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Michael Graves talks with Washington Post about new design eye from life in a wheelchair

A mysterious virus paralyzed Graves, an experience that let him have a wider design focus as an architect for the ill and disabled.

July 15, 2014 |

He is one of the nation's most prominent and celebrated architects. He’s designed everything from hotels for Disney to civic buildings, such as the municipal center in Portland, Ore.

In the late 1970s, he entered the world of industrial design after an invitation from Italian company Alessi to design a coffee and tea set.  In 1984, his kettle design for Alessi became a hit, and until this day remains the company’s number one bestseller. In the late 1990s he started designing everyday items for Target, which made him even more of a household name.

In sum, his signature style was ubiquitous, and he was heralded for bringing sophisticated design to the masses.

If anything, the mysterious virus he contracted in 2003 that led him to paralysis from the chest down was a catalyst that pushed him to have an even wider design focus.

He recently sat with Barbara Sadick of the Washington Post to talk about working as a full-time architect as he lives in a wheelchair.

“I believe well-designed places and objects can actually improve healing, while poor design can inhibit it,” he told the Post. “This became very real to me after my illness, so since then I’ve asked my design team to spend a week in a wheelchair.”

Graves further shares that good design for the ill and disabled isn’t just about accessibility, but also beauty. “Beauty can reduce stress and make us feel better,” he said, and adding that good design makes work easier for the caregivers, professional, or family.

To date, Graves keeps busy with multiple projects, many of them related to designing healthcare buildings, where Graves can use his expertise and personal experience to good use. Among these are a rehabilitation hospital in Lincoln, Neb., for people with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, and a new unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital that offers acute care for the elderly.

In industrial design, Graves is working with a health technology firm to design hospital room products that, as the Post describes, “will be not only easier for those with disabilities to use, making falls less likely, but also more attractive than what is found in many hospital and rehab rooms and much easier to clean.”

All of these projects, of course, will have Graves’ signature, whimsical, post-modern look and use of bright colors.

“Who wants to recover,” he tells the Post, “in a place where everything is beige?”

Read the full Washington Post profile. 



The Wounded Warriors Home project in Fort Belvoir, Va., designed by Graves in partnership with Clark Realty Capital.

Prime Transport Chair for Srtyker Medical. Image courtesy of

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