When Zeev Aram opened his first showroom in 1964, a small, white space on London's Kings Road, he might as well have landed on the moon.
At the time, he recalls, you could buy the odd piece of Eames but generally, the UK was a modern furniture desert. And here was the work of Castiglioni, Breuer, and Le Corbusier, for the first time available to the public to buy and put in their own homes. Looking into that tiny showroom with its open slot cut into the window for mail, was like looking into the future. Zeev would stand outside, listening to the comments of passers-by as they stopped and stared through the glass at the bright, white, stainless steel interior. Most were incredulous. "Who needs this rubbish?" they asked. They called it clinical, and wondered why anyone would want to buy 'hospital furniture'. For 33 year-old Zeev, it was a dream come true. "The important thing is that there was a reaction," he says. "I was afraid people would just walk past." People thought the showroom and its modern furniture were an affront. He even began receiving hate mail. A few months later, Terence Conran opened Habitat further down the road; for the first time, the British consumer had an alternative to chintz. Mary Quant and her mini skirt wasn't the only revolution happening in Chelsea that year.
Fifty years later, Zeev is still excited about his store window. This time however, it is on a much larger scale. Located in the heart of Covent Garden the ARAM store is now the capital's top destination for furniture and product design. "I want to give as wide a range as possible to people wanting top quality design and manufacture, along with excellent service." Now that the British have finally embraced modern design, Zeev intends to give it to them in every size, shape and colour, from his beloved Castiglioni Toio lamp to the brand new prototype by an unknown designer fresh from college.
Zeev's appetite for design is insatiable. If there's something new out there, you can guarantee that he will be the first to know about it. Furniture fairs and student degree shows are like oxygen to him. As a student learning to design furniture and interiors at Central School of Art in the late fifties, he signed up for evening classes five days a week. The same energy and passion took him, after he graduated, to work with Erno Goldfinger, Sir Basil Spence and Andrew Renton, and led him to the Cologne Furniture Fair and onto Milan, where he first met Italy's bright new emerging talent in the early sixties. "Magistretti was a young man," he recalls, "and the Castiglioni brothers were still working together." In 1988, he staged his first annual UK graduate show, which would feature his pick of the best ideas and innovations from around the country, all under one roof. They continued until 1994, but have been resurrected as an all year-round feature in the ARAM store. Zeev's show space on the third floor is designed to be a springboard for new talent, from all areas of the applied arts. There will always be something new to see. "There's no need for a PhD in colour theory, or a professorship in design to recognise good design," he says. "All you need is an intelligent pair of eyes and an open mind."
Zeev closed his Kings Road showroom in 1973, and moved his business to Kean Street in Covent Garden, where he concentrated on his own designs as well as running a very successful contract business supplying architects and interior design groups. But his heart has always been in retail. When the warehouse next door came up for sale in 1999, he knew he had to buy it. "We felt it was the chance of a lifetime - it was now or never," he says.
Although Zeev has sold some of his own designs in the new store, including the glass table he designed in the mid sixties, and which David Hockney immortalised in an oil painting that hangs in the Royal Opera House, he sees the future of the ARAM brand in retailing new and top quality products from many sources. He's as much a curator as a designer. Daniel's business career and Ruth's background as a landscape architect and the creative force behind the successful Ruth Aram Shop in Hampstead, compliment Zeev's uncompromising and passionate eye for innovative design. The multi-talented family even includes an architect - Ruth's husband, David Walker, of Walker & Martin who has designed the building and stripped it back to a raw, industrial space. Between them, the Arams have all the essential ingredients of business sense, commercial know how, and creative flair to take the family business far into the twenty-first century where it has always belonged.
2014 marks Aram's 50th anniversary. Aram is celebrating this momentous milestone with a series of exhibitions and events. These events will pay attention to the history of the company, rejoice in the clients and friends who have contributed to its success, and importantly, look to the future as the company continues to grow.
The first event to be announced is the Aram 50th Anniversary Library, which is open to the public from 8 May. Friends and colleagues of Aram Designs have been invited to nominate a book that has inspired them or had a particular impact on their life/career. The assembled library, including quotes on why each nominator selected their particular book, will be available for members of the public to come and browse at their leisure in the store until the end of 2014. At the end of year the entire collection will be donated to a college or school of design/architecture that would benefit from such a resource. There is also an exhibition from the Aram Designs and Zeev Aram & Associates archives displaying some of the iconic masterpieces of 20th Century design that were first introduced to the UK market by Zeev Aram. In addition we have produced a piece of kinetic art - the Cosmagnetic Multiple by the late Chinese conceptual artist Li Yuan-Chia, who worked for Zeev Aram in the 1960s - some of the proceeds of which will be donated to the LYC Foundation.
All images © Aram Designs Ltd / Paul Raeside 2012
Zeev Aram takes up a place at the Central School of Arts, London, from which he graduated in 1960.
Practical experience following graduation working for Erno Goldfinger, Sir Basil Spence and Andrew Renton & Associates.
Zeev Aram & Associates and Aram Designs Ltd established at 57 Kings Road, Chelsea
Designs by Marcel Breuer, A. and P.G. Castiglioni, and Scarpa are introduced to the UK market. The Dino storage system (designed by Zeev Aram) is also introduced
Designs by Le Corbusier, P. Jeanneret and C. Perriand are introduced to the UK market.
The Altra table systems (designed by Zeev Aram) is introduced to the UK market.
The "Action Office One" from Herman Miller (designed by G. Nelson and R. Props) is introduced to the UK market.
The Atlantic desk (designed by Zeev Aram) is introduced to the UK market.
Aram Designs Ltd moves to larger premises at 3 Kean Street, Covent Garden.
After several years working together, Eileen Gray gives Zeev Aram and Aram Designs Ltd the world licence to introduce, produce and distribute her designs.
Zeev Aram organises and stages Shiro Kuramata's first exhibition in Europe to introduce his designs.
Aram Designs holds the first annual Graduate Show at its Kean Street showroom, with young design graduates (and their designs) selected from approx. 50 colleges throughout the UK.
Aram Designs stages its 23rd anniversary exhibition introducing specially commissioned designs by (amongst others) Peter Blake RA, Norman Foster, Adrian Gale, Piers Gough, Jasper Morrison and Eduardo Paolozzi RA
Aram Designs opens second showroom at 65 Heath Street, Hampstead.
Zeev Aram is made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Art.
Ruth Aram Shop is launched in Hampstead showroom.
Zeev Aram is awarded the Bicentenary Medal by the Royal Society of Arts.
After 10 years spent working for Unilever, Booz Allen & Hamilton, and Kingfisher, Daniel Aram joins Aram Designs.
Ruth Aram Shop and Aram Designs join forces, and Ruth Aram joins Aram Designs.
New expanded premises (20,000sqft) in Drury Lane open, as the new ARAM is launched.
Aram celebrated its 40th anniversary, and to mark the occasion we launched a unique range of forty rugs designed by friends, architects, designers and journalists who in one way or another have played a part in our history.
Aram launches its first fully transactional ecommerce website.
Aram celebrates its 50th anniversary with a year of events.
Zeev Aram is awarded the OBE for services to Design and Architecture.