Alumni Profile: Irving Harper AR’36

Alumni Profile: Irving Harper AR’36

Irving Harper was born Irving Hoffzimer, on July 14, 1916, and he grew up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Irving Harper graduated from the Cooper Union school of Architecture in 1936.  This was during the Great Depression.  He found work in industrial design as a draftsman for Gilbert Rohde.  Irving Harper worked on exhibits for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, was hired by Raymond Loewy Associates to design department store interiors,He helped shape and define the style we now know as Mid-century Modern design.

Irving married Belle Seligman, a labor lawyer and changed the family’s surname to Harper.

He began designing for the Herman Miller furniture line in 1947 and continued until 1963.  He worked for George Nelson Associates for 16 years.  When he left in 1963, he was Design Director for the Nelson Office of Herman Miller.  In 1964, he and Phillip George started their own design company, where Mr. Harper worked until he retired in 1983.

Irving Harper pioneered Pop Art furniture design

His designs for the office of George Nelson and elsewhere spanned textiles, furniture and a  series of hundreds of intricate, playful paper sculptures he made with a single-edged razor blade and Elmer’s Glue.  Mr. Harper’s creations included exhibits at the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs in New York, department store interiors and the Herman Miller company logo As a hobby he produced a  menagerie of intricate paperboard and balsa wood sculptures of animals.

Irving Harper had an exhibition at the Rye Arts Center in October 2014, that showcased 77 of his sculptural works that were constructed almost entirely of cut, folded and glued paper.  He made over 300 of these sculptures for his personal enjoyment and as a way to relieve stress.

Irving Harper passed away in 2015.



  • Irving Harper, Creator of the Marshmallow Sofa, Dies at 99, The New York Times. 
  • Sisson, Patrick, The Colorful Career of Irving Harper, Famed Herman Miller Designer, Curbed Magazine.  
  • Soaring on Paper Wings. The New York Times. October
  •  Remembering Irving Harper, Herman Miller Website.  Link
  • A Midcentury Designer Made These Intricate Paper Sculptures, Curbed Magazine. September 29, 2014. Link
  • Schellenbaum  Amy, Eight Amazing Stories Told by George Nelson’s Receptionist, Curbed Magazine.    Link
  • Peterson, Spencer, Here Now, the Ads That Popularized Midcentury Modernism Curbed Magazine, Curbed Magazine.  Link