A recent ROASTe article reported on a coffee exhibit in Prague. A current exhibit of coffee culture related items in the Philadelphia Museum of Art tells another kind of story about the world of design as it relates to coffee utensils. Where the Prague exhibit revealed historical coffee paraphernalia, the Philly exhibit is quite modern, with most of its “domestic objects” dating all the way back to 1985 and up to the present. They are the creation of the Italian factory owned by the Alessi family. Mr. Alessi states that to Italians, product design is related to architecture and his family has further blurred the line between industrial design and art. The Alessi family’s company is also commercial, as their designs are sold to manufacturers and made available to customers who are willing to pay extra for artistically designed house-wares. Alessi’s Whistling Bird Kettle is an example of one item that is familiar to many and is widely available in upscale shops. The kettle exemplifies the marriage of architecture and product design, as it was designed by architect Michael Graves. Graves and fellow architect Robert Venturi both collaborate with Alessi and are largely responsible for the family’s success. The stars of the show are the coffee and tea sets representative of the sets Alessi asked eleven post-modern architects to design to look like public squares. Formed of sterling silver, each takes about three months to produce. Not all of the designs work as a functional product. Some of the designs resulted from computer technology in attempts to create coffee and tea pots and other accessories. However, they turned out to be more sculpture than useful. Besides working with Alessi, Michael Graves also corroborates with Target, so possibly some of his creations can be found there. Regardless, coffee meeting art is another example of the extensive influence the coffee culture has had on modern life, taking the beverage far beyond the mere enjoyment of a comforting hot drink.
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