Furniture that tells African narratives

Yinka Ilori is a Nigerian based in East London, has a BA degree in furniture and product design from London Metropolitan University.

He uses unwanted furniture to tell stories influenced by Nigerian parables and African materials. Yinka is known for his clean, minimalistic and simple aesthetic with the use of colour and love for Dutch wax. (African Wax prints).

His exhibitions include: London, New York, Germany and Milan.



How do you tell the stories and what kind of stories do you tell and to which audience? 

This is furniture that has been thrown away by its user because it is old, damaged or no longer loved, so I save the furniture by giving it another story and narrative inspired by traditional Nigerian parables told to me by my parents while growing up as a child. These are words of wisdom that have shaped me as a young man growing up in society.  The parables touch on themes such as hope, status, race, sexuality and social class.

The furniture tells the stories in different elements through found objects that incorporate into my work. These objects are vintage items that range from lampshades, candles, adornment, colours, Dutch wax etc. In addition I play with the elements and the structures of the chair creating minimal and simplistic shapes in a powerful way to enhance the story which becomes a poignant feature of the chair, challenging people’s perceptions and ideologies.

You have defined your business as bespoke upcycled, turning waste into art. What does this mean?

This happened along my creative journey as a furniture designer. I started to create furniture in people’s eyes that was a work of art because of the beauty and intricacy of the pieces. Over the years, buyers and other people had described my work as art and have said they would never seat on because it was too beautiful  and non-functional.

When you started your business, what did you start with?

I started by sourcing old furniture and created my first collection in the back of a garden! After my first collection then I found a studio space in East London.

What inspired your first piece and how long did it take you to develop the concept to fruition?

My parents inspired my first collection which I created three new pieces of work and it took me about 4-5 weeks.

Yinka seated


What were your startup costs and how did you finance the business?

Starts up costs for me were quite minimal at the time but luckily I received funding from the Prince’s Trust. They provided me with a £3,000 loan which enabled me to start. I used the funding to take part in exhibitions, and create new work for a few years at the same time paying back the loans created from sales.

How did you raise funding for you to take your business to the next level?

I raised funding to take my business to the next level by taking on commissions and collaborations with different clients.

How long have you had your partnership with luxury concept store Temple Muse (Nigeria) and what kind of pieces does the concept store retail for you?

The partnership has gone on for 6 months now and they are retailing my latest collection which launched last year October.

Why did you select Temple Muse as your partner in Lagos?

We had been for sometime and we both thought it was the right time to work together and we hope to continue our working relationship and launch more products in the years to come.

Which other stores retail your stock and how do you select your stores?

My work is currently stocked only in one shop in Nigeria. Also, from London, my store, I sell the pieces.There will be a few more retailers coming in London soon showcasing my new collection.

Yinka chair

How many pieces do you select per store?

It is usually between 3-4 four pieces of furniture.

Who are your main clients?

My main clients vary from lawyers, bankers, interiors designers, art buyers and interestingly I have had some interest from museums.

How do you create your pieces? Collections per season?

Collections are created once 1 year. I don’t really have a signature piece. Each piece has its own signature in its own way.

What are your largest costs? Production or rent?

Productions costs are my largest cost sure! The most expensive is the spray finishing which is not cheap but at least people comment on the finishing which make me happy all the time.

Your business is currently through brick and mortar. 

Yes it is brick and mortar. I  like it that way at the moment because I love meeting people, as it inspires new projects and evokes different conversations depending on the piece purchased.

What are the challenges you have faced in this business?

Challenges I have had to face are managing all your social media! That’s tough!

What are the challenges involved in exhibiting your work? And costs involved?

One of the challenges is the costs for: travel, exhibition space, and accommodation and production for work too. The most difficult part is in knowing that there is no guarantee that the exhibition will benefit your business so potentially it could be a waste of money but you do these shows to discover where your work fits in the market.

The competition is huge, there are thousands of artist and designers around the world but I differentiate myself by telling my own story in my own way because no one can do that any better than me!  It is seen and lived through my eyes and I will continue to share this through my work beautifully.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s