Yinka Ilori tells us about his passion for color, how public spaces can bring communities together, and why his parents are his biggest inspiration.

Yinka Ilori tells us about his passion for color, how public spaces can bring communities together, and why his parents are his biggest inspiration.

It’s easy to spot the work of British-Nigerian designer Yinka Ilori. Whether he’s designing a chair or a building, he lavishly applies bold swathes of color to create his eye-popping signature patterns, which are inspired by the West African fabrics that surrounded him as he grew up.

The London-based designer first attracted attention as a student, with his vibrant collections of upcycled furniture. Today, he heads an eponymous studio in North West London that tackles everything from large-scale pavilions and skate parks to graphic and exhibition design. In everything he does, he has a singular mission—to celebrate his cultural heritage and to bring joy and love to the world through design.

Yinka sitting on one of the boldly colored, elevated chairs he created for his A Large Chair Does Not Make a King installation at the 2017 London Design Festival.

Yinka sitting on one of the boldly colored, elevated chairs he created for his A Large Chair Does Not Make a King installation at the 2017 London Design Festival.

Andrew Meredith

When did you first become interested in design?

I’ve always been interested in how things work, and as a kid, I loved sketching and designing toys. My parents would sometimes buy me toy cars—and it was then that I understood that objects could bring joy and make people feel good.

At school, I studied art, and I was convinced that I wanted to do a fine arts degree and become an artist. One of my teachers said I should do a one-year course in design before I went to art school. So, I enrolled in a course at the London Metropolitan University where we were able to explore different disciplines—industrial design, fashion design, photography, printmaking, and furniture design. I soon discovered that my strongest area was designing and making products. I went on to study furniture and product design at the London Metropolitan University, and I’ve been designing for about ten years now.

During London Design Festival 2017, Yinka collaborated with nonprofit social enterprise Restoration Station on a collection of colorful upcycled furniture that was auctioned off to raise money to fund workshops teaching skills in woodworking and furniture restoration. Participants in the program were given the opportunity to restore a chair inspired by Yinka’s signature use of bold Nigerian prints and vivid colors.

During London Design Festival 2017, Yinka collaborated with nonprofit social enterprise Restoration Station on a collection of colorful upcycled furniture that was auctioned off to raise money to fund workshops teaching skills in woodworking and furniture restoration. Participants in the program were given the opportunity to restore a chair inspired by Yinka’s signature use of bold Nigerian prints and vivid colors.

Dan Weill Photography

You first became known for your colorful upcycled furniture. What is the inspiration behind these collections?

The initial idea came from a project I did at university, and these collections are inspired by the personal experiences of myself, my family, and my lifelong friends. For me, the best way to discuss these experiences is through design, and I use everyday objects to tell narratives. It’s how I start conversations and communicate with the people around me.

The chairs I use come from all over London, and I think of them as immigrants. When people migrate, they have to integrate into new cultures and communities. In the same way, these chairs come to charity shops—or to me from people’s homes—and have to become comfortable in new spaces. I love that each chair has its own unique narrative. I find it interesting to take these objects, which I see as quite vulnerable, and give them a new story. It’s not about trying to erase their original story, but about adding a new layer to that existing narrative.

If Chairs Could Talk is a collection of upcycled chairs created for London Design Festival 2015. Each chair was inspired by traditional Nigerian parables and African fabrics that Yinka grew up with.

If Chairs Could Talk is a collection of upcycled chairs created for London Design Festival 2015. Each chair was inspired by traditional Nigerian parables and African fabrics that Yinka grew up with.

Veerle Evens

See the full story on Dwell.com: Q&A: How British-Nigerian Designer Yinka Ilori Uses Color to Celebrate His Heritage
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