Yinka Ilori: Chairs tell stories too

We pull up a seat with this Nigerian-British designer to hear how he draws on his heritage to create once-off pieces.

Part of the event

In this interview with Design Indaba in London, Yinka Ilori tells us how he “fell in love with the idea of upcycling, and the sort of narrative you can find with each piece and how it tells a story”.

Ilori chooses to repurpose furniture in this way not only because he is opposed to waste but also because he believes the process involved in upcycling allows him to tell a story through his work. His design approach starts with the dismantling of the original components of discarded furniture which he then re-assembles into a new piece, inflected with his culture, ready for use again.  

Italian designer Martino Gamper’s “100 chairs in 100 days” project inspired Ilori and served as the trigger to his future projects. Integrating upcycling with aspects of his own heritage, Ilori’s work echoes the vibrant colours of Nigerian fabrics and includes symbolic references to his culture.  

“I’m inspired by my culture, being British and Nigerian at the same time and having to merge cultures together,” he says.

Using a combination of vintage modernist furniture and traditional African fabrics, Ilori elevates the discarded items he finds to create one-of-a-kind designs.

He collaborated with South African textile designer Laduma Ngxokolo on the piece shown at the “Africa Calling” exhibition, which was part of the Africa Utopia festival at London’s Southbank. Curated by Kathy Shenoy and Liezel Strauss, the exhibition presented the best of contemporary African design to the UK.

A graduate of London Metropolitan University, Ilori has exhibited in London, New York, Germany and Milan.

“There's a lot to take from my heritage and motherland. I think it’s the colours, the fabrics, the food and everything about my culture that inspires my work.”

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