These art chairs are a celebration of Nigerian culture


Tosin Oshinowo lifestyle furniture brand, Ilé Ilà, started out as an experiment – and like many experiments, it failed on the first attempt. In 2012, when Tosin had just started his architectural practice, CM Design Workshop, and was helping a client design the interior of her home, she stumbled upon the concept of using materials and fabrics like aso-oke, a hand-woven fabric that is popular in the Yoruba culture of Nigeria, for upholstering a chair. Aso-oke is generally bright and usually worn on special occasions. Tosin designed his first chair by draping several aso-oke fabrics over a plain chair – to see if they matched – and working closely with carpenters to tailor the fabrics. After making this chair, which the customer obviously loved, Tosin went on to make 10 more, but they gave away most of them because they weren’t selling.

It was only after having conceived Maryland Mall in Lagos that she decided to try the chairs again in 2017. With the encouragement of a friend, Tosin created Ilé Ilà, which translates to “House of lines” in Yoruba. The Ilé Ilà chairs, which sell for between $ 730 and $ 1,703, continued to be used in buildings esteemed as Ebonylife Place and were seated on eminent personalities, including the French President Emmanuel Macron and Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, among others.

The Line chair in white dove.

Photo: Kene Nwatu

Tosin remembers how the chairs were like “a burst of culture and bright colors, and people resonated with them because no one was doing something specifically like that.” As she explains, “[Nigerians] grow up with the idea that chairs made from locally sourced clothing materials are traditional and only appeal to older people. And then all of a sudden it’s placed in a young urban context, and it’s something that people can use.

Her design style is very minimalist, an approach she adopted while studying at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London from 2003 to 2004. Although she has a personal preference for designs that have a Clean and modernist form, Tosin’s cultural education in Nigeria draws her to flamboyant, colorful and exaggerated designs. From now on, Ilé Ilà offers an entrance to combine the two aesthetics. For Tosin, the use of aso-oke, tie-dye and African wax prints allows her to translate the decades-long history of the clothing materials she uses through a modernist lens, thus ensuring that her works carry a touch of its history and culture around.

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