Irving Harper

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Irving Harper
Born (1916-07-14) July 14, 1916 (age 99)
Occupation Industrial Designer, Architect, Author, Editor, Teacher
Years active 1936-2001

Irving Harper (born July 14, 1916[1]) is a noted 20th-century industrial designer.[2] While working for George Nelson Associates, Inc. on designs for Herman Miller furniture Harper became one of the most prolific designers of the modernist style.[2] Among his important designs is the Herman Miller company logo, and the company's Marshmallow sofa.[2]

Early years[edit]

After attending Cooper Union and Brooklyn College, Irving Harper worked as a draftsman for the Gilbert Rohde's office during the 1930s.[3] While there he was responsible for the creation of the Plexiglas Exhibit, the Anthracite exhibit, and the Home Furnishings Focal exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair.[3] Leaving Rohde's, he worked as an interior designer for noted industrial designer Raymond Loewy at the Raymond Loewy Associates office, designing interiors in the company's department store division.[3]

George Nelson Associates, Inc.[edit]

In the 1940s Irving Harper met George Nelson. In 1947 he was offered a job as an interior designer by George Nelson and jumped at it, joining the team of George Nelson Associates, Inc. Initially Irving Harper was mostly responsible for designing trade advertising for the Herman Miller furniture account.[2] In 1947 Harper designed the logo for Herman Miller, Inc. Never trained as a graphic artist, Harper based the logo around a large letter "M", for Miller.[2] At first the logo was in wood-grain, since wood figured prominently in Herman Miller furniture. Harper states, "I continued to use the M and refined it as the ads went on. The Herman Miller logo was something they got for free, and they loved it." He chuckles. "There was no project to do a logo. It was probably the cheapest logo campaign in advertising history." Harper also was responsible for the textile prints used by Nelson's studio.[2]


Later Nelson got the Howard Miller Clock Co. account, and Irving Harper was given the responsibility of handling it.[2] Harper decided to create clocks that were a piece of sculpture. "To omit numbers and have an abstract object that moved on the wall was something no one was doing at the time". He would design a group of about eight clocks once or twice a year, which were sent to Howard Miller Clock Co. Most were put into production.[2] Today Harper's clocks for Howard Miller routinely sell for more than $1,000.[2]

Marshmallow sofa[edit]

In 1954 Irving Harper was introduced to a salesman from a Long Island plastics company. The salesman offered a product that created 12 inch diameter self-skinning discs. George Nelson embraced the idea as a way to manufacture low-cost furniture.[2] Over a weekend Harper designed a sofa incorporating 18 of the discs in a whimsical pattern. The salesman's product didn't live up to expectations, but Harper's design was put into production by Herman Miller as the Marshmallow sofa.[2] Today the Marshmallow sofa is considered one of the 20th century's most iconic modernst designs, with originals routinely selling for more than $15,000.[2]


Irving Harper worked for George Nelson Associates, Inc. for 17 years. During his time with the firm most of Harper's designs were attributed to George Nelson, as was the company's practice. John Pile, a designer for the firm in the 1950s, explains, "George's attitude was that it was okay for individual designers to be given credit in trade publications, but for the consumer world, the credit should always be to the firm, not the individual. He didn't always follow through on that policy though."[3]

Among the uncredited designs Irving Harper created while working for Nelson is the Herman Miller "Ball clock".[2]

After George Nelson[edit]

Irving Harper left George Nelson Associates, Inc. in 1963. Together with Phillip George they started Harper+George, a design company. The firm created designs for Braniff International Airways from 1967 until 1982, Jack Lenor Larsen, and Hallmark Cards, among many others.[2] Harper retired from Harper+George in 1983, and currently resides in Rye, New York, in a 19th-century farmhouse filled with modernist furnishings, and over 300 of his paper sculptures, which have achieved notarity in recent years. In early 2001 Harper teamed with textile designer Michael Maharam to re-introduce Harper's original 1950s era Herman Miller textile prints as part of Maharam's "Textiles of the 20th Century" line. Harper's print "Pavement fabric" was the first to be re-introduced in 2001, followed by "China Shop" in the fall of that year.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]