Alessi Whistling Bird Teakettle: A 30 Year Journey

In 1980, Michael Graves received an invitation from Alessi to participate in a promotional project known as the “Coffee and Tea Piazza”.  Eleven architects were invited to design a tea and coffee service and of all the sets, Michael Graves’ design sold best.

All good designers […] are first architects.
-Alberto Alessi

All the Kettles

Inspired by the experience, Graves went on to design the now famous Whistling Bird teakettle that is celebrating its 30th Anniversary in 2015. Since its debut, with over 2 million kettles sold, the 9093 Whistling Bird stainless steel teakettle Graves designed for Alessi in 1985 has become the Italian manufacturer’s most popular product and a 20th century icon.

Working with Alberto Alessi

Michael worked closely with Alberto Alessi on the design concepts. To Alessi and Graves, the goal of design was inclusivity: to create something that could be understood by the wider public, but not at the expense of quality.

Good design […] is how it looks, how it feels, the character it has, the whole thing in one package. To make something good it takes all of those ingredients worked out.
-Michael Graves

Details Make the Difference

Instead of a simple whistle, the kettle’s spout is crowned by a small red bird which sings when the water boils: Red=Hot

The blue handle is distinctive and its grooves indicate where the user’s hand can be placed: Blue=Cool

The broad base, combined with the kettle’s conical shape helps water boil faster: Shape=Fast

Visible rivets evoke the kettle’s industrial roots and represent bubbling boiling water: Rivets=Bubbles

CBS Sunday Morning

Whistling teakettles have been letting off steam to signal boiling water for at least 100 years. How did Michael Graves and his design team elevate the experience? Susan Spencer of CBS Sunday Morning talks with Product Design Principal, Donald Strum, who in 1984 worked with Michael Graves to design the now iconic Alessi Whistling Bird Teakettle.

Timeless Charm and Appeal

Shown in countless magazine features and movie sets, the little kettle has continued to charm the public ever since it was first launched and can be found in the permanent collections of museums and international institutions all over the world including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Australian National Gallery and the MuDe: Museum of Design and Fashion in Lisbon.

Fitsu Car

9093 Alessi Ad

Like Butter On Pancakes Book illustrates the Kettle

Michael Graves Charm Bracelet

Clothing promoting the Alessi Whistling Bird Tea Kettle

Michael Graves has shown he can bewitch the public like only very few of designers with whom I’ve worked.
-Alberto Alessi

In bird years, 30 is equivalent to Methuselah’s life span! I imagined a new evolution in the history of our kettle. One where our little bird might transform into a super-hero: a reptilian creature that is at once prehistoric, mythological, and futuristic.
-Michael Graves

Meet Tea Rex

The “Tea Rex” kettle features a dragon whistle that symbolizes strength and fortune in the Chinese culture. the wing span makes it easy to remove the whistle from the teakettle when the water boils.

“Our dragon is friendly and he decidedly does not breathe fire, but perhaps lets off a little steam! He has a smile on his face and an easy-to-hear whistle. We hope our dragon will proudly protect our kettle and your kitchen for years to come.” -Michael Graves

2015 Michael Graves Tea Infuser for Michael Graves

Then there was more.

The celebrated original 9093 kettle with its charismatic whistling bird represented a meeting of great design and manufacturing when it debuted in 1985. The kettle was the first of a suite of coordinating kitchen items that are still in production today, including a tea infuser introduced in 2015 that pays homage to the 9093 kettle as well. The objects are notable for their shiny stainless steel finishes, colorful flourishes and wide consumer appeal.

Kitchen timer by Michael Graves Design for Alessi

Kitchen wall clock by Michael Graves Design for Alessi

Butter Dish by Michael Graves Design for Alessi

Mantel Desk Clock by Michael Graves Design for Alessi

Condiment Set by Michael Graves Design for Alessi

Michael Graves with the finished Tea-Rex Kettle

This celebration of the iconic kettle’s longevity is a fitting tribute to the treasured relationship between Alessi and Michael Graves. Alberto Alessi notes, “Tea Rex is the last project by one of our design heroes. His contribution to Alessi’s history and design portfolio will never be forgotten.”

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