The art of spinning a yarn

After problems designing a garden shed, Hugh Pearman approached a brief from Zeev Aram to design a rug with trepidation.

It was Martin Amis, in his scabrously hip 1984 novel Money, who introduced the English-speaking world to the phrase ‘radical rug rethink’. Meaning a severe haircut. Years later, in his autobiography Experience, Amis revealed that he hadn’t actually devised the phrase: it had been originated by his old chum, the campaigning journo Christopher Hitchens, who lists ‘smoking, drinking, disputation’ among his recreations in Who’s Who.

All very interesting, but what’s it got to do with a design column? When, about a year ago, the legendary Zeev Aram asked me to lunch, it turned out that he wanted me to be one of 40 people to design him a rug. The Amis/Hitchens phrase sprang immediately to mind. Only this time, it was literal. A radical rug rethink was required. I posed one question: did this rug have to lie on the floor? Or could it run along the floor, up the wall, and across the ceiling? Zeev scarcely blinked. If I wanted to propose such a thing, he replied, he’d consider it.

As the design world ought to know well enough by now, the ‘Aram 40 Collection’ is a typically unconventional celebration of Zeev’s 40 years in the modern furniture business, as a retailer, designer and shrewd judge of fresh design talent. Two of each rug was made – one for the showroom, one for the designer – and all are priced for sale.

As with the Amis family, novelists father and son, so with the Arams: the trade has stayed in the family. The enormous Aram Store in Drury Lane is run by Zeev with his children Ruth and Daniel. I had the lunches with Zeev; Ruth organised the whole business – including a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the hand-weavers in India – with charm and efficiency.

Any list that includes designers Ron Arad, Rodney Kinsman, Jasper Morrison, Alan Fletcher, Thomas Heatherwick, artists Peter Blake, Allen Jones and Brian Clarke, architects including Zaha Hadid, Amanda Levete, Jan Kaplicky, Piers Gough, Ed Jones and Eva Jiricna, writer/commentators such as Deyan Sudjic and Lucia van der Post, and all the rest of us must have been a logistical nightmare to deal with, simply because of all the utterly different personalities and approaches represented.

I can’t describe the results – see for yourself, the show is open during Aram’s shop hours. It’s fascinating to see how everyone interpreted the brief, based merely on a set of dimensions provided by Zeev. The rug has indeed been radically rethought. There are several I’d be happy to own, though I’d better not say which. Instead, I’ll tell you about mine. Which is very reasonably priced, since you ask.

Where do you start, with an assignment like this? Especially if, as in my case, you have designed nothing in your life apart from a not very successful garden shed? First, this was to be a rug to sit on and against – prompted by the sight of my children’s friends, who sit around on the floor against the walls wherever they find a space. So it would run along the floor and up the wall – though I abandoned the idea of including the ceiling. That was just silly.

Next: what dimensions to make it? Easy: if it was to be a one-person sitting-rug, then it should be dimensioned to a human body – mine. I sat against a wall, my daughter measured round me, I added a margin and that was it. So there’s an abstract body imprint on the rug, consisting of three linked circles representing head, hips and feet. Remembering the legend of Cleopatra smuggling herself rolled up in a carpet, I changed sex and named it after her.

Finally: which colours? All I had was tester pots of Farrow and Ball house paints so, like Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost with his increasingly implausible bloodstains, I used what was at hand. The result was English and sludgy, so I added a note requesting clear Mediterranean colours – sky blue, sea green, sand yellow, earthenware russet.

All that remained was to see what everyone else had done. There are unfeasibly long rugs and strangely curling rugs. Rugs like maps and building plans, rugs like tapestry paintings, rugs like woven doodles. The Aram store is a veritable souk. Mine is a touch naïve compared to some of the sophisticated stuff there, but as the opening evening progressed, people started companionably sitting around on Cleopatra. To my surprise, I found she can accommodate three: two side by side on her lap, one at her feet. I’m quite pleased about that.

The Aram 40 exhibition is running at the Aram Store, 110 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2B

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