Iconic furniture is transformed in the metaverse

By Elise Bousquet

When we think about the instruments used to create timeless pieces of furniture, we inevitably picture the shapes of traditional machinery, woodworking tools and building materials. For the latest collaboration between The Conran Shop and It’s Nice That, and their third installation for London Design Festival, the limits of the physical world have been lifted.

‘Meet Me in the Metaverse’ brings an immersive installation to The Conran Shop’s Chelsea location, which sees the digital and physical collide in a playful exploration of design’s role in the virtual world. “In collaboration with an incredible group of future-facing digital artists, we hope this installation showcases how virtual experiences can be grounds for playful experimentation,” says Lucy Bourton, senior editor at It’s NiceThat. Six global future-facing artists were selected – Khyati Trehan, YONK, Laurent Allard, Sai from MORBO, duo Chris Golden and Christie Christie, and Pedro Veneziano – and presented with a brief by the two design powerhouses. Their task was to reimagine the traditional forms of some of The Conran Shop’s iconic furniture through digital artistry, creating “never-before-seen objects”. Bourton explains that each artist and object were carefully matched to ensure the contemporary references would reflect the sentiments of the original pieces.

“What would it look like if your toaster could sing, or your coffee table could dance?

While most projects begin with a problem to be solved, this collaboration “lent itself more to play and exploration, instead of a concept brief,” says Trehan, a 3D visual artist and graphic designer from New Delhi. Her work aims “to make the intangible tangible”. Reimagining an iconic piece of furniture in a digital setting, she says, “has the potential to be an exercise in future- casting, slipping in provocations for how the piece’s form and use might evolve with time.”

“When The Conran Shop and It’s Nice That approached us for this collaboration, we just had to say yes,” says the duo from YONK, a 3D studio based in The Hague that specialises in using virtual reality sculpting software to create character design and animations. Assigned the 'Groovy Chair' by Pierre Paulin, YONK says the object “almost screams that it needs to be in motion.” They took a deep dive into the chair’s history, form, various colours and textures “to understand what character this chair would be and how we could bring that to life using digital techniques.” The resulting 3D animation allowed them to “gift the chair movement and transform this solid object into a dynamic character.”

The artists’ whimsical visualisations are displayed in a “secret black box environment”, describes Stephen Briars, chief creative at The Conran Shop. Playing out across a series of screens, the renderings are paired alongside the original pieces of furniture. In doing so, Trehan hopes that visitors see “the same endless possibilities in all these iconic pieces of furniture that the artists did.”

YONK agrees: “We would love to put a smile on the viewer’s face and leave them wondering about the characters of their household objects – what would it look like if your toaster could sing, or your coffee table could dance?”