Works from the
Collection of Harvey Probber
As an accomplished designer, innovator, and entrepreneur, Harvey Probber led a life guided by creative interests. From a young age, he explored the formal qualities of furnishings and their role in interior environments leading him to a successful career in design, manufacturing, and distribution. Probber developed an original, award-winning style that fits seamlessly into interiors across the country. One of his greatest contributions to the canon of design was the concept of “modular furniture”; an idea he coined that is so commonplace today that it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t always a part of the field’s vernacular.
Probber’s design ideology was undoubtedly modern, but also revered historical and cultural events that preceded and happened alongside his work. In tune with the arts, Probber befriended artists such as Adolph Gottlieb and gallerists, such as Sam Kootz and Bernard Davis. He amassed a collection of European and American modern art that was displayed alongside his furniture in showrooms and catalogs, often inspiring his own work.
In 1962, Probber purchased Eastcliff, a Gothic Revival home originally designed in 1925 by Hobart Upjohn for J. Richard Ardrey, a prominent banker. Probber embarked upon the renovation and installation of art and design that transformed the stately home into a 16-room waterfront gallery for his collection of paintings and decorative objects. His furniture and that of his favorite designers provided comfort within the home’s interior composition.
Probber was well known in the world of design and beyond and it is hardly surprising that his social circle included musicians, stage and screen stars, artists, photographers, authors, and other accomplished people who regularly convened at Eastcliff.
Carter Ratcliff writes in a soon to be published manuscript dedicated to the life of Harvey Probber: “Probber saw that works of art do not live in a vacuum. They need settings, that a rapprochement between art and design could be a starting place in the endeavor to supply life with a sound foundation.”
A complete work of art and interior design, the Eastcliff residence captured Harvey Probber’s sophisticated and modern vision. It was the perfect backdrop for a life full of art and design.
The present collection of works comes out of the Eastcliff residence and directly from the Probber family. The selection of more than 60 lots is comprised of Probber designs, works by those he represented, and artworks he collected. Altogether, the auction provides a snapshot of Probber’s holistic creative sensibilities and his far-reaching influence on the field of design.
Wright would like to thank the Harvey Probber Archive for generously sharing period documentation, information and images, and Carter Ratcliff for allowing us access to his unpublished manuscript.
Harvey Probber 1922–2003
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.