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THE AMERICAN ISSUE | GEAR

Kustom KAs heat up the kitchen

July 04, 2007|Charles Perry | Times Staff Writer

STRIPED, polished, painted in custom shades. Airbrushed to look wrapped in Old Glory, or covered with swirling, multicolored flames. Done up in camouflage splotches or WWII fighter plane patterns.

Street legal? No, these beauties are countertop kitchen mixers. Not racy Italian espresso machines or imposing German slicer-shredder-blenders, but KitchenAid mixers, the workhorses -- the John Deere tractors -- of American kitchens for more than 80 years. The same impulse that makes Americans customize their Chevys seems to be causing them to pimp their KAs.

When Food Network "Good Eats" host Alton Brown started using an electric mixer painted with swirling flames on his show, viewers sent in hundreds of e-mails about it. Fans brought their own hot rod mixers to Brown's book signings.

Forget brushed-aluminum chic. It turns out there's a whole mixer-customizing subculture that rejects the austere high-tech aesthetic, favoring instead the bright colors of custom paint jobs and lowrider-style decal ornament just for mixers. One entrepreneur has already gone commercial with a selection of flame decals.

The first sign of all this was probably the mother company's 1994 expansion of the range of available colors. Today you can get KitchenAid mixers in 70 colors, but apparently even that isn't enough for some owners, who paint their mixers in unique shades. It's just a step from that to custom designs.

Possibly the most spectacular custom KA paint job that's been documented so far is on the mixer owned by Phyllis Mullin of Madison, Ala. Her future daughter-in-law called dozens of places before finding the Visual Edge, a pin-striping shop in Lascassas, Tenn., which airbrushed a stunning American flag pattern with realistic-looking folds at the bottom of the mixer stand. "I'm the only woman I know of who polishes her mixer with car wax," Mullin says.

For a few months, www.forum.kitchenaid.com had a photo of Mullin's mixer posted. Other proud owner-operators have painted their mixers in military camouflage patterns or ones featuring that favorite World War II fighter plane design, the Flying Tiger. But the overwhelming preference is for the flame decoration of the classic '50s hotrod.

If money is no object, you can get a body shop to put any design in the world on your mixer. At the website www.flameka.com, Ross Bolton, an artisanal baker in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., posts photos of a number of customized mixers.

Bolton yearned for a flame job on the mixer he uses every day, but he didn't want to pay a motorcycle or auto body shop $150 to do it. He tried applying the auto flame decals that have been available for decades.

"The problem was," he says, "you can't just slap them on a mixer. The ink smears, the decal rips. Some mixers have a side bolt that can get in the way. And a car decal won't fit the spherical parts of the mixer, like the back."

Two years ago, he decided to design his own decals, and he started selling them in December.

The flames and camouflage examples tend to be dude-type decorations, but on KitchenAid Internet forums you'll also see mixers with such accessories as Hello Kitty decals, or, in one case, dark glasses for the mixer and a hula skirt around the bowl.

So maybe this phenomenon is also like dressing up your pet. As you read the Internet postings, it becomes obvious that some people actually give nicknames to their mixers. It's all part of what Bolton calls "mixer love," probably the maddest food crush of our time.

charles.perry@latimes.com

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