“It was always my goal to ‘up the ante’ on good design, and I’ve devoted much of my career to this.” ~ Michael Graves
The world recently lost one of the most prolific designers of our time. Michael Graves, one of the country’s most prominent architects and a leader of the postmodernist movement, died on March 12, 2015 at the age of eighty. The Indianapolis native designed more than 350 buildings worldwide and created more than 2,000 products for companies like Alessi, Steuben, Target, and Disney.
When it comes to product design, Graves was perhaps best known for his iconic teakettle and a line of everyday household items. The first well-known designer to create a line for Target, Graves developed a product collection that expertly blended design with function.
Influenced by the work of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, Graves began his career in an architect of private houses in the austere style of orthodox Modernism. Graves was associated with the “New York Five,” a group of architects who had a common allegiance to a pure form of architectural modernism. By the late 1970s, however, Graves defected from modernism, rejecting it as too cool and abstract, and developed a wide-ranging eclecticism which reintroduced color, ornament, and symbolism to architecture. He went on to design projects like the Humana headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky and the Portland Municipal Building in Oregon. His daringly offbeat buildings helped define the postmodern movement in architecture.
In the 1980s, Graves became a member the influential Postmodern design movement known as Memphis. It was during this period he created products for the Alessi design firm, including the playful and iconic 9093 stove-top kettle. The conical stainless-steel kettle, which featured a circular handle and whistling bird on its spout, became a best-selling product and is still available today.
While Graves brought quality designed products within reach of everyone, his reputation suffered for it. When asked by The New York Times in 2011 if he worried about his reputation, he answered: “Just the opposite. It was my hope to do that.” Graves added:
“I always wanted to do what Josef Hoffmann, Wiener Werkstätte and the Bauhaus wanted to do, which they never got to do because they designed in a craft mode. We have behind us all this mass production, so why not take advantage and bring the price down for everybody? It was Target who called it the “democratization of design.” I figured, if it’s going to get designed, let’s do it well. So that’s what we did, and I’m happy about it.”
Graves admitted in the Times interview that he lived with his own stuff and and stated, “My kitchen looks like Target and Alessi.” Additionally, he bought his own things at Target, receiving a 10% discount.
After becoming paralyzed in 2003, Graves, though confined to a wheelchair, continued to work, designing houses for people with disabilities, and becoming internationally recognized as an advocate of healthcare design.
Discover more about this icon of architecture and design on the official Michael Graves website.
We at Shannon & Waterman are inspired by Graves’ talents and passion for creating well designed products that are accessible to mass audiences and can only hope that our approach to making wide plank floor an affordable luxury serves as an extension of the path that Graves carved in the world of design in his iconic career.
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