At the core of Restoration Station is the belief that craft and making can help people to recover from addiction, and find a route back into society and self-worth. Yet, despite this moving ethos, the personal narrative of the workshop’s volunteers, who every day apply the conventions and techniques of carpentry to return furniture to its former glory, leaves no trace in the final work.

Eschewing former glory in favour of unique furniture, designer Yinka Ilori has collaborated with the London social enterprise on a heartening project for the London Design Festival. The collaboration marks a significant change in the workshop’s practice: With Ilori’s help, the volunteers not only fixed the broken furniture but transformed it into something entirely different by channeling their personalities into the pieces.

In two workshops, the volunteers each selected an item of furniture and used colour "as a catalyst to tell their stories". The format was open and organic, allowing volunteers express themselves in their own way. "Any 'mistake' that they make in the process could end up being the most powerful part of their narrative," explains the London-based Nigerian designer renowned for his distinctive approach to upcycling.

Using vibrant, contrasting colours and patterns reminiscent of African print designs, Ilori turns old chairs into expressions of personal stories. Through the workshops, an unexpected social dimension to his work revealed itself. The act of restoring furniture in an expressive way encouraged volunteers to consider both craft and personal 'mistakes' in a more positive way, while the opportunity to sell the furniture through the London Design Festival is one step closer towards changing the stigma around addiction. Says Ilori:

"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 result is a collection that references the lives of Restoration Station’s team of volunteers – people in long-term recovery who are developing their skills, building their confidence and increasing their prospects of finding meaningful employment in the future. The money made from sales will be reinvested in the initiative.

Wouldn't it just have been easier to donate money? No, explains Ilori:

"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."

Restoration Station x Yinka Ilori from Zetteler Films on Vimeo.