Pioneering and innovative furniture designer Harvey Probber sold his first sofa design when he was just sixteen years old. He coined the concept of modular furniture and proceeded to compose harmonious interiors incorporating art and design.
Probber was raised in Brooklyn and as a high school student, he worked part-time in a used furniture store and began to draw his own furnishings. The successful sale of his sofa design deepened his curiosity and he visited the New York Furniture Exchange in Manhattan to make more connections within the industry. After his high school graduation, he took a position as a designer at Trade Upholstery, a small factory on West 17th Street, where he learned about the manufacturing and distribution of furniture. Probber’s ideas flourished and he produced successful, award-winning designs for other firms by 1940.
However, the onset of World War II briefly halted Probber’s career path. He joined the Coast Guard and toured the country with the Coast Guard Band as a baritone singer, entertaining troops. When the war ended, he continued touring and singing while sketching furniture designs in his down time.
Production of furniture was limited due to war-time shortages, but in 1945, Probber decided to go into manufacturing with his company, Harvey Probber, Inc. Around this time, Probber introduced his Sert Group furniture with various standalone modules that worked in combination with others in the line. Probber called his idea “Modular Furniture”; a concept that was quickly adopted by other designers and continues to be widely used today. In 1948, Probber’s Sling chair design was included in the influential Good Design exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and by the 1950s, his pieces were found in high end department stores across the country.
Probber opened showrooms across the country and continued to introduce highly sought after modern designs throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Even after he sold his company in 1986, he continued to work as a design consultant.
Design and creativity did not stop for Probber at his own furniture. His business model incorporated the distribution of designs by Maria Pergay, Angelo Mangiarotti, Preben Fabricius and Jorgen Kastholm among others that fit Probber’s modern vision. Furthermore, Probber intentionally designed his showrooms and developed his own advertising campaigns to include both art and design, creating a dialog between the two that illustrated neither exists in a vacuum.
Probber died in 2003 but he is remembered fondly for his innovative designs that remain as novel today as when they were first conceived.
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