In the Studio with Furniture Dealer and Restorer Tola Adefioye

In the Studio with Furniture Dealer and Restorer Tola Adefioye

Tola Adefioye’s furniture restoration studio, Old Old Woods, is more of a concrete garage than a light-filled aery, but that’s ok with Adefioye so long as he’s surrounded by the objects he lovingly repairs and occasionally resells. “I am very, very selfish,” he says with a mischievous grin. “Everything in my studio is something I wanted myself.” There’s something about the grain and texture of the wood, “a very forgiving material,” that hypnotizes him—especially when he’s been at it with a sander for a while. When Adefioye is really in the groove (Vivaldi on blast), he will stay the night. A blowup mattress is hidden beneath a cluttered desk, and some mint tea and biscuits will serve as breakfast. It’s all worth it in the service of restoring the lost luster of a beautiful piece of furniture.

In addition to being the proprietor and sole employee of Old Old Woods, Adefioye, 37, works as a biomedical scientist at Imperial College Hospital, where he spends his days staring at cell cultures through a microscope. Raised in Hackney and Lagos, Adefioye has always been comfortable inhabiting multiple worlds—science and art, Nigeria and the UK, Radiohead and Drill. What began as a hobby in 2015 has slowly become a nights and weekends business, with his furniture highly sought-after among collectors and interior designers in London and beyond.

Drake’s caught up with Adefioye at his Deptford studio, which, he admitted, looked more like a storage space at the moment than a proper workshop. He’d been on a buying spree lately, and there were so many pieces he loved but couldn’t bear to part with. A blue, tubular Ekstrem lounge chair sat on top of a marble coffee table across from a set of well-patinated plywood Ant Chairs by Arne Jacobsen. Hanging from a hook on a wall was a mysterious metal hairpin number whose seat and back were constructed from a strip of black rubber wrapped around the frame, like a mummy. Adefioye had bought the chair at auction “for peanuts” because he’d been attracted to its unusual look, and then discovered it was made by the famed British industrial designer Tom Dixon. These strokes of good fortune seem to be typical for Adefioye; he doesn’t hunt for treasures so much as let the gravity of the universe bring them to him. And then he gets to work.

Drake's: Tell me a little bit about the genesis of Old Old Woods.

I was working in a lab at St. George's. My specialty is in tropical diseases. A patient came overnight with symptoms of malaria but it didn’t show on the test, so I missed a diagnosis. I was shaken by the fact that I missed this. I needed some kind of break, something to pacify and placate me. So I went to a few furniture restoration courses in London Bridge. Everything that I wanted to learn: the veneer, staining, making pieces that were missing. I think restoring furniture was a turning point for me, like the studio was my safe space in a sense. Sanding a table is like a repetitive mantra, a physical one. So if I spent two weeks restoring a table, it was like I was restoring my mind.

Where did your love of furniture come from?

I think it was kind of a natural thing. I was born here in the UK but lived back home in Nigeria for seven years. There's a cultural thing back home where kids sat on the floor while the adults perched on higher, comfortable furniture. It was like: “You kids can mess up the floor all you like but not my lovely imported furniture,” so maybe, subconsciously, I just wanted to sit at the high table. But also my friend, Mish, a brilliant photographer, lived in Denmark, and I’d visit him. I realized they don't have much space, but the furniture they had was practical and beautiful—secretly beautiful. And it grew from there.

How did you develop your taste in furniture? Because you seem to have amassed a really nice collection here. There’s mid-century Scandi, but also Italian post-modern, British ...

My taste is all over the place, art deco, contemporary, Bauhaus, minimalism. I'm influenced by many things, architecture, culture, stuff in museums, movies, etc. I remember watching American Gigolo and Gattaca and thinking “These interior concepts are mad.” Right now, I like simple lines and comfortable stuff. My girlfriend and I are renovating, and I’m realizing comfort comes first. If I were to name names, George Nelson is big for me. The Nelson lamp is a classic. Wagner's another one. I had a Tobia Scarpa chair I got from the Diesel store, where I used to work. Probably we shouldn't say that, because they might want it back now. They were gonna throw this chair out. It needed some work on the arms, but I got it, restored it. Then I found out that it was worth two grand. Seriously, people were going to throw this away?

I'm curious why you've decided to keep Old Old Woods as a part-time thing?

The funny thing is, I still enjoy my job. And I don't come from a business background. If you ask me the prices, I'll have no clue. Even though it's a business now, that’s never been the premise. In the future, I’d like to do an open work space where people can come in, and bring whatever they want—a table, a chair—and then come and talk to me. You can just fix whatever you want to fix.

Like a community space?

Exactly.

What does your family think about you spending all this time in the workshop?

They are all supportive! I'm only in the workshop three times a week now, so it's not as bad as the beginning when it was like almost six times a week. All Nigerian parents want their kids to be doctors, lawyers and accountants etc, so me telling my mum I wanted to fix and deal mid-century furniture was met with resistance. She kept saying “You read all those biology books and now you want to fix and sell second hand furniture?!” But those BBC antique shows have brought her around now. Mid-century design is something people get or they don't. To an inexperienced eye, everything looks similar to something you can get for cheap at a box store. It’s all so disposable, like “I'm going to throw this away and get something new.” Where's that going?

In the tip, I suppose.

I like something that has patina, something that's from 1952 or 62, and still functions, is still solid and stable. This is a credit to the maker, not just the designer.

After doing this for six years, when you’re at auctions or looking on eBay, are you searching for certain styles or designers—what you think people will want—or do you trust your gut?

I trust my gut. I've had this Mario Bellini lamp in my workshop for almost a year. And that's trending now. Some people are like, “I must get this because it's trending.” I'm happy to have it there because I like it, personally. It's a little plastic thing. I didn't know what it was, but I thought it was beautiful. I think once I start worrying about what I should get to keep people interested, then it won't be as fun anymore. And so far that feeling is doing well. Think of OOW as a small open house, maybe a small room in a flat that might just have what you are looking for.