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.
Almost 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 Aram Store is 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.
Zeev's show space, The Aram Gallery, 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, 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 will be selling 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 into the twenty-first century where it has always belonged.
Representing a huge expansion from the original furniture design showroom opened almost forty years ago by Zeev Aram, the current store is a real family business. Zeev is joined in the venture by his son Daniel and by his daughter, Ruth, who has been established since 1995 in Hampstead with her Ruth Aram Shop, where she has brought her own blend of modern furniture classics and eclectic accessories to a loyal following. ARAM is a massive five-storey converted fruit and vegetable warehouse filled with London's best choice of modern furniture and lighting. "It's very exciting to be able to give people a real choice when making up their minds on buying a piece of modern furniture," says Ruth. Take sofas: The store shows designs ranging from Bauhaus classics to the latest offerings from Milan. The store features the work of established and new designers from Alvar Aalto and Harry Bertoia through Jasper Morrison and Ron Arad to the latest graduates. Manufacturers include Artek, Knoll, Vitra, Flexform, Cassina, Porro, and Moroso to name but a few.
Aram is a destination store. As well as offering an unsurpassed range of furniture, lighting and accessories, an entire floor has been set aside to show experimental or new work by up and coming designers continuing the process that Zeev has championed for over forty years.