Yinka Ilori on the emotive value of the chairs around us

Each of his custom creations is a revival of a discarded seat.

Yinka Ilori is a London-based furniture designer whose technique involves exploring the spiritual side of the furniture that occupies our lives. Apart from his conceptual drive to weave storytelling into each unique chair he creates, Ilori is also working against the modern problem of wastage in the furniture manufacturing industry.

Each of his custom creations is a revival of a discarded seat. He sources abandoned chairs from different parts of the globe and upcycles them with unique characteristics, using bold colours and vibrant textiles that relay a deeper story. He believes chairs can reflect the complexities and oddities of human nature. Ilori plays with the idea of discomfort, of strange appendages and deviation from conventional shape in the making of his chairs – a playfulness that is born of Ilori’s Nigerian heritage mingled with his British identity.

Ilori is interested in lifting the lid on the intellectual side of lifeless objects, that any unsuspecting chair is a vessel for memories of those who sit in it. Using the parables his father taught him as a child as inspiration, Ilori deconstructs idioms in chair form. According to him, our innermost thoughts and emotions can rub off on the furniture around us which imparts a sense of personality to each piece.

The designer discussed the subject of appropriation in the context of his textile-rich design work, as he often incorporates prints from Holland in his work which has become popular among consumers in West Africa. Though some may assume Ilori’s designs are inherently African due to their vibrant patterns at a glance, he celebrates the fact that the origins and influences of his work are more varied than that.   

“I want to take bits out of my culture and retell them,” he said. “What’s funny is how we’ve now made it our own, that chairs contribute to a sense of belonging and community. People know it’s not from Nigeria, but it’s associated with people who are African. It’s ours.”

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Watch the Talk with Yinka Ilori