At work with: Yinka Ilori

We met with globally renowned designer, Yinka Ilori to discuss his favourite projects, his love of colour and the music he likes listening to whilst he creates.
Designer, Yinka Ilori
Designer, Yinka Ilori's Studio

Yinka Ilori is a British Nigerian designer based in North West London. His work is bold and colourful with an instantly recognisable and joyful colour palette of bright pink, orange, yellow and blue. Yinka studied product and furniture design at London Metropolitan University and has since gone on to work on many exciting and immersive projects with the likes of The Dulwich Picture Gallery, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital (NHS), Selfridges and most recently, The Brit Awards.

We visited Yinka and his team in their bright and colourful studio in North West London earlier this year. We discuss his love of colour, his family heritage and the projects he’s most proud of, old and new.

Yinka Ilori design

Your work is always a tangible, physical thing – has this always been intentional?

No it hasn’t. My background is in furniture and product design so I’ve always been obsessed with objects such as chairs and furniture because these are the things I studied during my three years at university. I love spaces and architecture too and I got my first project about three years ago; an underpass in Battersea. In the same year (In collaboration with Pricegore), we pitched to design the pavilion in Dulwich Picture Gallery, run by the LFA, which we won too so we had two big projects within the same year. It wasn’t really planned at all, everything has just happened organically with my career.
Light candle, Yinka Ilori

Have you always wanted people to feel joy from experiencing your work?

Yes – for sure. I’ve always used chairs as a catalyst to tell new stories and talk about identity, culture and race. This came from my parents and their love for storytelling. They always taught me traditional, Nigerian folklore stories about love, hope and hard work and I feel that I’ve brought that to my work. I use colour as a mask to make people feel comfortable about approaching my work. There is a sense of humour and a comfort when you approach the pieces. When you begin to learn what the chairs are actually about, it’s quite meaningful and I want people to feel like they can choose to take that away with them or not – It’s there to inspire people and provide a sense of joy in your day or your life.
Yinka Ilori artwork

Where do you think your love for colour comes from?

It definitely comes from my family, my parents and my late grandma. Your parents pass things onto you whether it’s how you laugh or how you talk; your mannerisms or traits. One of the things my mother got from her mother is her use of colour and being unapologetic about what she wears and how she wears it. With her, there are no rules about style, fashion or taste and I love that. This love of colour has been passed onto me now and my colour palette is quite consistent with pinks, oranges, yellows and greens. These are the colours I’ve been surrounded with in my childhood with all the Nigerian parties and events.
at work with Yinka Ilori

Do you have a favourite project of the past few years?

I’d probably say the basketball court in Canary Wharf – the impact that this has had on the community has been incredible. Seeing the youth come down and play in a place like Canary Wharf, which is essentially a very business-type place with lots of money is really rewarding. It’s a place I can’t really connect to with all that money and investment – there is no link for me at all, so having young kids from all over London come and play and feel like they own this space is really powerful. That’s what I love about doing public artwork to do with play or installation; a space can actually feel like you own it because you’re leaving your mark and legacy – you truly become the fabric of that space.
Yinka Ilori Office

Are you listening to anything at the moment that you’d like to recommend?

I’m not listening to any podcasts or reading anything at the moment but I am listening to a lot of music. I’m very into Reggae – we’ve got this Apple playlist called ‘Reggae reggae reggae’ that I’m listening in the car and the office. We’re big on music in the studio and we all take it in turns to take over the speakers. I like to get into the office early and put some good music on and have a little bit of a one-man party before I start the day. Music does something to my soul and I love that it’s so universal.
Yinka Ilori Studio

Do you have any exciting, new projects that you’re able to share with us?

We’ve got a project in Barking called ‘A Flamboyance of Flamingos’ which is going to be my first permanent playground. We’ve got a range of workshops that we’ll be hosting on the run up to the opening of the project. We also have another project at Somerset house called ‘Dodge’ and I’ll be taking over the courtyard. It was meant to be installed last year but because of the pandemic, they’ve pushed it back to July, which I think is a blessing because dodgems and funfairs feel like a summer thing. We’ve also got more homeware coming out and a lot of other projects coming up which I’m not able to share just yet– it’s going to be a busy year though.
Yinka Ilori Homeware

What inspired the homeware collection?

I’ve always loved homewares. My mum was always obsessed with having show pieces that might only get used once a year but the rest of the year you could only stare at them through the glass cabinet. We had family friends who were the same – they had their fine crockery and good cutlery that they only used for special occasions. This always interested me and I knew I wanted to give homewares a try. This past year, because of the pandemic, a lot of our larger projects got cancelled and it meant we had the capacity to look at homeware and make that happen. Now we’re stocked in Matches, Browns and Selfridges and it’s doing really well.
At work with: Yinka Ilori

How easy is it to practice sustainability with the work that you do?

I think it’s easy to do it in the studio and when it’s a solo project of ours, it’s always something that we consider. The harder thing is trying to convince clients to spend more on sustainable choices. My work isn’t always permanent either – sometimes it’s only up for a day or two and then it all goes in the bin. I try to ensure that if I create a project and it’s just a temporary one, that we discuss where it could go after – could it be installed again elsewhere perhaps at a school or a community place where it can still be enjoyed?
Evermore London Light Candle

What is your favourite Evermore scent?

Light – we first started burning it in the winter in the studio and it was a really citrusy, summer fragrance to brighten the colder days. What’s nice about scent is that you can sometimes remember moments or places that you might have been and when we started burning it in winter, it reminded me of the summer time.

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– Images by Liz Seabrook