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Designer, Yinka Ilori.
15th August 2017

Restoration Station: An Interview with Yinka Ilori

There is a line-up of broken chairs currently stood in Zetteler’s office. One has a wonky leg, two are lacking any sort of seat, and all three could do with a lick of paint. Lucky they’re on their way to Restoration Station

This London Design Festival marks a collaboration between non-profit social enterprise Restoration Station and designer Yinka Ilori. Restoration Station’s collaboration with Ilori will see the designer working with the programme’s participants to teach them his craft. Following a day-long workshop, in which volunteers will restore pieces of furniture under Ilori’s guidance, the collection will go on sale in Restoration Station’s shop throughout the festival. 

You get a pretty good deal buying a piece from the collection: not only are you supporting the long-term recovery of people battling addiction, but you’re also snapping up Yinka Ilori’s distinctive aesthetic as the pieces will be on sale at social enterprise Restoration Station in Shoreditch. 

Restoration Station was founded in 2014 and runs workshops for people recovering from addiction that equips them with valuable skills in woodwork and furniture restoration. The initiative was founded with a belief in the restorative value of learning new skills and therefore Ilori won’t be making the furniture himself, but instead directing the overall aesthetic of the collection. 

Much like Restoration Station, Ilori specialises in the upcycling of furniture; reviving discarded pieces into contemporary designs through the use of vibrant colours and patterns that resemble traditional Nigerian ensembles. Ilori’s socially conscious approach is no coincidence. It was his concerns about the monumental amount of unnecessary waste produced by consumer culture in both Europe and west Africa that drove him to specialise in reusing discarded furniture and other found objects.

With London Design Festival fast approaching, we caught up with Ilori to find out more about the collaboration... 
If Chairs Could Talk, Yinka Ilori.
What appealed to you about working with Restoration Station and its volunteers? 

The way that Restoration Station gives its volunteers the opportunity to have a second chance really stood out. Without judgement, Restoration Stations offers a welcoming, family atmosphere. They invest so much into their volunteers and through the workshops they arm them with a valuable skill set that they can use for the rest of their lives.

You’ve built up a successful business upcycling furniture. Put in your shoes, a lot of people would want to keep their process a secret. What made you so willing to share your process with volunteers? 

In life – whether you are a doctor, lawyer, architect or artist – everyone learns their skills or trade from someone else’s wisdom and experience. My work has been inspired by lots of different people along the way and I strongly feel that knowledge is there to be shared. I want the next generation of creatives to be inspired. The great thing about upcycling furniture is that everyone interprets things differently, so I don’t think that any two people could come up with the same result even if they tried.

Have you done anything like this before, both in terms of contributing to a social initiative and teaching your craft? 

Last year, I had an amazing opportunity to work with a group of school kids at the Milton Keynes Arts Centre. Over the course of 10 weeks I ran upcycling workshops with that children and at the end we put on an exhibition. The best part about it was seeing these kids coming out of their shells during the process, growing in confidence, and seeing how proud their parents were stepping into the Arts Centre on the opening night.
Yinka Ilori at the Restoration Station workshop
Can you tell us a little about the intended format of the workshops? 

The volunteers will select an item of furniture from the donated pieces and the idea is for them to use colour as a catalyst to tell their stories. The workshops won’t follow a set format: when volunteers are in my studio I like the making process to be as organic as possible. Any “mistake” that they make in the process could end up being the most powerful part of their narrative. 
Detail, Yinka Ilori 2016
How many workshops will there be? 

There will be two workshops but it will run over the course of a full day.

How does your aesthetic complement Restoration Station’s existing style? Or, will the collection will bring something completely new?

This collection will bring something new to the mix, we’re going to be using a lot of colour to shake things up.

There is the argument that the best contribution you can make to charities and social initiative is time. Why was it so important to invest time in Restoration Station and work with volunteers? Playing devil's advocate, it would have been far easier to donate some of your pieces to be sold… 

That’s exactly how I feel: time and direct contact with people is far more valuable than throwing money (or furniture) at an initiative. I am sure that this experience will teach me as much as it will the volunteers and I am really grateful for that. I have always wanted to participate in a social initiative and having grown up in an area where people have been in similar positions to that of Restoration Station volunteers, and have not been given a second chance, this project is close to my heart. When you’re young you feel helpless in these situations but now, all these years later, having the opportunity to give back and share my knowledge and experience means a lot.
Yinka Ilori. Photography by Andy Stagg
Want to know more about Restoration Station? Read our interview with Restoration Station's Recovery Hub Manager Sheona Alexander here or contact Katie (katie@zetteler.co.uk).

Visit Restoration Station on 118 Shoreditch High St from 16 – 24 September during the London Design Festival. 

Restoration Station isn't just for the London Design Festival, you can visit year round! Opening times are: Thursday 12:30-8, Friday 9:30-5 & Sunday 10:30-5:30. 

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