House of curiosities: at home with Ron Arad

I had an idea of London inside my head from English films. Every film made in London was art, but from Hollywood it was junk. I was an arrogant teen!” says a smiling Ron Arad of his decision to leave Tel Aviv and move to London in 1973, at the age of 22.

Arad, who studied architecture, under pressure from his mother, at the Architectural Association school in London, is sporting his trademark round felt hat. He is sitting on a curvaceous Victoria & Albert crimson sofa, one of his own pieces, created for the Italian furniture brand Moroso, in the conservatory of his north London home. Along with his wife, Alma, who works as a psychologist, they have lived here for more than 30 years, raising their daughters, Lail and Dara, who both live nearby.

In the world of art, design and architecture, Ron Arad is a household name and the sale of his 1993 polished stainless steel D-Sofa smashed auction records when it sold for £1.23m in 2021. His home is a testament to his lifelong commitment to creative industry and almost every design and piece of furniture in it is a prototype, model or sculpture dreamed up by him.

Ahead of the curve: Ron Arad with his grandson, in front of his prototype Bookworm shelf system. Photograph: Monica Spezia/Living Inside

On the first floor of the Victorian townhouse, the sitting room unfolds into an open-plan kitchen and dining room overlooking the garden. The original pine floorboards, with ornate decorative inlays, connect the space. A curvy bookshelf crammed with books is the original Bookworm prototype, which Arad designed for the Milan Furniture Fair in 1993. It went on to become one of Kartell’s bestselling pieces globally, it is still produced and there is even one on display in the furniture collection at the V&A.

“It’s the first Bookworm I made; it is created from tempered steel,” says Arad. “I looked at this wall when we first moved in and drew the shape with my finger on the wall. I thought it would be nice to have a shelf like that. I had no idea the industrial version would become my most popular piece.”

Arad, whose nearby Chalk Farm studio is a 10-minute walk away, explains that on his stroll to work he loves looking into houses and spotting it. “It’s really nice. I know the windows where I can see the Bookworm.” In his own sitting room, the shelves are lit by a large floor-standing light designed by a former student (Arad was professor of design at the Royal College of Art from 1997 until 2009).

Earth tones: Arad used a powder-based dye mixed with water in ochre and terracotta to paint the walls. Photograph: Monica Spezia/Living Inside

To the left of the shelves hang three posters, each proclaiming: “It’s only rock’n’roll”, in orange, red and pink. Arad tore them from a billboard decades ago. “I love this piece, the cover, images and words.” The fraying edges add to their charm and convey the message he is eager to share: “This home is not meant to be for Elle Decoration, it is where we live and how we live. I am a hoarder, but I’m tolerated. This is where we spend most of our time.”

Below the posters is Arad’s defining work, the Rover chair, designed in 1981 using scrap from a reclamation yard. It launched his career and sold to the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Richard Rogers. Shortly after, Vitra invited Arad to design for them. He created the Well Tempered, and later, the Tom Vac and Ripple chairs, both can be seen around the dining table, which is from a series of 40 he designed as an installation for the Cartier Foundation, Paris, in 1994. The steel kitchen counter was designed and built by Arad at his studio.

‘I’m a hoarder, but I’m tolerated’: the designer at his desk. Photograph: Monica Spezia/Living Inside

“When people come into my home, they always say: ‘I like everything you do’ and then point to the chandelier,” laughs Arad. The light fitting above the table is one of the few pieces not made by him. It is the Porca Miseria! prototype designed by his friend, Ingo Maurer, “the greatest lighting artist”. Behind is a series of wooden containers, once school storage for microscopes, now kitchen store cupboards.

When they moved in, Arad dyed the walls with a powder-based dye mixed with water in ochre and terracotta. And although they “didn’t interfere much” with the building, he designed the conservatory on the ground floor, creating a home studio and balcony off the kitchen, with stairs down to the garden built using Corten steel and a glass block ceiling.

Inside, a chequered rug designed by Arad for Nani Marquina hugs the floor. The black umbrellas, a nod to his love of 60s British style, are fully functional: Arad fixed magnets to the tips to move them among the steel and glass above, shielding his screen from sunlight.

The garden is a literal retrospective of his work, littered with surreal chairs, tables and designs created for Moroso, Qeeboo, and a sign from an exhibition at the Serpentine. This is a man who never stops making; a joyful nonconformist, revelling in the unexpected. He calls his studio the playground and when asked for advice on creativity, Arad laughs: “Boredom is the mother of creativity and, perhaps, jealousy. Look at life with curiosity, what happens if I do this… But I don’t think creative people need advice about how to be creative.”

For more information, go to ronarad.co.uk/home and ronaradstudio on Instagram

The Guardian