When Scott and Corey Harper began decorating their new dining room in a gated Venice community, they hit a glass wall. All the dining tables they saw were too traditional, projecting a more staid sensibility than this 30-something couple wanted. And the few glass-and-chrome contemporary pieces they found were too severe and small, adrift in the open floor plan of their home. So Harper started sketching. He saw a Noguchi coffee table he loved, and translated its base of five slanting wires into a larger piece with a heavy glass-over-leather top, sleek upholstered suede chairs and seating for eight.
Once he started designing, he couldn't stop. The result: Harper House, a small line of contemporary pieces based in the 5,000-square-foot building in downtown Venice that also houses the family business, an upholstering and restoration company called Suncoast Workrooms.
Harper's pieces, with their outsize, funky colors and shapes, comfy textures and casual sensibility, seem to have been fashioned for the new Florida home with its cavernous multi-use spaces. Just as a bonus room can function as an office or children's playroom, there are no strict rules about where to place a Harper piece or how to use it. He makes sofas you can sit or lie on, beds surrounded by ledges you can stand on, and chairs that double as tabletops. In fact, Harper's two sons, Jacob, 10, and Ethan, 8, often serve as guinea pigs for the furniture's livability.
"Sitting sideways [on a sofa] with your leg over the arm-you shouldn't look like you're doing the wrong thing when you do it," says Harper.
So Harper designed a curvy sofa that mimics the line of a lounging human body, with one end raised enough to use as a headrest, and the other lowered to allow the legs to dangle down. The middle section has a back, so someone can sit upright comfortably in the hollow of the middle the traditional way. Harper designed the piece in tangerine microsuede and christened it "Apeel." A bed-the "Shebippy"-is designed with the mattress dropped inside the frame, leaving an eight-inch ledge all the way around on which his son, Jacob (who appropriated the piece), can keep his remote control or tie his shoes. Another piece-a single swipe of suede like a sideways angular "s" with its head lopped off-combines the functions of a bench, ottoman, floor pillow and chair back.
"It always bothers me that people have things they never use," says Harper. "The velvet-rope-in-the-living-room doesn't fly with me."
Although Harper never formally studied design, he grew up surrounded by the language of fabric and furniture. His grandfather founded an upholstery shop in Venice in 1961 that his mother, 30-year Venice designer Gayle Rector, later ran.
But Harper wanted to become a saxophonist; he took music classes at Manatee Community College and played gigs at night. When he and his wife decided to start a family, however, they moved back to Venice from Bradenton and accepted his mother's offer to run her business, buying the upholstery operations six years ago. He began sketching his first Harper House designs two years ago, and the collection debuted at the 2002 ASID Resource show. The design of his "Number Nine" chair was recognized this year by Upholstery Design and Management Magazine, and the chair was displayed in Atlanta at the International Woodworkers Expo.
Now Harper is working with area designers to customize fabrics and colors for the pieces, which are available in 21 colors of suede and a line of vinyls. Prices range from $1,855 for a glass-fronted market bench to $6,945 for a 60-inch dining table and six chairs.
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