Israel-born Ze’ev Aram is one of the biggest names in British design.
For the past 50 years, people in the know have filled their homes and offices with interior pieces from his Aram Store, now based in Covent Garden.
Sitting in his office above the store, Aram reflects on his journey from Haifa to opening his first shop on King’s Road.
This year, Aram received an OBE for services to design and architecture, making him “part of the establishment,” he laughs.
In 1956, senior lieutenant Aram left the Israeli Navy to pursue a career in design.
“I loved the sea and the ship,” he says. “But it was not forever.”
His initial pursuit of architecture fell through due to a two-year waiting list at Haifa polytechnic.
“I thought, ‘interior design is the closest to architecture’ and Central Saint Martins’ accepted me,” he says.
“I knew how to load a gun, but I didn’t know how to mix paints. I brought nothing from Israel in that line. I only brought persistence, insistence and chutzpah.”
Initially working with architects, Aram found the lack of imaginative furniture and interior accessories in Britain “so disappointing”.
In 1964, he set up shop on King’s Road because of the “very interesting mixture of people”. He adds: “There were bohemian artists, the landed gentry and the ordinary working people.”
Aram’s alternative furniture received mixed reactions.
“I had hate mail,” he laughs. “I didn’t mind — I would have minded being ignored.”
Yet one customer was more memorable than most. In 1968, late scientist Lord Rothschild visited the store — but Aram mistook him for the gasman.
“I saw this guy in a big coat. I opened the door, he looked around and told me to get in touch with his secretary. We ended up designing his office and became good friends.”
But in 1973, unaffordable rent forced him to relocate to Covent Garden, where he continues to run an admission-free gallery in the store.
“It’s my job to promote well-designed interiors,” Aram says, disregarding high-costs for artist displays.
He does not intend to open more branches, despite calls from consumers. “Physical growth is not interesting,” he says.
“We have enough space; we need growth in quality, better things and better shows.”
It is the family-owned business’s commitment to quality that has attracted multinational corporations.
But Aram is not for sale.
“Big commercial companies want something that sparkles. I’m not an entrepreneur that works every day for five years in order to build up something, so someone will come and offer money. I can’t be motivated by that.
“Success was not offered on a platter. It’s hard work and I’ve always liked to plough my own field.”
Now the Wimbledon-based grandfather of 10, in his early 80s, who married his wife Elizabeth in Wimbledon Synagogue, can relax.
Two of his four children, Ruth and Daniel, work with him, as retail director and managing director respectively. “Retirement is not for me because I love my work.
“Now I have my children here, I enjoy everyday.
“This is my life.”