LDF 2017: Yinka Ilori and Restoration Station transform used furniture for LDF

Yinka Ilori has teamed up with social enterprise Restoration Station to transform secondhand furniture with people recovering from addiction

Designs created by trainees at Restoration Station. Trainees worked with Yinka Ilori to transform chairs in a series of workshops. Image: Dan Weill

Restoration Station is a social enterprise run by Spitalfields Crypt Trust – a charity that provides accommodation, counselling and training programmes for people recovering from addiction.

The initiative is based in a workshop in Shoreditch and provides wood working training for people in recovery. Trainees learn how to restore vintage furniture – including toys, sideboards and tools – and items are sold off on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays when the workshop is open to the public. Restoration Station also works on commissions and has restored furniture for cafes, shops and restaurants.

For London Design Festival, trainees have worked with designer Yinka Ilori to create a set of colourful chairs. Chairs will be on display at the shop on Shoreditch High Street from September 16 to 24 and are also available to buy. Proceeds will go towards the charity – which receives no government funding and relies on donations and support from volunteers.

Photographs by Dan Weill

Ilori ran a series of workshops where trainees were invited to select a chair and transform it using colourful paints. Each person was encouraged to think up a narrative – whether the story of that chair or their own experiences – and use it to create a pattern or design.

Trainees are used to working with more neutral shades – they usually restore vintage items to their original condition – but Ilori asked people to pick a chair they felt drawn to and colours that made them feel happy. Chairs are designed to make people smile – “that positive energy was really important to me in this project,” says Ilori. “When you see a bright colour, or the sun is shining, it just makes you feel happy, and I wanted [to see trainees] incorporate that happiness into a piece of furniture,” he explains.

Colour is central to Ilori’s own work. His parents are Nigerian but he grew up in London and he is drawn to colours that remind him of Nigerian house parties he attended as a child. His furniture designs and installations are often inspired by Nigerian parables and African fabrics and each of his pieces has a name and a narrative.

Ilori was introduced to Restoration Station through Zetteler Creative Publicity – which works with Restoration Station – and says he “fell in love with the project”. He is passionate about giving used furniture “a second chance” – his own designs are created using found items, often found in skips or rubbish dumps – and was keen to help an organisation devoted to giving people a fresh start.

Rhys Pritchard, manager at Restoration Station, says the enterprise has helped many people go on to secure jobs and start a new life after recovering from addiction.

“The idea is to boost their recovery, and put them in an environment which they might not have experienced in a while: working with a team of people being creative and productive, having an obligation to be somewhere at 9am … that kind of shared life that is quite hard to come by if you haven’t been in work or education or volunteering for a while, or if you’ve perhaps been socialising with a group of people who aren’t good for your health,” he explains.

The organisation has been running for over three years now and the charity has received donations of Arne Jacobsen chairs as well as furniture by Vitra and Ercol.

Pritchard says he has been overwhelmed by people’s generosity: “We’ve gone from having to go and buy things from various outlets to being fairly self-sufficient in terms of stock,” he says. “We get a lot of people giving us something because they haven’t got room for it now, but they don’t want to just give it away to somewhere where it might not be loved or appreciated. With Restoration Station, people know that [trainees] will restore it to its best and that it will contribute to helping people.”

Photographs by Dan Weill

Restoration Station can now accommodate up to seven trainees at a time on a 12-month programme. Many of the people who attend the course are residents at Spitalfields Crypt Trust, which provides accommodation for as long as people need to get back on their feet. As well as restoring furniture, trainees learn a range of business and life skills – from dealing with customers to organising collections and deliveries and even managing social media.

“It’s also about setting targets, feeling a sense of achievement, learning patience and how to cope with pressure … my perception before I got involved in this was, ‘that’s great, people learn to restore furniture and they can go on to work as a furniture restorer or a carpenter’ – but there are a whole load of other things going on behind that that are really essential to helping you progress in your life and feel better about yourself as a person,” he explains.

SCT provides education and careers advice for all trainees and helps them secure placements and apply for college courses. One former trainee has gone on to do a plumbing course while another is volunteering at Tate Modern. Trainees also feel a sense of achievement and pride from creating something and restoring an item to its former condition.

Selling furniture through Restoration Station provides some much-needed funding for Spitalfields Crypt Trust and Pritchard says working with Ilori has “re-energised the workshop in a way we couldn’t really predict”.

“The first time you see Yinka’s work it just makes you feel happy, it exudes this joy,” he adds. “The feedback [from the project] has been brilliant – everyone was enthused and focused and keen to do more.”

Photographs by Dan Weill

Find out more about Restoration Station at sct.org.uk/restoration-station. You can see more of Yinka Ilori’s work at yinkailori.com. Chairs are on display at 118 Shoreditch Street from September 16 to 24 – see londondesignfestival.com for details.

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