“Good design is something that fulfils its purpose in the most beautiful possible way.”
Thousands of architects and interior designers are produced by the education system each year. It is, therefore, close to impossible for every one of us to be remembered, much less revered and respected for making significant contributions to the field. Zeev Aram, however, has managed to do precisely that. Throughout a six-decade career, Aram had become the face of modernist furniture in the UK. Not only did he have a penchant for design himself, but he also had a knack for recognizing talent and promoting it to the best of his abilities.
In fact, Aram is often credited for the ‘re-introduction’ of Eileen Grey, one of the most influential, albeit forgotten, furniture designers of the modernist period. He was also the first to introduce the works of more notable Modernist icons like Mies Van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, who were famous in other parts of Europe, to mainstream interior design in the UK. In 2014, he was awarded an OBE, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (the highest honour bestowed upon patrons of the arts and sciences) for his contributions to design and architecture.
Zeev Aram was born in 1931 in Romania to Jewish hotelier parents. Aram and his parents moved to Palestine, with the outbreak of World War II in 1940, due to the growing anti-semitic sentiments of the time. The architectural field first caught his fancy when he was about fifteen when he found work with an architect hired to design a restaurant for his father.
Aram went on to serve in the navy for seven years before deciding to get a formal education in architecture. In 1957, he migrated to London to study interior and furniture design at the Central School of Arts.
“A designer has to have an interest in everything around him. He can’t partition his mind and his attention. He can’t just look at the furniture and not be interested in what it sits in.”
After his graduation, Aram worked for notable London architects such as Ernő Goldfinger, Sir Basil Spence and Andrew Renton before he established his own practice in 1964. It was one of the first multi-disciplinary design practices in London, offering their services for interiors, furniture, graphics, lighting, anything. Aram was largely dissatisfied by the furniture scene in the UK and he was unwilling to compromise. He is famously remembered for calling the UK, a ‘modern furniture desert”.
He eventually found what he was looking for in Milan. Aram promoted designs by Breuer, Magistretti, A & PG Castiglioni who have evolved from underrated designers no one had heard about to the household names they are today.
“I don’t care what the next big thing in the market is going to be. My interest was and is to show fantastic furniture by fantastic designers.”
His practice did not always receive the right kind of attention. It was the 60s. People weren’t always very accepting of Aram’s visionary ideas when it came to interior design but he was slowly and surely changing the scene. In 1964 he opened an office cum showroom in King’s Road where he exhibited his pieces and other pieces he liked for public viewing. The public was horrified but Aram was glad they had some sort of reaction to it, he only feared indifference.
By 1973 Aram’s practice had grown enough to warrant a bigger office. He set one up in Covent Garden, with a non-profit gallery on the third floor. Here they hosted a myriad of exhibitions for contemporary jewellery, bookbinding, paper, working with prototypes and much more, to expose his customers to the different aspects of design.
“The two biggest crimes against design are plagiarism and ‘design art’. The first is stealing and the second is simply absurd. The term is degrading to both fields – something is either design or art.”
It was in the same year that Aram met Eileen Gray when the latter was in her mid-90s. Aram was extremely impressed with the Irish architect and describes working with her as one of the highlights of his career. When Eileen passed away in 1976 she transferred the rights to produce and market her designs to Aram. On her passing away, Aram created a website outlining her life’s work so people would remember her as the icon that she is.
Aram’s love for design led him to seek out young designers, to support and promote his work. Thomas Heatherwick and Jasper Morrison are two among the many young designers whose potential Aram recognized and cultivated. Aram’s greatest inspiration was Charles Eames and his favourite pieces were the Castiglioni Sanluca chair and the Breuer Wassily chair.
Zeev Aram passed away on 18th March 2021 leaving behind his practice, his wife, three children, ten grandchildren and a vividly colourful career to remember him by.
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Hahn, J., 2021. “Design titan” Zeev Aram dies aged 89. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2021/03/22/zeev-aram-obituary/> [Accessed 18 April 2021].
Magazine, W., 2021. In memoriam: Zeev Aram (1931 – 2021). [online] Wallpaper*. Available at: <https://www.wallpaper.com/design/zeev-aram-obituary#0_pic_1> [Accessed 18 April 2021].
The Design Edit. 2021. Zeev Aram | People | The Design Edit. [online] Available at: <https://thedesignedit.com/zeev-aram/> [Accessed 18 April 2021].