RUTH ARAM – DIRECTOR & CO-OWNER, ARAM STORE
RUTH ARAM – DIRECTOR & CO-OWNER, ARAM STORE

Ruth Aram heads up the retail arm of leading furniture supplier, Aram, in London’s Covent Garden. Family is at the very heart of the business, and she has worked alongside her father Zeev and brother Daniel since she joined the company back in 2000. Even her architect husband is called in to work with his wife and his in-laws sometimes.

But the Aram story really begins with Zeev. Having graduated in furniture and architecture from the Central School of Art in London, he was unable to find the type of modern furniture he wanted for his schemes. So, he started up his first showroom on the Kings Road back in 1964, raising eye-brows and even inciting hate mail because of his rebellion against all things chintz. In its place were pieces by the likes of Castiglioni, Breuer and Le Corbusier. Ever since, the company has gone from strength to strength and celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year.

In this interview, Ruth shares with us more details of her father’s early history, is candid about the highs and lows of mixing business with loved ones, introduces us to Eddie (or ‘Eddie on the Heath’ as we’ve dubbed him) – her beloved family dog, and explains the significance of ‘Orlando the Cat’ in her life.

She also comments on the emerging trends she sees in her role as an international buyer, explains the rationale behind her own ‘Aldwych’ furniture collection, and speaks with great affection about a favourite accessory that not only looks beautiful but is helping to lift women in India out of poverty. But before all that, she tells us what she’ll be hoping to see as a judge on two of our World Interiors News Awards panels this year…

We’d like to welcome you as a judge on both our Furniture and Surface & Interior Accessories categories this year. What are some of the key things you’ll be looking for in the winning entries?

I will be looking for original design ideas that bring something new - and useful - to the market. The use of materials and quality of manufacture are also important.

In your role as head of Aram’s retail operation, you travel the globe visiting the top trade fairs to source new gems for the store. What are some of the emerging trends you’ve witnessed over the past year?

Marble is everywhere right now - from lighting, tableware and accessories to the more traditional uses in furniture. And mixing up woods and colours in a single piece of furniture is a growing trend – I think it reflects our more relaxed approach to the interior aesthetic. It’s also good to see the pairing of modern furniture with ethnic textiles in the form of vintage kilims and throws – it’s a pleasing trend that injects warmth and feels modern.

Are there any up-and-coming designers who have caught your eye?

I like Front Design from Sweden, who have consistently produced exciting products for a number of manufacturers in recent years.

And what qualities make you think “I must have that in the Aram Store” about a piece of furniture or an accessory?

There are always gaps in our furniture offer which I am looking to fill with the best possible products, so they are at the top of my mental wish list. But I often come across something completely different that just blows me away. If it’s new and not available anywhere else, that’s a Eureka moment! The Bykato extending dining table was one such product.

What is your favourite item in the Aram Store at the moment, and why?

The Paper Vase Cover by Dutch designer, Pepe Keykoop. I love everything about this product and the values behind its creation. Pepe works with a community of women in India who hand-fold the triangulated vase covers with the goal of lifting them out of poverty within ten years. The covers come flat, making them ideal to send in the post, and are then manipulated by hand into the desired shape and placed over any bottle or slim vase. Sourcing this beautiful and affordable piece of design was a real delight.

We’ve heard that one object you’d be thrilled to own is Poul Kjaerholm’s PK91 folding stool. Why so?

I love the simplicity, quality and precision of this design. Poul Kjaerholm worked with a very limited number of materials but the quality had to be superb and the details visible. It’s also a very functional piece which could be used in a number of different ways.

Family seems to be of central importance to you. You work with your father, brother, and on occasion your architect husband, David Walker of Walker & Martin. Is it always plain sailing working so closely with family? And what do you like best about it?

Anyone who has worked with family knows that it can be challenging at times, especially when the lines between work and family relationships become blurred. But it can also be tremendously satisfying, and I can’t help looking at the next generation of our family and hoping that some of them will want to be involved.

You were a qualified landscape architect before starting up the successful Ruth Aram Shop selling furniture and accessories in Hampstead. What made you change direction?

From my short career in the industry, I realised that the landscape design part of a project was often a bit of an afterthought, with budgets squeezed and compromises made which diminished the value of the external spaces. I was frustrated by this so when the opportunity came to work for my father, I thought it was worth trying and that I could always go back to my profession.

You ran the shop in Hampstead for six years before taking over the Aram Store. Again, what – or who - prompted you to make that change?

Working in Hampstead was great, but the clientele was quite local so moving to a larger, more central location with a further reach was very appealing. But the deciding factor was that my brother Daniel joined the company and I felt the two of us, with my father, could work well together.

What has your husband’s involvement in the Aram Store been?

He started his partnership above the shop in Hampstead and in the early days was often roped into unloading stock and delivering orders. When we enlarged our premises in our current Covent Garden location, he was responsible for

the re-development of the site, and it’s a testament to his level headedness and good humour that he managed the process of working with his father in-law, brother in-law and wife!

In 2010 you launched the Aldwych Collection, marking the first time that one of your designs went into production. The consul tables it features were inspired by the building next to the Aram Store in Drury Lane. What was the inspiration it provided and how did it translate into the collection?

The consul tables came about because I couldn’t find any good designs for the store. I decided to make the first edition in reclaimed wood and the maker sourced a number of varieties for me to choose from. I selected some beautiful sweet chestnut which, unbeknown to me, had been stripped out of the building opposite during its re-development. The building stands on Aldwych, hence the name of the collection. I am working on a new addition to the family which will launch later in the year.

In 2014, for Aram’s 50th Anniversary Party, you launched the Aram 50th Library in-store. Your friends and colleagues – among the likes of Sir Norman Foster and Sir Paul Smith – were invited to nominate a book that particularly inspired or influenced them, with a quote from each explaining why. Giving the reasons why, do you have a) a favourite book from the Library and b) a favourite quote?

My favourite in controls is the Gira HomeServer. It really is an amazing piece of kit that takes your already intelligent KNX building and provides it with super-advanced logic, and true building automation.

I would have to choose the ‘Orlando the Cat’ books, which were nominated by fashion designer, Natalie Gibson. I used to love reading them with my mother and looking at the illustrations. We had a ginger cat at the time which made Orlando’s adventures even more thrilling.

As for the quotes, I like Justin McGuirk’s, which is succinct and funny. It’s about the book ‘Lyrical and Critical Essays’ by Albert Camus, and this is what Justin says: “This is a minor Camus work and at times an infuriating one. Yet I turn to it often, knowing that a few pages will be enough to slap me around a bit and banish any complacency. It reminds me to look deeper and live truer.”

Your mother and father met in a rather romantic way. Can you briefly recount the story?

My mother was travelling by boat to stay on a kibbutz in Israel at a time when Navy escorts were common. My father, a handsome Navy officer explained to her his desire to study design in London once released from service, and she said she would try to help him secure a place. From there romance blossomed.

Your father went on to study furniture and architecture at London’s Central School of Art, and your mother studied textiles there too. Do you think a flair for design lies in the genes, or is it more a case of growing up amid the influence?

I believe it’s both nature and nurture. With artistic parents and a creative environment, the chances of leaning towards design are quite high. Although my three siblings might disagree!

Was there ever a chance or a moment when you might have done anything else but go into the world of design?

In my daydreams I might have had a career in fashion or archaeology.

You have three teenage children – are they artistic too?

My two daughters are very artistic but have chosen other paths. I don’t really mind what they end up doing as long as they’re happy.

Continuing on a personal level, when you first moved to your current home in Dartmouth Park on the edge of Hampstead Heath, there was some disagreement about the colour of the walls between you and your husband. Who won?

The first time we painted everything white, to my husband’s satisfaction, but the second time it was colour all the way! We now have a palette of warm ‘off’ colours like mustard, burnt sienna, purple grey, and terracotta.

You and your dog, Eddie, have a favourite spot on the Heath. Can you describe it and what makes it special to you?

It’s a little mown path through bramble bushes with an old gnarled oak tree at the end. I take a photograph with Eddie in the foreground every time I pass as a record of the changing seasons.

You have the entire weekend free to do as you wish; what would you do?

would walk the dog up to Kenwood House then meet the family for brunch at my favourite local café, Kalendar. In the evening we would all go out for a meal locally. On Sunday David and I would watch a Formula One Grand Prix on TV followed by a visit to a gallery or museum. In the evening I would cook a roast dinner.

Gail Taylor