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.
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.
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.
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