Bombé

Alessi started out hand-crafting kitchen wares. This tea and coffee set, designed by Carlo Alessi in 1945, shows the company’s transition to industrial manufacturing.

9091

The 9091 (1983), by German industrial designer Richard Sapper, is often considered the first kettle to rise to the level of a design icon. Its brass spouts sing in E and B notes, creating a melodious sound instead of a deafening whistle.

Tea and Coffee Piazza

This whimsical collection by Robert Venturi was part of a design project in which Alessi hired 11 famous architects to whip up tea sets that imitate buildings and piazzas.

9093

Alessi’s mucky mucks threw open the doors for architect Michael Grave’s second -- and many would argue superior -- career as a product designer in 1985, when they hired him to design a tea kettle. The 9093 was a smash. With its muted blue handle and bird-shaped whistle, it sold more than 1.5 million units. Target went on to hire Graves to produce a knockoff for the inaugural Design for All line -- the company’s revolutionary effort to bring good design to the masses.

9093

A sketch by Graves

Juicy Salif

On the art-design continuum, many of Alessi’s products skew heavily toward art. Case in point: Philippe Starck’s juice squeezer, which looks more like alien spawn than something that could make lemonade. Designed in 1990, it’s part of MoMA’s permanent collection.

Tea & Coffee Towers

Here’s an extraordinary tea and coffee set by Greg Lynn, better known as the one of the fathers of blobitecture. Released in 2003 as part of a follow-up experiment to the 1983 tea-service project, it’s meant to show the "transformation and evolution of organic forms" into titanium, Alessi’s Web site says. That’s obviously code for "vagina."

Tea & Coffee Towers

More beautiful blobiness, from its other patron saints, Future 
Systems (the late Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete).

Blow up Citrus Basket

Lately, Alessi’s been championing the work of younger designers like Rowan and Erwan Bouroullec, Pauline Deltour, and the Campana Brothers, whose fruit basket is shown here.

All images courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Co.Design

Alessi's Long-time Love Affair With Star Designers [Slideshow]

At a time when you can buy Michael Graves tea kettles at Target and Philippe Starck colanders on Amazon, it's easy to forget that high design only recently entered the everyday kitchen. Much of the credit goes to Alessi, the Italian manufacturer that has built a business out of partnering with famous designers, from Graves and Starck to Ron Arad and the Campana Brothers. Next month, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will unveil Alessi: Ethical and Radical, a retrospective of the company's landmark collaborations. We've got a preview here.

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