The Big Idea: The Meta-Design World Is Here
When architect Luis Fernandez was working on his first environment for the metaverse, a soaring, interactive gallery conceived to display NFT artworks, he kept running into a problem: None of the established platforms or available technology could make the room’s virtual gleaming marble, ivy-covered walls or central water feature look as photorealistic as he’d hoped.
Fernandez, who has also designed interiors and menswear, ultimately teamed up with two sophisticated platforms called Mona and MetaMundo, which helped him and his design team achieve the elevated, high-fidelity look he was after. The resulting space uses high-end materials and proportions that feel familiar but isn’t restricted by tedious things like gravity.
“You can play God a little bit,” Fernandez says. “Obviously there’s no physics. There’s no materiality. For me, keeping some semblance of the real world, but then playing and tricking the eye with certain things that you just can’t build [in real life], is the way that I’ve chosen to pursue it.”
Increasingly designers are using the metaverse and other future-looking technologies as a proving ground for their most ingenious ideas. And that’s not just because they offer exciting ways to push boundaries that handcraftsmanship cannot. In video games, the linchpin of the metaverse, cinematic environments are equally as important as heroic characters and gravity-defying gameplay. So younger designers who grew up playing The Sims or Minecraft are especially well primed to find innovations in virtual spaces that translate to the real world. And even if they haven’t logged hours playing games, many creatives in this field have already been using the technology that underpins these virtual worlds (computer-aided design, 3-D renderings and the like) for decades.
“Designers are usually by nature forward-thinking and open-minded—to design is to put something new into the world, and it’s always to some extent an experiment,” says Sarah Housley, the head of consumer technology at the trend-forecasting agency WGSN. “They can be curious people and open to experimenting with new technologies.”
Fortunately, we can enjoy the fruits of those experiments in the real world. This year’s Best of the Best design winners include furniture and objects that might have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Among them are the undulating curves of Roche Bobois’s 3-D-printed Corail dining table and Sara Hayat’s new modular sofas, which might make your living room resemble a supersized game of Tetris. Both blend uniquely human ideas and computer-controlled technology to stunning effect. That mix might shed some light on where the design world is headed.
“If I’m going to use a CNC mill, I want it to be cutting out shapes and forms that are otherwise impossible,” says Bradley L. Bowers, this year’s designer to watch, referring to computer-controlled machining tools that cut, shape and engrave wood, stone and metal in ways human hands cannot. “If I’m working with an artisan, I want to make a form that’s so intricately human that a robot would have a really hard time doing it.”
Sofa: Sara Hayat T4 Sofa System
The concept for this creation grew from the wistful recognition that childhood is fleeting. Seeking to soak up the attention of her young sons, the Denver-based, Pakistani-born Hayat devised this luxurious modular design as a way to bring play into her living room. “I imagine my kids breaking it apart, making it into a Millennium Falcon and having me stand guard,” she says.
The system includes 14 modules (two each of seven shapes) that can connect via discreet fasteners or stand on their own. Each is composed of a wood frame, springs and foam and upholstered in leather, suede, linen or velvet, which Hayat favors for its cozy factor. The firm suggests two ways customers can assemble the components (dubbed the T3 and the T4), but part of the design’s brilliance is that you can come up with your own configurations. It turns a static piece of furniture into a living sculpture, a helluva party trick and, if you too have adventurous youngsters, a way to defeat the Empire. $73,450
Lighting: Vidivixi Lighting Series_01
The rhythmic curves of this sculptural lighting trio, studio director Adam Caplowe’s first effort for the Mexico City–based brand, speak the same sexy language as Vidivixi’s earlier furniture designs. And while they look futuristic, the designer says they were inspired by the city’s renowned Art Deco architecture.
The pieces’ crisp forms emit a translucent glow, a pairing that took time to achieve. While Caplowe initially tried ceramic panels, the material wasn’t sufficiently robust. He ended up with hundreds of cracked pieces after trying to make holes for the brass rods that support and connect the lights. Ultimately he landed on resin and shaped the material with a waterjet cutter—an implement more commonly used in heavy industry than in high design. The panels create clean bands of light, and in the table lamp their horizontal orientation makes the bulb in the middle look like it’s floating. From $2,400
Reissue: PKO A Chair PK60 Table by Poul Kjaerholm for Fritz Hansen
To celebrate its 150th anniversary, Fritz Hansen is gracing midcentury-modern-furniture lovers with a handful of iconic reissues. Our two favorites, Poul Kjaerholm’s PKO A chair and PK60 coffee table, made their redux debut and went into production this year, set to drop in September. The vaunted designer joined Fritz Hansen in 1951 at the tender age of 22, then departed a year later over the outsize attention the company paid to Arne Jacobsen. In 1982, two years after Kjaerholm’s death, his trustees gave Fritz Hansen the production and sale rights to his 1951 to 1967 designs.
As they say, everything happens in due time. The low-slung, three-legged PK0 A chair saw a limited run of only 600 in 1997, while the glass-topped PK60 coffee table with its delicately arched base never made it to production. Now the minimalist designs, which epitomize the appeal of bent plywood and showcase steam-bending techniques, are having their moment. Both sculptural pieces are being made in black-stained ash and in Oregon pine, with the chair sporting striking red rubber spacers. Prices upon request
Kitchen Appliance: Dacor 24-Inch Built-In Wine Dispenser
This sleek, connoisseur-friendly wine dispenser is an ideal solution for those reluctant to open an exceptional vintage for fear they may not finish it in one evening or for those who want to pair wines to courses without overindulging. Its Italian-made dual-zone cooling system can keep four bottles of wine fresh and at the perfect temperature for up to 60 days. Once the bottles are sealed into the unit, the machine replaces the oxygen in the bottles with argon, ensuring unaltered aroma and flavor. It’s like an amped-up Coravin.
You can customize each spigot to dispense any amount with a single click, from a splash to a half-glass to a free pour, an option we like to call “the Friday button.” A code-activated locked mode helps stop kids (or the au pair) from sampling the ambrosia. Although designed for wine, the system also makes a mean martini. Simply set up one side to dispense the just-right amounts of gin and vermouth into your glass. The olives are up to you. $5,999
Table: Roche Bobois Corail Dining Table
This table, developed with design duo Antoine Fritsch and Vivien Durisotti, steers bespoke furniture into the future. While most 3-D-printed homewares are made from plastic in playful colors cast in mod shapes, the base of the Corail is fashioned from ultra-high-performance concrete for an organic-meets-industrial vibe. But its transparent tempered-glass top means it won’t look incongruous in contemporary interiors.
Using the company’s online customization tool, customers first choose the size and shape of the base (you can pick from five sizes, from a round table that seats 6 up to a rectangular version for 10). Once you’re satisfied with the concrete’s placement and texture, the program generates a 23-digit code to be used at a local printer. (This transfer slashes the carbon footprint by eliminating long-haul shipping and circumvents supply-chain woes.) The actual making is magical. Imagine an automated nozzle akin to a giant cake-decorating tip dispensing a curvy, layered ribbon of concrete from the ground up. Manufacturing time is a mere 30 minutes, plus about 10 days to dry. From $12,205
Special Recognition: 1stDibs NFT Marketplace
Digital art and the NFTs that support its transactions have gotten a bad rap. But 1stDibs, the e-commerce platform that sells blue-chip furniture and artwork, joined the side of the early adopters when it opened a highly curated NFT marketplace last August. Instead of endlessly wading through listings searching for gems, as you can do on other platforms, collectors who use 1stDibs are greeted with a selection of works from a limited group of established and emerging artists. Buying a piece is as simple as connecting a cryptocurrency wallet to an account and then, of course, placing the winning bid. This spring, the company enhanced the experience by adding a secondary market to the platform, allowing anyone who has purchased an NFT artwork through the site to re-list it with ease. It takes some of the friction out of what can feel like an inaccessible corner of the design world—and what greater luxury is there than simplicity?
In the past, using the design world’s ecologically friendly fixtures might have meant compromising on efficacy or aesthetics. But products designed to consume fewer resources are catching up to—and surpassing—traditional alternatives.
That’s true of RainStick, a sleek system that cuts the water and energy normal showers use by around 80 percent, even as it nearly doubles the showerhead’s flow rate. The company’s cofounder and CEO, Alisha McFetridge, hails from Canada’s Okanagan Valley—the country’s only desert region—where preserving water is top of mind. Her device works by capturing the runoff from your shower, filtering out debris and dirt and purifying the recycled water with an intense blast of UV light six times before sending it down the drain. (To dispense with shampoo and other suds, it adds a small amount of fresh water to each round.) And though RainStick was created with residences and other land-bound buildings in mind, future models will work in the even more resource-constrained environment of a yacht. $3,495
Outdoors: Pavillion Salita Collection
Seasons and people change—so too does Pavilion’s Salita collection of outdoor furniture, introduced in late 2021. The brainchild of American industrial designer Colin Nourie, Salita is a modular system whose elements can either stand alone or be combined with cleverly hidden connectors, offering the ability to scale up or down as your needs—or residences—change. The flexibility, aesthetic and durability of the materials make it about as future-proof as you can get with outdoor furniture. It features soft cushions and accent pillows that lend it the comfort of something you might find indoors, and its back and arms are crafted from a synthetic woven to look like rattan but won’t fade when left exposed to the elements. And it’s not just seating. The collection also features integrated and freestanding tables—which can be covered in aluminum, Corian, ceramic or other hard-wearing options—to complete your outdoor rooms. From $2,390
Bed: Hästens Drēmer
From the royal court of Sweden to Drake’s mansion in Toronto, never mind the Emily in Paris cameo, Hästens’ wool-, cotton-, flax- and horsehair-filled beds are the ultimate status symbol for those who seriously value sleep. The manufacturer’s newest release, dubbed the Drēmer (or “dreamer” to you and me), is a showstopper. Its seductive velvet headboard, unlike the typically reserved options this company makes, looks to us like an on-trend celebration of glamorous Art Deco design.
The bed is the creation of Ferris Rafauli, who previously teamed up with Hästens to create the Grand Vividus bed, introduced in 2020. The Canadian interior designer went with the same checked horse-motif fabric (available in four colors) to upholster the foundation. The preppy-meets-Scandi style tempers the standout headboard and the Drēmer’s glossy, lacquered legs. The bed comes in your choice of sizes and firmness—a fitting option to celebrate the company’s 170 years of fine-tuning these products by hand. Bed from $35,790; headboard from $27,695
Chair: &Tradition Wullf Chair
There’s a prescience to Danish design that makes furniture the country’s artisans created in the early 20th century feel fresh and modern today. The Wulff, by &Tradition, is based on an uncredited armchair dreamed up sometime in the 1930s; after a yearslong search, the company purchased an original at auction in 2019. Then, craftsmen brought it up to present-day standards before it was reintroduced in 2021. It combines a comfortable upholstered back and seat with swooping supports made from Forest Stewardship Council–certified beech, walnut or oak. In a blend of handcraftsmanship and contemporary technology, the legs are produced on a computer-controlled lathe, then sanded by hand to get the shape just right when they’re connected to the armrest. Available through suiteny.com from $4,725
One to Watch: Bradley L. Bowers
There’s no shortage of creatives who’ve risen to prominence on the strength of a singular look. But if Bradley L. Bowers’s award-winning oeuvre has a through line, it’s not one you can immediately see. “The aesthetic is less important to me,” says the New Orleans–based designer. Of his work, which ranges from ceramics to interiors, he asks, “Is it pushing technology? Is it pushing the concept? Is it even just pushing the genre?”
His success in AP art classes led to a painting scholarship at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he discovered the multifaceted nature of industrial design and fell in love with it. Before he graduated, he’d earned commissions from Ralph Lauren and Gulfstream, among others. His thesis collection for his master’s degree in furniture design was exhibited at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 2012; he founded his eponymous studio the following year. Among the items he has produced since then, his wallpaper may be most emblematic of his ethos of trying to “make a mark beyond the reach of [his] individual projects.” He says he used the “scientific principles of the moiré effect, where overlapping lines of a certain shape will create the illusion of shape and form, to create an algorithmic script” that let him “design a collection of graphic patterns rooted in science. The silk fabric that is moiré is actually physically woven to mimic the scientific effect. Rather than mimic the scientific, I decided to harness the scientific while also making it attractive.” It’s this melding of science and art that drew him to design in the first place. “Every piece of furniture, every invention or every product someone buys is some sort of synthesis of data,” Bowers says.