Timeless Lighting: Michael Graves Architecture & Design

06/04/2015 02:40 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

Anyone tuned in to CBS Sunday Morning on May 31 couldn't possibly have missed seeing the soft-spoken gentleman with his blue-handled, stainless steel teakettle, a red bird perched at the end of its spout.

That wasn't just any teakettle. It was the Alessi Whistling Bird Teakettle by Michael Graves Architecture & Design -- an iconic, postmodern masterpiece first produced in 1984. Since then, more than a million have been sold. (Full disclosure: This writer has been boiling water in his own since 1988.)


Alessi Whistling Bird Teakettle (Photo Courtesy of Alessi)

The Alessi teakettle, said product design principal Donald Strum on Sunday Morning, anchors the kitchen.

"Otherwise, the kitchen would run amok," he said.

"You don't want the kitchen to run amok, though," observed his interviewer.

"No, you don't," deadpanned the designer.

Strum, who worked with the late Michael Graves on the teakettle, is now unveiling the firm's newest product design -- a series of lighting fixtures called The Portfolio. It also was a collaboration.


Gala Pendant, from The Portfolio Collection

"Michael and I worked on these very closely together," he says. "He was so happy when we came out with the new line."

For good reason. It's an elegant set of pendants and sconces, designed to complement each other on a wall or table. An Opera wall sconce, for example, takes its fluted cues from the Gala pendant hanging from above. "It's a tie-in -- a coordination," he says.


Opera Sconce, from the Portfolio Collection

Meticulously crafted from aluminum, glass and brass, they're actually extensions of a line that was introduced first in the Humana Building in Louisville, Ky., in 1985. The initial line was manufactured by Baldinger Lighting; the new line is made by Ilex, in Taunton, Mass.

Elements in The Portfolio can be used individually or in groups, and in hospitality, institutional or healthcare settings. "We needed a workhorse fixture that was not only beautiful, but that would light up large spaces -- something you can put on a dimmer and bring the light back down," he says. "We were overzealous to really light the space."


Fete, from The Portfolio Collection

They can be used in multiple arrangements in big spaces -- working in cadence, with repetitions of three, four, eight or even 20. But they have residential applications too.

"I use Gala in my home, over the dining room table," Strum says.

So he, too, must be happy with the new line.

For more information, go here.

J, Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, and edits a digital design magazine at, where portions of this post first appeared. He is also the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand," published in May by Routledge Press.