September 2011

Meet the Archers

A band of young designers finds its voice by mixing the arcane and the avant garde by BROOKE HODGE / portrait by ERIC OGDEN

  • Petit, Hunt and Ong gather around a table they designed for a client.
  • For art adviser Deborah Irmas’ apartment, the Archers pulled in pieces by Pierre Paulin, Warren McArthur, Mario Bellini and Lina Bo Bardi.
  • In an office for a studio exec, the designers joined a desk and coffee table by Luigi Caccia Dominioni with furnishings by Franco Albini and Joe Colombo.
  • Archers green brightens a Santa Barbara guest house.
  • A muted palette is used for a Central Park West apartment.

If the words “the Archers” ring a bell, you might be thinking of the long-running British soap opera or, perhaps, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s U.K. production company, both of which share the moniker with a band of intriguing, under-the-radar Los Angeles interior designers.

The Archers of L.A. adopted the name as a tip of the hat to Powell and Pressburger’s enterprise because, as principal Richard Petit explains, “We’re obsessed with their work and with the work of their art director Alfred Junge”—think Black Narcissus—“and we try to incorporate one of their colors, which we call Archers green, at least once into every interior.”

Although the Archers set up shop in 2004 and have completed projects in California and New York for a cadre of clients from the art, music and fashion worlds, they are still largely unknown in the “shelter” demimonde. They’ve never had press in any design magazine due both to their personal reticence and their defiance of easy categorization.

Their work can’t be slotted into the latest trend-touting headlines: Minimal! Midcentury Modern! Hollywood Regency! But perhaps if Nest magazine—Joseph Holtzman’s beloved compendium of design in its broadest, and often weirdest, sense—were still being published, the Archers would have the centerfold.

The three members of team Archers connected at social events and always found themselves engaged in delirious hours-long chats about design, geeking out over sublime details like the graceful taper of a Gió Ponti table leg. Each brings along a highly personal perspective.

Petit, who studied theater design, honed his eye for aesthetic drama working in the office of decorator Brad Dunning. Eugene Ong has an architecture degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo but has worked as a fashion designer; one of his fortes is tracking down unusual materials, like the recycled porcelain panels the Archers used in a recent project. Stephen Hunt studied digital photography, and his interest in photo manipulation and video led to an improbable gig editing video biographies for Hollywood Forever Cemetery. He now uses his prowess at 3-D modeling to pre-build the Archers’ projects virtually.

Obsession and arcane references are key ingredients of the Archers’ tangy olio. “Nothing should be off limits,” says Petit. “There’s no architectural form or design movement that’s not worth revisiting, reevaluating and reconsidering in earnest.” He then proceeds to reel off a list of the firm’s favorite designers: Ponti, Franco Albini, Vico Magistretti, Carlo Mollino and Luigi Caccia Dominioni. Despite the decided predilection for Italians, the team is just as likely to toss a group of chairs by the Eameses or pieces of their own design into their witty, unexpected assemblages.

Rodney Hill, a partner in L.A.’s Marc Foxx Gallery, believes the Archers’ strength lies in their ability to balance luxury and preciousness with informality and idiosyncrasy. It was Hill who introduced the Archers to art adviser and collector Deborah Irmas, for whom they transformed a soulless condo in a Wilshire-corridor tower into a loft-like space with rustic wood-plank floors, a Ponti–inspired dressing room, a Venini chandelier and chairs by Oscar Niemeyer and Warren McArthur. “I chose the Archers for the project before I even saw their portfolio,” says Irmas. “Just from talking with them, I knew we had similar points of view on many subjects.”

Architect Barbara Bestor brought the Archers on board for a house she designed near Santa Barbara for Hollywood clients, after seeing the team’s work for her friends Sharon Oreck, a producer, and cinematographer Bill Pope. “I wanted the interiors to be different from the stark, large-scale gestures of the architecture and landscape—a glamorous, sexy and sometimes even snuggly counterpoint to the big concrete walls and native-landscape courtyards,” she says. The Archers’ obsession with midcentury Milanese design led them to install a Mario Bellini sectional sofa, Vittorio Nobili’s Medea chairs and a custom bed painted in signature Archers green.

The team is currently developing a furniture line with Exporenso, a family-owned atelier in Bogotá, Colombia, that worked frequently with Karl Springer, the late furniture designer renowned for his use of rare woods and exotic skins.

The Archers’ line is imbued with nods to late-1960s avant-garde Italian design, which they feel is particularly sympathetic to L.A.’s ubiquitous Spanish-style architecture. The individual pieces are inspired by injection-molded plastic—like Magistretti’s iconic Sinbad chair—but fabricated unexpectedly with luxurious woods.

Like the work of Petit’s idol Caccia Dominioni, who once described designing a house as akin to crafting a bespoke suit, each Archers project is custom-tailored to the needs and desires of the particular client. Their wonderfully eccentric references flavor every conversation and make their way into every interior.

An hour with Petit or an evening in an Archers interior is a guaranteed education that leaves one wanting more. And more is certain to come. With several high-profile projects and that furniture line in the works, the Archers have clearly arrived.