At Home With Valerie and Harry Cooper
Posted on April 11, 2013
Philanthropists Valerie and Harry Cooper are, indeed, living the high life. From their elegant tenth floor apartment in La Jolla, they have unparalleled views of sand and sea: Shell Beach, Seal Rock and the Children’s Pool, Scripps Park and La Valencia Hotel. The shops and restaurants in the village are just steps away. Their home is a retreat from their high-profile lives, filled with fundraisers and black tie galas to benefit many arts organizations in San Diego, and Harry’s work with College Source, the software company he started three decades ago to help students succeed.
When they met at a party in 1985, Los Angeles-native Valerie Preiss was fresh out of college, having just graduated Cal State Northridge with a degree in epidemiology, and plans to attend law school. Harry was a mature computer whiz, an innovator who had helped to write the first computer language. Starting out as an aircraft tool designer, he later made millions when he sold General Computing, the company he founded, to TransAmerica. Harry was only in his 30s at the time. Savvy investments and land deals would later swell his fortune. After a long courtship, the couple wed at San Diego City Hall 11 years after they met, later celebrating in a private ceremony on Shell Beach. They threw a series of receptions at their La Jolla high rise because their apartment wasn’t big enough to accommodate all their family and friends at once.
Harry had sold his 14,500-square-foot home off La Jolla Farms Road above Black’s Beach (complete with an 11-foot waterfall spilling into a pond). The couple decided they didn’t want to leave La Jolla, but they needed something more private and manageable. They settled on the La Jolla apartment, which has since grown to 7,400 square feet, with floor-to-ceiling windows framing those dazzling ocean views, and what seems to be acres of ivory carpet. Their home includes a living room and dining room, a study, and two guest rooms, one with its own patio overlooking Scripps Park. But the Coopers’ favorite room is the master suite with a living area, sleeping quarters, his-and-her baths, and an expansive closet for Valerie, arguably one of the most fashionable women in San Diego. The couple bought the apartment next door to create the space, working with La Jolla-based designer Kathleen Buoymaster who calls it “the master sweet — because it’s such a beautiful spot, and truly, their sanctuary.”
Working closely with her clients, Buoymaster wanted to create something “classical, timeless, and glamorous,” succeeding on all three counts. One of the master suite’s striking features is an original, hand-blown glass chandelier, created by Seattle artist Robert Kaindel, which resembles a sort of surreal sea creature. Each intricate piece was hand-blown, then shipped separately and assembled on site. The suite also has a sophisticated Robert Scott couch, a sumptuous bed piled high with pillows, and a wall upholstered in silk. The bath, beautifully crafted in onyx, is backlit so that the “stone comes alive with light.” Valerie’s custom dressing table is crafted of mirrored glass trimmed with gold leaf.
The Coopers’ large desk, inlaid with marble, has three computers — two for him, one for her. The two often sit side by side, working on their many philanthropic and business projects. Bookshelves are filled with photos from charity fundraisers, including the Monte Carlo Goes Burlesque Gala that Valerie co-chaired with the late David C. Copley in 2011to benefit the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. There are also photos from vacations with friends, and Valerie astride her beloved horses Luc and B.B., short for Broadway Bound, so named because of her passion for the theatre. An accomplished equestrian, Valerie has been riding since she was four, and competed on the California hunter and jumper circuit, often taking top honors. She still rides several times a week.
At five-feet-ten, Valerie could have easily been a model, and is widely admired for her innate sense of style. Her favorite designers include Alexander McQueen, Azzedine Alaia, Dior, Jenny Packham, and Lanvin. But she’s not committed to any single look. “I like cutting-edge, I like traditional, and I like to mix it up,” she says. “And I’m definitely a fan of bling.” Unlike Coco Chanel, who advised women to take one thing off before leaving the house, Valerie says with a laugh: “I always add one thing on.” Her advice to other women: “You should be comfortable. And you should wear whatever makes you feel like a movie star.” The closet (in reality, a series of small rooms) houses her extensive collection of designer gowns, worn to the many black tie events and galas that she and her husband often attend. Harry, ever the engineer, specially designed shelves to display Valerie’s shoe collection ranging from red satin heels with sequins by Rene Caovilla to a black pair from Louis Vuitton embellished with paillettes. Other favorites are by Alaia, Manolo Blahnik, and Moschino. There’s also a cache of boots, from embroidered to brocade, including sky-high Versaces that come with a matching coat. It’s enough to make Carrie Bradshaw swoon. As for Harry, he prefers Versace suits, “wild” shirts, and jackets. His collection of shoes include studded Prada loafers worn to the boutique’s recent Fashion Valley premiere.
The Coopers are major supporters of the arts in San Diego. Valerie serves on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, while Harry is on the San Diego Opera board. (Harry has loved the opera ever since his late brother Wyatt, the father of Anderson Cooper, gave him a pair of tickets to the Met.) The Old Globe Theatre is another cause to which they are committed, with Valerie having served as co-chair of four Globe galas. On April 26, she co-chairs the 2013 Art Alive with Sarah B. Rebello-Marsh and Jacki Widder, to benefit the San Diego Museum of Art.
The Coopers travel extensively — Paris and Italian cities are among their favorites — and they often book smaller yachts with friends, allowing them to spend each day in a different port. But their favorite place in the world is still home — high above La Jolla. Andrea Naversen