While he was an acclaimed postmodernist architect with hundreds of buildings to his name, Graves is probably better known as a product designer, having led the way of offering well-designed products that were also affordable. He first brought his playful touch to Alessi, designing such products as the iconic tea pot in 1985, and he continued designing for the Italian company on and off for 30 years.
But it was in the late 1990s when he first debuted high-design looks for the mass market. In 1999, brought on by then vice president of merchandising Ron Johnson, Graves introduced his line for Target, and which included such innovative products as the Pop Art toaster and the Spinning Whistle teakettle.
“We have behind us all this mass production, so why not take advantage and bring the price down for everybody?” Graves told the New York Times in 2011. “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.”
The partnership with Target, which included architectural projects such as the Washington Monument Restoration, ended in 2012.
More recently, during Johnson’s reign at JCPenney, Graves joined Martha Stewart, Jonathan Adler and other designers as one of the brands in its shop-centered home department in 2013. Graves’ product line there included housewares, tabletop and home decor, as well as a few furniture pieces.
Graves also did a bed and bath line for Fieldcrest Cannon in the 1990s.
After a spinal cord infection in 2003 made him wheelchair bound, Graves focused on making livable spaces for the handicapped for the rest of his life. His firm is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“Since founding the firm in 1964, Michael transformed the role of architects and designers and even the place of design in our everyday lives. For those of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Michael, we knew him as an extraordinary designer, teacher, mentor and friend,” the website said.