Harvey Probber was born in 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. The autodidact was already leaning towards design during his years in school. A much-quoted anecdote says that he designed his first sofa at the age of 16 – and sold the sketch for the respectable amount of ten dollars. Right after graduating from high school, Probber started working as a designer for an upholstery manufacturer; in 1945, he founded his own company.
Probber had his decisive breakthrough as a designer when he developed various approaches to sitting furniture. For Probber, the concept of designing modern furniture that would not only be aesthetically convincing but also provide its users with the greatest possible spatial flexibility stood in the foreground. He finally found the key in the details and individual elements of geometrical forms. They became the templates for his successive sofa series that can be flexibly combined. Relating to the concept and its individual elements, Probber spoke of a modular system – and thereby became the pioneer and inventor of the modular sofa. This concept has remained highly topical to this day.
During his lifetime, Probber considered himself a representative
of Modernism. Interestingly, his use of materials clearly differed from
what was considered avant-garde at the time: the exotic woods that
he appreciated, lacquered or manually polished to a high-gloss, as well
as opulent upholstery were completely out of line with the more
radical, Bauhaus-inspired design scene. Generally, the New Yorker,
with his wide range of interests, did not necessarily fit in with precast
patterns. Probber once even played with the idea of making a career
as a pop singer and songwriter. He finally became a manufacturer and
industrialist with a factory and hundreds of employees; however, art
was always the top priority for him. He even traded his much loved car
for a Picasso.