Design Moment: Bird Whistle tea kettle, c.1985
Its important 20th-century design is reflected in its position in museum collections from the Victoria & Albert in London to the Australian National Gallery
The strength of vision in the Bird Whistle tea kettle is how its designer, US architect Michael Graves, combined the quintessentially old fashioned with the achingly contemporary. Stove-top kettles that whistle when the water is boiled have been around for more than a 100 years and in his playful design Graves combined that nod to nostalgia with a shiny stainless steel finish and vivid blue handle that also nods to playful pop art. Designed for Italian company Alessi in 1985, it fitted in perfectly with the post-modern mood which was then very popular in architecture and design. And for a contemporary design that was instantly popular, it has proved to have longevity. By its 30th anniversary in 2015, Alessi had sold more than two million Whistling Bird tea kettles. Blue for the handle colour was chosen as it symbolises cold, and the bird that whistles when the kettle is boiled is red. The broad base and conical shape helps water boil faster and the visible rivets near the base evoke its industrial roots, although another interpretation is that they hint at the bubbles boiling away within. Its status as an important 20th-century design is reflected in its position in museum collections around the world from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to the Australian National Gallery. It’s not an entirely perfect design – my Bird Whistle kettle is retired to the shed as the bird melted after the flames in the gas ring ran amok – and somehow it’s just not the same without that bird.