After studying at the Institute of Design and working in the office of George Nelson, Don Petitt joined the Knoll Design Development Group in 1952. Initially he and Richard Shultz assisted Harry Bertoia with the development and production of the wire chair collection. During this period, the team designed a system of welding fixtures so effective that the process they developed is still in use today.
After completing the Bertoia project, Petitt went to Michigan to help Eero Saarinen with the Tulip Collection. For three years, Petitt translated countless sketches into three dimensional models, enabling Saarinen to continually assess and refine the design. Petitt later recalled: “Saarinen kind of turned me around really. If I’ve done anything interesting, I think I owe a lot to him and the way he went about things.”
Upon returning to Pennsylvania, Petitt was ready to work on his own ideas for a contemporary bentwood design. With oversight from Florence Knoll, he and fellow Design Development member Bob Savage, spent years perfecting a laminating process that led to the 1105 chair, introduced in 1965.
Petitt’s research in bentwood processes would yield several subsequent Knoll products that integrated classic materials into modern design.