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The Kitchen Cabinet

Tempest in a Teakettle: Design War Heats Up

December 17, 1987|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

Bring out the teakettle and get that water boiling. No other beverage seems as soothing and stimulating during a cold day as a hot cup of tea. From the beginning, the traditional method of preparation for making tea has remained basically unchanged, using a steaming kettle of water. And for years the teakettle's design--short, rounded body with handle and spout opposite each other--has stayed virtually the same.

Today there's an ongoing battle of designs with teakettle manufacturers. Noted designers have been put to work to create the best teakettle with not only beauty but function in mind.

Another battle being fought is one between the stove-top teakettle and the electric teakettle, sales of which have been increasing lately. Scott McCullough, national sales manager for Zani America, a subsidiary of an Italian firm, says, "Most people when they buy the teakettle buy it for design. They leave it on top of their stove. People who buy the electric kettles (which have automatic shut-offs) are those that tend to let the stove kettle boil dry."

A most ingenious innovation that is also the first of its kind in the whistling teakettle category has just been introduced in the T42 Teakettle ($130) from Metrokane. The "happy" kettle is a whistling boiler that plays not just one note, but the entire tune of "Tea for Two."

"Tea for Two"

"I came up with the idea one day when I was under a lot of pressure for new and different items," Riki Kane, president of Metrokane said. Not knowing it would be possible, she expressed a simple wish while boiling a pot of water, "How about a teakettle that whistles 'Tea for Two?' "

Charles Hutter, whom Kane met at a party later on, made her wish come true. What sounded like such a naive idea turned into a revolutionary three-year technological project involving a 20-person team. A famed aeronautical engineer, Hutter designed a heavy, 2 1/2-quart, stainless-steel kettle with its own miniature steam engine right under the lid. It actually contains the world's first all-plastic steam engine, a state of the art in plastic molding technology.

Kane explains the system: "When water boils, steam pressure causes a piston to move back and forth, which in turn rotates a disc. A pattern of holes in the disc directs steam through tuned whistles in front of the handle." Aside from musical talent, T42 boasts a graceful and well-balanced shape in both its hand-polished body and handle. Last month's introduction of the teakettle at Bloomingdale's, New York, was highlighted by the presence of Irving Caesar, who wrote the lyrics to "Tea for Two." Singing the song, the 92-year old former songwriter stole the show, according to Kane.

Since its introduction in 1985, there have been about 80,000 Michael Graves Kettle ($100) sold in this country. Produced by Alessi, an Italian-based company known for making stainless-steel designer home accessories into an art form, this beautiful kettle has been tagged as a design statement in the yuppie's kitchen. Famous post-modern architect Graves designed a conical-shaped, a heavier grade 18/10 stainless-steel, 2-quart kettle that has a removable plastic red bird whistle and an alluring slate blue handle with dark red knobs. Graves explained that the kettle "does not try to be either overly sophisticated or to play on prosaic or utilitarian shapes" but establishes a playful character by its three-dimensional form and colorful trims.

A Silent Steamer

The latest and third designer teakettle from Alessi is the Il Conico ($120), designed by Aldo Rossi. (The first was introduced in 1983 which was called the Richard Sapper Kettle ($150), a dome-shaped stainless and brass kettle.) A silent teakettle, the Rossi kettle has a conical shape all the way from base to the point of its lid. A small ball of steel tops the kettle's conical lid. Widely regarded as one of the most important living Italian architects, Rossi has won the 1984 Accent Award for "Most Creative Use of Design." The intriguing simplicity and symmetry of Il Conico makes it very elegant looking; but like all the other Alessi kettles, function has been given importance.

Recently introduced is the Serafino Zani Teakettle ($95) from Zani America. Created by Milan designer, Tarcisio Zani, Serafino's brother, the 3-quart whistling kettle is dome-shaped, featuring a wide saucerlike base. It has a stay-cool handle and a patented unique spout that holds the whistle. The spout pulls back and locks into the handle for convenient pouring. Made in Italy, the Zani kettle carries a lifetime guarantee.

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