth nearly $ 200 million. Almost 100,000 transactions are carried out on six of the largest platforms. This can be seen from numbers compiled in Crypto Art Data. Last month, Christie’s became the first traditional auction house to venture out to sell digital art in the company of NFTs. (As of this writing, the highest bid on a digital collage created by star crypto artist Beeple is $ 8.3 million.)
According to Alex Atallah, co-founder of OpenSea, the dramatic increase in interest during the pandemic year makes sense. “If you spend 10 hours a day on the computer … then [buying] Digital art makes a lot of sense, ”he told Reuters.
Impact of NFTs on the Furniture Design Industry
Reisinger’s desire to create real versions of his virtual furniture makes him unique from other crypto artists. It’s also a move that can potentially – and dramatically – affect the way furniture is made and sold.
A typical chair is around four years pregnant, and older manufacturers go through R&D and product testing. And when the finished version is finally ready, there is a lot of publicity involved – from presenting the piece to magazines, printing marketing materials, and attending design fairs like the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. NeoCon in Chicago, Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, imm Cologne and a global network of other festivals where a restless number of brands vie for attention.
Reisinger skips all of that and measures demand by posting a rendering on Instagram before going into production. Of course, “likes” cannot be directly transferred to sales, but one of his concepts has attracted pre-orders and wide public attention and was even acquired for the collection of the Design Museum Gent. In collaboration with product designer Júlia Esqué, he created a physical version of Hortensia, a dreamy armchair inspired by the hydrangea flower. By selling digital editions on Nifty Gateway, he gets the capital to make it.
“I firmly believe that you should only create what is already in demand,” says Reisinger, a digital artist who has experience in furniture design and has worked with brands like Cassina and IKEA. “I am fatally against brands that suggest mass production where they tell you after a season that your furniture is out of style.”
“A democratization of design plays a role here.”
Reisinger says he’s determined to make furniture that doesn’t end up as a fleeting phenomenon. “The Hortensia chair is very durable,” he says, noting that the upholstery has been designed so that it can be easily removed and washed. “The fabric doesn’t crease and stays in shape. We tested it in the studio for days and it’s still in perfect condition. “
He says producing Hortensia feels like a coup as many large furniture makers refused to work with him. “It was pretty difficult to find producers and workshops that wanted to work with a digital artist,” he tells Quartz. “Most of the teams I contacted in 2018 told me that what I was suggesting was very difficult and that we were going to lose money.”
The trends of decentralization and home design
Adrian Parra, a marketer who has worked for large furniture brands like Vitra, Humanscale, and Artek, welcomes the disruption. “I think the anger at NFT-backed assets has the potential to push the industry further towards greater decentralization of power,” he says.
“Instead of a top-down approach that relies on a chief creative officer or ‘high priest of design’ – usually a white guy who runs a design department and whose job it is to translate market research into creative briefs that will get through own understanding of being filtered the world – this new phenomenon of virtual furniture design has the potential to turn the process upside down, ”he notes. “A democratization of the design plays a role here, in which the market validation of a design takes place before the production and start-up process. It is powerful. “
Parra adds that more and more furniture brands were using computer-generated images during the pandemic. Since design fairs and photo studios were closed and a large part of their audience was glued to screens, the manufacturers hired computer graphics specialists to create renderings for marketing their product lines. “We seem perfectly fine with that now, whereas 18 months ago we would see these assets as worse than ‘real’ photoshoots,” he explains.
As further proof of how real furniture is framed in digital spaces, Design Home, the top video game for interior designers, launched an e-commerce platform last year. The IOS game allows users to buy home furnishings such as carpets, lamps and bedding right from the platform. Actual products from Williams Sonoma, West Elm, and Pottery Barn also appear in the game’s challenges.
The ecological price of NFTs
For virtual furniture to be truly meaningful, Parra says creators should consider the ethical supply chain of their creations, given the growing awareness of the alarming scale of throwaway furniture. According to 2018 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 80% of the 12 million tons of furniture Americans throw away each year ends up in landfills. A 2019 study suggests that 30% of adults in the UK threw perfectly usable furniture away to make changes. According to a 2020 study, interior redesigns and renovations are a major factor in why the construction industry is responsible for 40% of the world’s annual carbon emissions.
“This new model seems to have the potential to become a sustainable practice for artists. Until you understand the scale of the environmental impact of current blockchain mining: it’s a disaster. “
NFT-based transactions also add to the problem. In a series of articles titled “The Inappropriate Environmental Costs of #CryptoArt,” London-based computer engineer Memo Akten outlines the carbon footprint of Ethereum-based transactions. He analyzes the data from SuperRare and calculates that the average Crypto-Art transaction has a footprint of around 340 kWh and 211 kg of CO2 – which, he emphasizes, “corresponds to the total electricity consumption of an EU resident for more than a month of emissions corresponding to a drive of 1,000 km or a flight of 2 hours. “
At least one Crypo artist answers Akten’s call to conscience. French artist Joanie Lemercier canceled his auction after realizing how much the transactions will cost the planet. “It turns out that my release of six Cryptoart works in the last two years used more power in 10 seconds than the entire studio,” wrote Lemercier on his website. “With no travel and mostly digital distribution, this new model seems to have the potential to become a sustainable practice for artists. Until you understand the extent of the environmental impact of the current blockchain: it’s a disaster. “
Activists are calling on NFT auction sites to be more transparent about the energy consumption of their transactions. A petition for the adoption of more sustainable transaction logs is ongoing.