One of the most successful designer household items produced by Alessi, the Whistling Tea Kettle, can be found in many kitchens worldwide.
Designed by American architect Michael Graves and released in 1985, the Whistling Kettle encapsulates not only Michael’s talent for product and household design but also the heady 1980s where the saying ‘too much is not enough’ still resonates decades later.
Michael produced some adventurous buildings through the 1980s and beyond, applying this aplomb to his homewares, as the Whistling Kettle 9093 demonstrates. The kettle is a future classic that’s been appreciated for decades, even by those who prefer a minimal aesthetic. This triangular-shaped stainless-steel kettle, with its blue rubberised handle for an easy grip, features a distinctive red plastic bird on the spot that creates a whistle when the water comes to the boil. The angular shape also quickens the time to boil water. So, what better way to greet the day than with a bird whistle to accompany the smell of toast?
The story goes that Michael looked at a diverse range of things when designing this kettle, from European art through to American pop culture. But its design certainly ties into the work he was producing in the 1980s, whether it was his whimsical silver coffee and tea set resembling Memphis-inspired buildings that he designed or quirky ceramic vases that emulated the crown of an iconic column.
Understandably, Michael was no fan of the clean and modern lines of movements such as the Modernist or International style. Collected by galleries and museums, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, its reputation borders on the ‘iconic’, with only its date of creation holding it back from that status.
Architect John Henry is one of the largest collectors of household items produced by Michael Graves. In his collection, there are vases, tea services and, of course, the Whistling Kettle. In cupboards, in glass-fronted armoires and proudly featured on the kitchen bench, this kettle takes pride of place in John’s warehouse-style house in Melbourne. And there’s also a few in storage, still in their original boxes!
John has at least a dozen Alessi kettles designed by Michael Graves, many of which are similar to the Whistling Kettle. One in his beach house has a similar silhouette but has been electrified rather than placed on the stovetop. According to John, Michael Graves was the only American designer with 11 Europeans chosen by Alessi to develop a design for a new kettle, one that would elevate the company’s presence in the market.
“I just love the shape. It just ‘spoke to me’ when it was first released. I can see the influence of the Art Deco period, but also the Memphis period that was popular at that time,” John says, who considers the kettle as art as much as a household appliance. And while John is a huge Michael Graves fan, and of the Whistling Kettle, none of the kettles actually make much of a whistle. “It might start with a chirp when the water boils, but the sound generally comes to a whimper, if that!”