There was a whole lot of singing, drinking, cheating and crying this season on the ABC drama Nashville - but no baking. Which kind of surprised us, considering that lead character Rayna Jaymes has a lime green KitchenAid mixer sitting on the counter of her designer kitchen. If we had gone through all the heartache she did, we would have consoled ourselves with copious amounts of cookie dough.
KitchenAid mixers also made guest appearances this year on other TV shows. There was a bright yellow one on ABC Family's Switched at Birth, an aqua one on TLC's The Little Couple and many more on Food Network shows. In fact, rarely on air do you ever see another mixer brand. Product placement certainly plays a role, and set designers no doubt are attracted by the brand's sleek look and 30-plus colors.
Two KitchenAid mixers with floral designs, one orange and the other electric blue, really grabbed our attention. You can spot them on Ree Drummond's Food Network show, The Pioneer Woman. We queried KitchenAid and were told by a spokesperson: "This specific stand mixer is not sold through KitchenAid, nor was it customized by KitchenAid."
We learned that both floral mixers are creations of artist Nicole Dinardo, who turned a hobby into a thriving business called Un Amore Custom Designs, after she experimented with painting a mixer eight years ago.
"I've always been into art. I drew a lot when I was a little kid. When I was about 15, I got into pen-and-ink work. A few tattoo companies wanted to buy my artwork," says Dinardo, who lives in Washington.
Her father convinced her not to go into tattoo art but to focus on perfecting her airbrush skills. Inspiration struck after her mother bought her a KitchenAid mixer and encouraged her to transform it. Dinardo listened to both her parents: Using airbrush and traditional painting techniques, she gave her mixer a new look, then turned her attention to a friend's mixer and also her mother's. She was employed in an art studio but started spending her free time on mixer makeovers.
"It took off," says Dinardo, 32, who has been commissioned to paint mixers for a long list of enterprises, including the Hershey Corporation, the Build a Better Burger contest and the Seattle Seahawks NFL team. (As far as we know, baking is not part of training camp. The mixer was for an auction.) She also has embellished mixers for Hollywood swag bags and for numerous celebrities, including Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey, Khloe Kardashian, Drew Barrymore and Tori Spelling.
But it's the regular folks who most affect her, like the cancer patient who said the custom mixer she ordered was the one thing she was looking forward to. Or the woman who told her that this was the best gift she had ever bought herself.
"Those are really cool, sweet compliments that totally throw you off," Dinardo says. "You put your heart into each piece."
Why KitchenAid mixers? Dinardo says she's drawn to the aesthetics and curves of the machines. She's proud to have created a unique niche: "I know other people have painted a mixer here or there, but I built a whole business painting them."
Protecting her creativity apparently has had its challenges. According to court documents, Dinardo filed a copyright infringement lawsuit last year against Whirlpool (which owns KitchenAid) over designs in its CustomMade limited-edition line. (A court clerk told Squid Ink that the case was settled last July.) Dinardo says she legally can't discuss the matter, other than to say it's been resolved. KitchenAid no longer sells custom mixers, according to a spokesperson.
Dinardo works in a 4,000-square-foot space, which she shares with boyfriend Mike Lavallee, owner of Killer Paint, a company that specializes in custom auto designs. While her mixers are considered works of art, they are meant to be used: "The paint color doesn't fade; I seal it under a clear coat. It lasts a lifetime."
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Typically, customers send her their design ideas or even pieces of china to match. Then she makes a digital concept. Once that's approved, customers ship her their mixers (or she provides a new one for the client) and painting can begin. The entire process takes about six weeks and usually costs between $600 and $800 (which doesn't include the cost of the mixer), but can go higher if, say, gold is incorporated into the design.
Dinardo, who also paints food processors and blenders, says she loves what she does but has trouble explaining her passion for appliance art: "When people ask me what I do for a living, I sometimes refrain from telling them, because I know if I tell them, I get the weird looks."