Congratulations! You just had your first solo show in London “It started with a parable”. You really have taken up-cycling to another level and your recent works are more like sculptures to me. How do you feel about the way your work develops? Thanks! It has been an amazing experience to have the opportunity to have my own first solo show, I mean its been something I have been wanting to do for a long time and to see it before my eyes has made me believe that anything is possible when you put your mind too it. Yes, people have also said that my works are more like sculptures and art, I mean that’s interesting and nice that my work can fit into different types of mediums. It’s great that my work can touch people in different ways. My work continues to change depending on the types of parables that I select to work with, its in my best interest to use these parables as a way of communicating my thoughts out loud, so hopefully people can be able to relate to these parables and my way of working in terms of what I do and why I work this way. I really want people to be able to take something away from my work, so that they can share it with other people.

When I first saw your work, Yinka Shonibare came to my mind. Both of you are amazing storytellers. When did you start to get interested in Nigerian parables? Yes, Yinka Shonibare’s work is very inspirational. I got interested in Nigerian parables from an early age, because my parents used to tell them to brother, my sister, and me all the time when we had done something good or bad. I never really understood the power of Nigerian parables, but as I got older and a lot wiser, I started to understand how powerful, yet humorous Nigerian parables can be and that’s when I started using them in my work because I knew the impact these parables would have on my work, if I used them the right way. To be honest, I have always been interested in my culture to the extent I can speak Yoruba fluently, I taught myself how to speak Yoruba. I thank my parents for making sure they kept me in touch with my culture, which meant taking us to Nigerian whenever they could afford to do so and speaking Yoruba to us most of the times. You may think I am crazy, but I am trying to learn my mothers dialect from Ondo state, I really think the Ondo state dialect is beautiful, really cant wait to speak it fluently.


Chair’s Name: Oba Kekere … Àgbá òfìfo ló ńpariwo, èyí tó lómi nínú kì í dún. / It’s empty vessels that are noisy, those filled with water are not. (Yoruba Proverb)


Lately you are giving Yoruba names to your work. What is your favourite Yoruba proverb? I just love the way they look and sound! My favourite Yoruba proverb is Tí ẹ̀dá bá mọ iṣẹ́ àṣelà ni, ìwọ̀nba ni làálàá máa mọ./If man knows for sure what his destined path to success is, he will hustle less. To be honest, I love them all. My love for the parables changes from time to time, depending on how I am feeling on the day, but I use this parable daily, its a good way to start the day. You should try it too.

You are known for your colourful chairs and the use of African fabrics, namely Ankara. Why did you choose to work with Ankara in the first place?  I choose to work with Ankara fabrics, because it reflects my identity and heritage.  Using these fabrics brings my work to life and adds credibility to the story, that I am telling through the Yoruba parables. I really love colour, that’s something I have never been afraid of. I mean, please name me one African, who is or can be afraid of colour? I mean colour is Africa’s heritage and we are known for colourful fabrics that reflect our identities, so using bold colours and bold fabrics to me is something I love and utterly enjoy about my process of up-cycling, it’s so exciting. If I weren’t a furniture designer I would have loved to be a textile buyer, who knows I may have a change of career… NOT! Only joking.


"Àtùpà kì í níyì lọ́ọ̀sán. / A lamp is not valued in the afternoons. [There's always a right time...] #yoruba #proverb"

Chair’s Name: Ewa … Àtùpà kì í níyì lọ́ọ̀sán. / A lamp is not valued in the afternoons. (Yoruba Proverb)


You graduated from London Metropolitan University in Furniture and Product Design. When did you start to up-cycle? And what was the name of your first piece? I started to up-cycle about three years ago and the first chair that I up-cycled was called Two-Become-1. It was a really cool chair; you need to see the pictures! I called it Two-become-1, because I used two chairs to make one chair. It was the best experience of up-cycling and that’s where I fell in love with the whole concept, but was determined to take it to the next level and that’s what I did over the years.

It seems as if you are in love with chairs. How come? I just love the way a chair has so many stories, because you just don’t know who has sat on them. It’s amazing, how chairs can create the most interesting conversations bringing people together.


Chair’s Name: Osumare … Bí a ti ńṣe ní’bi kan èèwọ̀ ibòmíràn ni. / What is acceptable in one place is an abomination in another. (Yoruba Proverb)


Why did you stick to up-cycling? Is designing your own line of furniture an option in the near future? I stuck to up-cycling, because I love the story each piece of furniture holds. It’s amazing, being able to give old furniture an additional story with a mesh of traditional Nigerian parables, is what makes up-cycling so powerful, at the same time challenging the way people immediately see and interpret furniture.  I did start designing my own line of furniture to start out with, but didn’t enjoy it as much as I did with up-cycling; it’s so exciting to find out a chairs story! If you didn’t know, I have designed tables and for my major project I designed a wardrobe that was called ‚Welcoming Wardrobe‚. It was exhibited in London at the new Designers trade show, which was my first ever trade show graduating from university.

Lately you have been offering workshops for people interested in up-cycling. What do you enjoy about it? Yes, I have indeed and it’s been such a great success. I will be holding more soon, so please get in early, spaces filled up very quickly in the first one!  I enjoyed the fact, that I give people an insight into my work and why I use Nigerian parables to tell stories through furniture. I also enjoyed the opportunity to challenge people’s way of working against mine and it worked great, because the works that my students produced were beyond what I expected. It was phenomenal: Last week was their graduation party! I am so proud of them all. I mean the workshops were not easy. It involved a lot of thought, all students had to select parables, that I had carefully selected for them and tell me a story through the chair, using the parables that they selected.

Tell us more about your future plans. 2013 has been quite busy for you, what are you expecting for the time to come? Yes, 2013 has been busy indeed and the work doesn’t stop here! 2014 looks like its going to be even busier and I will be starting the New Year in January with my first very own Pop Shop, details will be posted up on my website very soon, so please stay tuned, would be good to see you at the launch party.



See more of Yinka Ilori’s work here:

Credits: Portrait of Yinka Ilori by Lucas Sage, Chairs by Pierrick Mouton and co-styled by Yinka Ilori