Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hot Bertaa kettle | Philippe Starck | Alessi, Italy | 1990

Philippe Starck Hot Bertaa kettlePhilippe Starck
Alessi, Italy, 1990

Philippe Starck:  prolific, intense, stupendous.  He was born in 1949 in Paris, France.  In 1982, he decorated the private apartments of President Mitterand at the Elysée.  His accomplishments and designs are too numerous to do justice to, so spend a few moments exploring his web presence.

He is modest about an object that I find astonishing in grace and poise, the Hot Bertaa kettle.  The kettle proper is made of cast aluminum colored by a silicone resin.   It holds 200 cl and is 25 cm tall.  It appears pierced by a hollow tube made of polyamide in either green or anthracite.  Consistent with my favorite colors being Lucite, lacquer, leather, and chrome, I have the anthracite version.

Above:  various views of the kettle.

The long side of this tube is the kettle handle, the short side is the spout.  The kettle is filled by pouring water slowly in through the short end.  On heating, steam exits through this opening, offering the illusion of locomotion. Production of the kettle launched in 1990 and lasted seven years, stopping in 1996.  It was pulled from the market in 1997.  The Bertaa kettle is often cited as the favorite ‘design fiasco’ of Alberto Alessi. Says Alessi, “You shouldn't need an instruction manual to operate a kettle.”  Starck has this to say of it:

The “Hot Bertaa” is one of my first pieces produced by Alessi. Alessi is a star, so it was a real highlight, a heart-stopping moment. Michael Graves had done it, as had Richard Sapper, so I had to be extraordinary, to show all my talent. But I became somewhat self-deluded and came up with the theory of immobile aerodynamics. There are certain objects that don't need to move, like a kettle placed on a table. If you give such objects movement, or dynamics, as they are unmoving, they might try to instill movement around them. It may be true. It seems to work a little. But with hindsight, I was just trying to get myself noticed, I wanted to make a masterly, sculptural object. In fact, this sculptural object is one of my worst pieces ever. It isn't very functional, it's dated, too fashion conscious. It's one of the things I'm most ashamed of. And to take the story further, this object, which existed for all the wrong reasons, also had a very difficult birth. It took 5 years to develop. Firstly because certain people at Alessi were very slow. And secondly, they didn't understand the complex system of valves and such. After 5 years, we couldn't recall why this object existed. So if a thing starts out badly, it ends badly, too. That piece was one of my big regrets. It illustrates the limitations of design, and it was responsible for my gradual loss of interest in stylistic design and masterly design.


I looked for something, anything, online that showed the Hot Bertaa in operation but found nothing, so I thought I’d share.  Click below to watch a video of filling the Hot Bertaa with water and what happens when the kettle boils.  By the way, you won’t see me pouring scalding hot water out of it.  The kettle is a sculptural design, not very much a practical one.

As always, look for good condition items.  They can sell in the $250 range on eBay, $300 for the anthracite edition.  Both are uncommon, the anthracite more so, but a couple a month come up for auction.  The bottom scratched easily, so that’s a good place to look for use.  The joint between the handle and kettle and spout and kettle may have some bubbling, peeling, or corrosion on well used examples.  With the advent of the 1/3 scale miniature Hot Bertaa ($32) the original has become a little harder to search for.  

Hot Bertaa, polished aluminumThe Hot Bertaa in polished aluminum and with a blue handle and spout.  An exhibition piece.  Image source.

Green Hot BertaaThe Hot Bertaa with a green handle and spout.  Image source.

Anthracite Hot Bertaa with box, tag, and literature   Alessi imprint Left:  The anthracite kettle with box, tag, and literature.  Right:  Alessi imprint on the bottom of the kettle.  Image source: eBay.

Visit the Design Museum “Discover Design” website for an interactive exhibit of the Hot Bertaa kettle and other items. 


Centre Pompidou, (2003). Communiqué de Presse: Philippe Starck 26 February - 12 May 2003. Retrieved February 28, 2009, from Centre Pompidou Web site: http://www.centrepompidou.fr/Pompidou/Communication.nsf/docs/IDE8982C4D9CEA9510C1256D1700496167/$File/dpanglais.doc

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gerson lessa said...

Excuse me, but I got one with the instructions leaflet and the proper way to fill the kettle is by the rear oppening at the opposite end from the sprout. You will need then to deal with the subtle mechanism of the ball valve. Not a pratical design, indeed.

kevin404 said...

Believe me when I say filling it with water was not easy - and for me a one time only affair! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to receive the video (see above)publishing in a museum? Please contact me (Almut.Neumeister@leipzig.de)

Thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

The way the water is being filled in the video is very awkward and doesn't make sense. The sprout is designed in an angle for a reason. It makes a lot more sense to fill the water from the rear opening, which is also a lot more open than the front opening.

Anonymous said...

I have about 60 Hot Bertaas in my basement. :-)

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