In 1960 Graves was awarded a scholarship for two years of study at the American Academy in Rome, of which he is now a trustee. After his return to the US, Graves taught at Princeton University in New Jersey, where he became a professor of architecture in 1972. Altogether he taught more than 25 years at Princeton.
After cooperating with Richard Meier (1959) and George Nelson (1962) in New York, he opened an architecture practice "Michael Graves & Associates" in Princeton, in 1964. In 1969 Michael Graves was one of "The New York Five" to whom the New Yorker Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) devoted the exhibition of that title. The other four architects were Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier. Shortly after the exhibition, Graves rejected modernism and started developing colorful buildings and interiors.
By the late 1970s, Michael Graves was also famous as a Postmodern furniture and product designer, who was inspired by Art déco.
Around 1980, Michael Graves created several pieces of furniture and objects for Memphis. The best-known of Michael Graves's designs are the many he did for Alessi, including the iconic conical kettle with birds (1985).
Michael Graves most important architecture projects include the Public Services Building in Portland, Oregon (1982), the library in San Juan Capistrano, California (1983), the Humana Corporation headquarters in Louisville (1982-1986), the Dolphin Hotel in Disney World, Florida (1989), and the annex to the Whitney Museum of Art in New York (1989-1990).