Every Chair Tells a Story

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By Dwell and Iain Aitch
Designer Yinka Ilori narrates his personal experience by creating upcycled chairs.

Street-corner finds are the starting place for the upcycled chairs of designer Yinka Ilori, who takes each object’s past with his personal narrative. Drawing inspiration from parables passed down from his Nigerian parents, Ilori, 29, often decorates his work with the distinctive Dutch Wax batik–print fabrics that are closely associated with Nigerian design despite their European origins.

Every Chair Tells a Story - Photo 1 of 5 - The A Trapped Star chair by Yinka Ilori was inspired by a Nigerian tale of a boy who worries he won't succeed. 

The A Trapped Star chair by Yinka Ilori was inspired by a Nigerian tale of a boy who worries he won't succeed. 

Every Chair Tells a Story - Photo 2 of 5 - Captain Hook by Yinka Ilori.

Captain Hook by Yinka Ilori.

Every Chair Tells a Story - Photo 3 of 5 - Flower Bomb by Yinka Illori.

Flower Bomb by Yinka Illori.

"There’s a huge market for this fabric, and it’s mainly bought by people who are from Ghana and Nigeria. It’s interesting how we know that it’s not made in Nigeria, but we use it as an identity," Ilori says. "I love being British and I also love being Nigerian. Understanding those two narratives is what makes them so interesting."

Every Chair Tells a Story - Photo 4 of 5 - Chairs from Yinka Ilori's collection If Chairs Could Talk.

Chairs from Yinka Ilori's collection If Chairs Could Talk.

Ilori passes on his enthusiasm for chairs via workshops in his studio, giving (often first-time) chair-makers upcycling assignments based on Nigerian parables, all set to the beat of a live drummer. "I love chairs and how they bring people together," Ilori says. "You’re at a party or you go to a church—these are all communal places where people engage, sit down, and feel they’re part of a community. They’re part of a culture or an experience, and that’s what I love."  

Every Chair Tells a Story - Photo 5 of 5 -