Designer Yinka Ilori Wants to Bring Joy to Work

Through colorful designs like his new collection produced with textiles and wallcoverings brand Momentum, the London-based designer hopes to unleash our creative potential in the office.

It can’t be hard for Yinka Ilori to persuade his team to come to work. His west London studio—created in collaboration with architect Sam Jacob in 2022—is a joyful space, rich with the kinds of vibrant candy-floss colors he’s known for. A large table at the center, overlooked by a display of his furniture, doubles as a space for communal lunching and hosting guests. Nearby, a gentle translucent curtain gives partial privacy to an office flanked by storage units on which objects and books are neatly placed as decoration.

“We spend a lot of time at work—it’s a huge part of our lives,” the multidisciplinary designer and artist says. “The workplace should be a place where you feel happy and make memories, because it can be quite a tough environment. When I come into my studio, I always want to leave with a feeling of optimism.”

“Color is such a personal thing, and hopefully I’ve offered something for everyone.”
In his London-based studio, Yinka Ilori draws on his British-Nigerian heritage to create vibrant works of art, furniture, and spaces. His studio of self-proclaimed “color-obsessed” architects and designers bring joy and accessibility into every project they create. Opposite: A wallcovering called Shifting Motions and textiles called Dream Catchers and Eyes in Reflection from Ilori’s Momentum Collection.
Ilori’s collection for Momentum includes five patterns: Dream Catchers, Eyes in Reflection, Shower Me With Flowers, Blossoms in Time, and Silica Rhythms Surround You.

It’s certainly food for thought: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have realized that we could work just as easily from home as in the office, and it’s now incumbent on employers who disagree to convince us otherwise. Transforming workplaces into appealing environments is essential to this—which is why Ilori’s first collection of textiles and wallcoverings designed specifically for commercial spaces feels timely.

An inspiring workplace is certainly not a given, even for creative businesses. Yinka Ilori is often struck by this when visiting the studios of architecture firms in London, with their gray walls, black chairs, and white tabletops: “I’m always like, ‘Wow, how do you guys work in this space?’ Everyone has to exercise a level of creativity, and if a circle or orange wall can spark that, it would really change the way we work.”

A New Circular Collection Debuting at NeoCon

The new collection, produced with the textiles and wallcoverings brand Momentum using all healthy or circular materials, will launch at the NeoCon contract furnishings show in Chicago in June—an explosion of bright colors, geometric patterns, and natural motifs. Names like Dreamcatcher are in keeping with Ilori’s desire to evoke good feelings in unexpected contexts. “The idea of dreaming at work struck a chord with me—we do that a lot, whether it’s thinking about our next project or our next holiday. For me, this is about trying to inspire dreamers.” Along with his trademark yellows, oranges, and blues, he has incorporated softer tones—whites and grays. “Color is such a personal thing, and hopefully I’ve offered something for everyone.”

It’s certainly personal for Yinka Ilori himself: His love of color was inspired by his family, who came to the U.K. from Nigeria. “My parents were happiest when they were wearing colors to special occasions,” he says. “My dad recently gave me a school report from when I was 8 or 9, which says, ‘Yinka has a great use of color, and enjoys drawing snails and mushrooms.’ ”

Having found this creative spark early, Ilori went on to study furniture and product design at London Metropolitan University. After graduating in 2009, he worked for the furniture and lighting designer Lee Broom, with whom he found his feet in the design industry. But he already felt like something was missing. “I didn’t see a lot of conversation about culture, heritage, dual nationality, or storytelling that I could connect with,” he observes.

A visit to Lagos shortly after graduating had solidified these thoughts. “Everything made sense to me on that trip—I was like, ‘Wow, this is who I am, this is what I want to talk about in my work.’ ” He has since become known for work that draws on his cultural heritage—taking inspiration from Nigerian textiles and Lagos life to convey his own feelings and the things that bring him joy. One of his most eye-catching projects to date was the Colour Palace pavilion, created in 2019 in the gardens of south London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery—a celebration of multicultural London that sat in glorious contrast to the early-1800s building by architect John Soane.

Ilori’s latest collection doesn’t just brighten up a room, but also employs healthier material choices for the planet. The Blossoms in Time line (upholstered on the pouf) features 100 percent Repreve postconsumer recycled polyester.
His wallcoverings Moving Mountains, Shifting Motions, and Rhythms Surround You are all PVC-free Type II.

Yinka Ilori has since had a meteoric rise, working around the world and moving from furniture and homeware to collaborating with the likes of drinks brand Courvoisier, as well as creating playgrounds, skate parks, public installations, typographic posters, and regular pop-up shops. Now that he jumps so easily between disciplines, he has given up worrying about being labeled: “If you feel connected to my work, whether it’s a chair or a painting, that’s enough for me.” 

It’s not hard to see why he names the late Virgil Abloh as an inspiration for his ability to turn his hand to any creative discipline, from architecture to fashion to music. Yinka Ilori has recently been exploring ideas with a ballet company—he has loved the art form since seeing Swan Lake as a child—and is intrigued by the possibilities of bringing together dance, music, architecture, and costumes. 

Yinka Ilori Continues to Evolve his Design Purpose

Thematically, he feels he’s moving beyond his earlier focus on identity and heritage to a more expansive interest in human well-being: A film he’s working on for Chicago’s digital public art project ART on THE MART, for example, will explore “themes of unity, peace, nature, and spirituality.” He explains, “I’m always trying to find a different purpose, and I think I’m finally finding it. We’re always going to need peace.” 

It’s hard to imagine that his own working life has always been peaceful, given how in-demand he is. Ilori says he has learned to be more selective about the projects he takes on now and to prioritize those that give him creative freedom, rather than being led by the vision of those who commission him. “I feel very confident within myself now and the work I do,” he says. 

Ultimately it’s that sense of contentment and positivity he hopes to instill in others. A large-scale public installation in London created during the pandemic in 2020—adorned with the words “Better days are coming, I promise”—is a particularly poignant example of his intentions and the impact he knows he can have. “When people look at my work, they say they feel hopeful,” he notes. “The biggest thing for me is to remind people that your dreams are valid and important, and if you keep holding on to them you can achieve them.” 

Would you like to comment on this article? Send your thoughts to: [email protected]