Interior designer Yinka Ilori explains the secrets of using bold colors in relaxing decor schemes

If there’s one person we turn to here on Livingetc for color advice, it’s Yinka Ilori. The British designer is known for his vibrant yellows, burnt oranges, hot pinks and deep blues.

But that’s not to say he likes maximalism for it’s sake, and actually his take on interior design is about the push and the pull, finding subtleties to use against stronger hues. That’s what makes it all so interesting and rich and layered.

Yinka is now an award-winning designer, but he started his career making chairs that he found in containers ten years ago. He has gone on to create some of the greatest installations and brightest products of his generation. A major exhibition of his work will be launched this month at the Design Museum, as part of the London Design Festival.

Ilori .  to do

Credit: Yinka Ilori

Soft colors are key. You have to use them to separate the bolder ones to let them breathe. I like orange and pink together, but they would make a lot of noise if you used that alone!

Ilori . to do

On using color in design to bring people together

Pip Rich: Since we last spoke, it seems like you’ve gone stratospheric! It was only last month that you met the then Prince Charles. What about your use of color that you feel people are connecting now too?

Ilori . to do: Lockdown put us in a dark, stressful and confused place, and now I think people got a new life. They want to create new experiences, feel hope and empowerment, and that’s what my work is about. The use of bright colors speaks of joy and love, and is so uplifting. It promotes the coming together of people.

PR: I see a real desire for design to help us forge connections now, but my take on it is quite literal – placement of chairs that promote conversation, for example. How do you think color does this?

TO DO: There is an element of humor in the way I design. From the flamingos I used to design the public playground I created in Dagenham to the typography and bright sunshine I use in my products, making people smile helps them make memories that will live on in their hearts. Memories made with others are the best way to bond.

flamingo children's playground toys

Credit: Yinka Ilori

About how to create important visual moments

PR: The designer Brigette Romanek told me her theory is that people don’t remember every piece in a room, but they do remember how they felt, so the mood of a decor is more important than the furniture you’ve used.

TO DO: Yes – when furnishing a room your starting point should be ‘what’s the takeaway going to be?’ It can be a color, a texture, a word – or a flamingo! – , but if you know what the key moment will be, you can create a real design story.

PR: While your style is associated with a liberal use of bright hues, it’s actually the neutrals that stand out to me – the lavender stripe next to the orange and pink is the silent hero that makes the stronger hues scream.

TO DO: Soft colors are the key! You have to use them to separate the bolder ones to let them breathe. I like orange and pink together, but they would make a lot of noise if you used that alone!

On the calmest bright color palettes to use at home

graphic pink and yellow blanket

The Orun Throw by Yinka Ilori

Credit: Yinka Ilori

PR: Your own house is pretty quiet and I like the color theory you’ve applied to it. Which palettes do you like for very relaxed, soothing, livable spaces?

TO DO: Yes, I assume it is quite quiet in some places. I’m obsessed with green, yellow, and lilac, and I have a chair in the corner of the living room that is currently my favorite spot. I covered it with the Orun throw that looks like the sun, but next to white walls and a green Monstera. I’ll sit here and read and think and relax. That’s it with bright colors – people think they energize but can actually be very relaxing, bringing back memories of a holiday in the sun on the beach when you felt peaceful.

PR: Are there colors you wouldn’t use in a home?

TO DO: I grew up in a residential area in North London and there wasn’t much color around. I tend to stay away from browns and grays and instead look at anything that can offer a moment of escapism. I would definitely say that red is one of the colors to avoid in a bedroom – it can be quite harsh to wake up to. I’d go for some kind of soft yellow or orange – opening your eyes to it in the morning gives you the same feeling as opening the window and letting the sun pour in. Instant joy.

PR: Is joy the theme of what you’re doing for London Design Festival this month?

TO DO: I think so – in the Design Museum I look back on my design process over the past ten years. It’s not a retrospective, but it was wild to see how much I’ve grown. I started making chairs and now I come into contact with people all over the world. What I hope for everyone who comes is that they leave with new ideas for using color, with a smile on their face, and with new memories made.

See more of Yinka Ilori .’s work (opens in new tab).

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