Life of furniture from A to Zeev

When Zeev Aram opened his futuristic furniture store in 1964 he got hate mail. He was thrilled, he tells Corinne Julius
Thomas Heatherwick’s UK Pavilion at Shanghai Expo
Thomas Heatherwick’s UK Pavilion at Shanghai Expo
A strikingly different shop that "landed" in King's Road in April 1964 changed not only the nature of British furniture and design retailing, but what people coveted for their homes.

"When I first opened my shop I used to stand across the road watching people's reaction to it," says Zeev Aram of his Aram's Design Limited. "I was just delighted that it got a reaction. And it did. We got hate mail expressing disgust that what we were selling could be called 'furniture'. I took that as a compliment."

As well as selling his own designs, Aram was the first to make design classics such as Breuer's Wassily and Le Corbusier Lc2 chairs readily available in Britain. He imported furniture and lighting by great Italian designers, such as Achille Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti. He even found Eileen Gray, bringing her designs to life after more than 40 years.

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Aram set up shop after studying at the Central School of Art and working as an interior designer/ buyer for architects. From the beginning he wanted to help the public get to know about design. He was appalled at how little support there was for emerging designers and at the lack of interest in them from most British manufacturers.

To facilitate that dialogue and to inform the public, he initiated an annual exhibition, The Aram Graduate Show. Every year he visited 40 to 50 colleges to find the most exciting projects across design disciplines. The selected graduates, between 70 and 90 of them, were given his showroom free for a month. He stopped in 1990 "because so few manufacturers responded. They came for the drinks and canapés but they didn't pick up the designs."

Taccia Castiglioni lamp
A Taccia Castiglioni lamp for Flos
Zeev Aram, however, was good at picking winners and in his new exhibition, Then-Now, he showcases the current work of 15 designers, together with pieces from their year of graduation. He was the first to pick out Thomas Heatherwick (whose UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo was the overall winner last year out of 200 countries) from his graduate show in Manchester in 1991.

Colourful toy bike from 1990 by Ben Panayi
Ben Panayi’s colourful toy bike from 1990
He also helped launch stars such as Konstantin Gricic, as well as product designers including Corin Mellor and Peter Naumann and Jane Atfield, one of the first to investigate recycling.

Aram's gallery, on the top floor of his four-storey Drury Lane store, regularly mounts some of the most exciting design shows in the country, while the showroom continues to sell the best of design, including Sam Hecht /Industrial Facility's Branca furniture range, launched there this week at the Turn, Twist and Branch Off show.

THEN-NOW: until April 24 | TURN, TWIST AND BRANCH OFF: until April 18
Both at the Aram Store, Top floor, 110 Drury Lane, WC2 (020 7557 7557; aram.co.uk). Open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm (until 7pm Thursday)

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