Peter Richman Spirer, a charismatic titan of the textile industry, passed away at home in Cartersville, Ga., on Friday, Sept. 11, after a brief illness.
Born August 6, 1931 in Brooklyn, N.Y., coming from a modest upbringing, Spirer was raised by a strong mother and a father whom he adored. At the University of Miami his passion was acting, and he roomed with famed Broadway composer Jerry Herman. However, at the last minute he decided to earn a business degree, knowing that would make for a better path toward financial stability. He completed the entire two-year business degree in a single year.
Shortly after graduation, Spirer married Ann Carmichael whom he met in college. He was recruited by R.H. Macy’s executive training program in New York and left after two years to go to work for his father-in-law, and eventual business partner, Tom Carmichael of Stitt and Howell, a major floor covering distributor. In the mid-1950s, Spirer accompanied Carmichael on his regular trips to the carpet manufacturers in Dalton.
In the late 1950s, Spirer and Ann divorced, and in 1961 he moved to Dalton with his new wife Dorothy, where he became vice president of sales at Painter Carpet Mills. He moved quickly up the ladder learning every detail of the business, becoming its president and, in 1969, selling his portion to Collins and Aikman.
In 1970, Spirer started Tile Company of America (TCA) where he created the first of its kind carpet tiles. His next endeavor, Horizon Industries Inc., would be his greatest. Founded by Spirer in 1972, Horizon went from last in size of the world’s 300 manufacturers to one of the largest and most important carpet mills in the world. Introducing carpet fashion at a time when manufacturers only considered price, Horizon’s designs, texture and colors were unlike anything previously seen.
In 1974, Spirer applied for the patent on the tufted pile fabric concept of carpet manufacturing, which he invented while at Horizon. Horizon’s showroom at industry events were standing room only, dazzling customers with styles such as Le Plaid, Safari and Creme de la Creme. Creative marketing supported Horizon’s unique product platform. For the Safari collection, Spirer dispatched a team to the Zulu nation in South Africa to interview and photograph the tribesmen as they reacted to the faithfully reproduced animal skin designs. The resulting campaign put the Safari Collection on the map overnight, even catching the attention of The New York Times, which gave the promotion its 1976 “Hype Of The Year” award.
In the late 70’s Spirer formed Harbinger, a subsidiary of Horizon that revolutionized the commercial carpet industry by creating graphic patterned tufting technology. Harbinger quickly became the darling of the professional architecture and design communities. Horizon’s designs were prominently featured in the primetime powerhouse television series, Dynasty. Glamorous cat fights on Horizon carpet designs were a huge hit with viewers, drawing so many in fact that the show’s producers reached out to Horizon and a collaboration was born: The Dynasty Carrington House Collection. Spirer also put Berber carpet on the map with styles like Gibralter and Folkweave, and Horizon was also the first manufacturer to create a 50 color product line called Ovation 50.
By 1983, Horizon Industries was the sixth largest carpet mill in the nation and made a public offering of its shares. The next 10 years saw Horizon become one of the most prestigious brands in America. Knowing he needed an effective chief operating officer, in 1984 Spirer reached out to Ralph Boe, at that time the vice president of DuPont’s polyester business. “That was the best decision I ever made,” Spirer said. “Ralph was and is the best in the business. I can’t overstate what he did for Horizon.” The bonus was in freeing Spirer’s time to focus on product styling and marketing.
Throughout the 1980s, Horizon was the featured attraction at semi-annual carpet and rug markets. Its spectacular trade ads featuring gorgeous models were recreated in Horizon’s Atlanta showroom windows. While buyers gathered in the Horizon showroom taking in the latest carpet fashions, crowds three and four deep stood in the halls staring at the models in the windows. Horizon window gazing became one of the attractions that lured buyers to the Atlanta Market—similar to Macy’s in New York during the Christmas holidays. Then, in 1992, Spirer surprised the industry by selling his beloved Horizon to Mohawk Industries and was inducted into the World Floor Covering Association Hall of Fame that same year.
Not a man to retire, Spirer, and his wife Becky, partnered on startups in Atlanta (restaurant Mumbo Jumbo and nightclub Tongue and Groove amongst others), and launched a new retail business called Horizon Pacific Home where he brought in the best of the best in furnishings, accessories and flooring from around the world.
After selling off that business, Spirer saw the value in real estate and he and Becky purchased a 30-acre farm in the burgeoning Palmetto area (now known as Chattahoochee Hill Country) south of Atlanta. The call of the flooring industry came to Spirer one more time when he took the reins of Max Woods, a manufactured flooring company and thus moved to Rome to be closer to his office in Adairsville. After deciding to fully retire, Spirer moved to Cartersville to enjoy a beautiful home and garden, which he attended to daily.
An industry remembers
“Peter was completely an original,” said Bob Shaw of Engineered Floors. “He was always looking at how to do things in new and innovative ways. Without a doubt he was an icon of our industry.”
“Pete was a real visionary in the carpet industry and his marketing and styling skills were unsurpassed,” said Julian Saul, former CEO of Queen Carpet. “He will always be remembered as a wonderful friend and someone who had a real zest for life.”
“Peter was a creative individual, designing products and developing concepts sometimes even before the industry was prepared for them,” said friend and colleague Ralph Boe.
Former Horizon vice president, Charlie Brewer, said, “He allowed me to earn something special, his trust; with that, Peter allowed you to be yourself and accomplish amazing things.”
Sandy Miskin associate and longtime friend added, “There was no one more innovative and revolutionary in the carpet industry. He never played it safe, but play he did, and WOW, what a ride he had!”
“Peter, at first, was a public relations client of mine when he founded and ran Horizon Carpets in Calhoun,” said dear friend Bob Cohn. “We morphed into a very close friendship that lasted 40 years. For many years, Peter used email to spread humor among his many friends. He could have been a standup comic in the Catskills. He had a fabulous sense of humor, unlike anyone I knew.”
A lifelong lover of the arts, Spirer amassed a vast body of knowledge, with a collection including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Robert Longo, Donald Judd, Man Ray and Herb Ritts. Peter discovered and supported many up-and-coming, avant-garde artists, and loved to share his knowledge with everyone including as a guest lecturer at Kennesaw State University. Spirer’s love of travel took him to all corners of the earth, creating many travel experiences that friends, family and colleagues consider a high point in their lives.
He was surrounded by his loving family at the time of his passing, and leaves behind his wife Becky, son Peter (wife Kelly), daughters Danna (husband Ron) and Suzanne (partner Sandy), stepson Brett Langley (wife Jennifer), his sister Chic Martin, his grandchildren Samuel, Rachel, Jesse, Desiree, Madelyn, Noah, Jake and Lauren. He was predeceased by his son David, his brother Eric and his parents Mary and Oscar Spirer.
He will be laid to rest at Lakeside Memorial Park in Miami, Fla., and a private service is being planned. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in his name to City of Hope.