Richard Petit of The Archers Has a Never-Ending Rolodex of Design References

In a monthly column, AD PRO contributing editor Mallery Roberts Morgan asks a noteworthy creative to share a defining moment from their life in design.

Richard Petit is the principal designer and creative director of the Los Angeles–based design firm The Archers, which he founded in 2002 with business partner Stephen Hunt. Petit borrowed the company name from British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the pioneering duo behind such classics as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, who wrote, produced, and directed under the same moniker in the 1940s and ’50s.

As that inspiration makes clear, Petit is a hard-core history buff, with an encyclopedic knowledge of 20th- and 21st-century design. The firm’s scholarly, treasure-laden Instagram account, helmed by Petit, is followed by design aficionados across the globe. And his creative process relies heavily on research. Ask him to discuss a current Archers project and his description will inevitably be laced with references. For example, the interior of a Manhattan apartment in a high-rise building is inspired by Lee Radziwill circa the 1960s, when her inner circle included Renzo Mongiardino, Rudolf Nureyev, and Truman Capote. Petit’s vision for a château-like property in California conjures the spirit of French interiors legend Henri Samuel, while the design for a house in the Hollywood Hills draws from the work of Italian designer Ico Parisi. But ultimately, Petit says, he believes every space should tell its own story: “Our clients see a movie in their heads, and we’re their production designers.”

A 1940s post and beam residence in L.A., nicknamed Hill House Four, was transformed by The Archers for a film-industry couple.

Photo: Richard Petit

AD PRO: Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to create a life in design?

Richard Petit: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know I’d have a creative life. My father studied architecture at RISD but never had the luxury of doing something purely creative. Both my parents were artistic, and when they saw it in me, they did everything to encourage it. Which wasn’t that common at the time. But I was also a rebellious child and figured out early on I could also use art as provocation.

I studied theater design but my path eventually led to fashion, which was better for me. It moved more quickly and was reacting to what was going on in the streets. One day I picked up a copy of Esquire and saw a fashion spread that blew my mind. It was the September 1984 issue. [View the story, shot by Fabrizio Gianni, here.] Richard Gillette and Stephen Shadley, before they had a design firm, had created a set for a shoot. It looked exactly like what I imagined a Tribeca loft should be—narrow floorboards, patinated walls, charred surfaces, polished barbells, shaving kits. It was so highly personal. It made me believe interiors could be interesting.

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