Throughout his career, designer and artist Yinka Ilori has revelled in the joy of colour. Last year, he shared his passion with a series of community projects dotted around the country, sharing uplifting messages and mood-boosting designs. And now, the designer has turned his attention to the world of interiors, with a limited-edition 20-piece homeware collection that includes Tibetan rugs, prints, stoneware bowls and tablecloths. Here, we speak to the designer about his love of London, inspirations and what’s coming next.
Over the last year, Yinka Ilori’s eye-catching messages have spread joy and positivity across London and beyond in an explosion of colour, pattern and energy. The phrases ‘Better Days are Coming I Promise’, ‘As Long As We Have Each Other We’ll Be OK’, ‘Love Always Wins’ and ‘If You Can Dream Then Anything Is Possible’ appeared on buildings throughout the capital and were shown on hundreds of digital billboards nationwide, in an attempt to raise people’s spirits during testing times.
With a BA in Furniture and Product Design from London Metropolitan University, Ilori had an eight-year stint at Marks & Spencer in Moorgate (‘I remember being on the till dreaming about having my own business’), before forming his own studio in 2017. His joy-inducing works quickly started making waves in the design world and went on to land him the prestigious Emerging Design prize at last year’s London Design Festival. But after working with clients from Somerset House and Dulwich Picture Gallery – you couldn’t miss his striking 10 metre high Colour Palace in the gardens there over the summer of 2019 – to Adidas, Universal Music and Pinterest, the designer’s focus shifted to more public-facing projects, hence the recent installations across the city, including a ‘Love Always Wins’ mural for Harrow City Council, designed to inspire his fellow Londoners.
‘I wanted to uplift people’s spirits and create hope – lockdown tested our sense of self-worth, and we all needed a reminder of who we were and that we could still dream,’ Yinka tells us from his North London studio. ‘I love poetry, I love wordplay and I love that words have the power to change feelings or a mindset.’
Yinka’s unapologetic use of colour and the narrative which is woven into his work stems from his Nigerian heritage and experience growing up in Islington’s Ashby House council estate. ‘Understanding my parents’ story of leaving their home country and seeing them celebrate their culture through colour, textiles and clothes really left its mark on me, and I inject that into my work,’ he explains. ‘My childhood in a huge estate full of people from different cultures had a really positive effect on me and how I think and design. I really value community projects because I grew up in a community.’
Yinka’s work is celebratory, and its optimism is just as easily harnessed from his building-sized installations than from a single mug or plate from his new homeware collection.
Born out of the cancellation of planned projects lockdown wrought, the joyful pieces have been snapped up by the likes of Matches Fashion and Selfridges (‘that was weird because I’ve been going there since I was a kid’) and taken to America by Moda Operandi. ‘I wanted the homeware to trigger flashes of positivity,’ he explains. ‘When there’s a dark or low moment, hopefully it will raise a smile’.
The first range spans hand thrown ceramics, shapely enamelware and woven tea towels and tablecloths, all adorned with sunshine tones and bold forms that speak of happiness. Narrative is embedded into the patterns with simplified motifs – the Omi design for example, seen across trays, rugs and cushions, references the waves and rum barrels that historically flowed up the Thames into London’s Royal Docks from the Caribbean. ‘I like to have small hidden messages within the patterns to give my designs meaning, context and depth,’ Yinka explains. ‘There’s an emotion and memory in the work – every interior should have an element of storytelling.’
What’s next? An experiential Afrofuture pop up shop in (probably) East London, projects around London Design Festival and Frieze, lots of murals, installations and collaborations, more homeware and a footwear collection. He promised better days were coming, and it looks like he was right.