Cover photo by Dine X Design.
I find some of the interior decorating content out there anxiety inducing. It’s mostly the conflict I feel between an aspirational life and a present life. Here I am, a cheese maker and cheese monger, who values aesthetics but not so much as to pursue an entirely aesthetic driven life. The numerous books and articles, instead of inspiring me, bring me into an existential question: is interior design solely about creating an ambiance and haven against a dark, chaotic world? Does it promote a denial of the hardships that exist for most while some live in the lap of luxury? And there is something about this that fills me with disdain: how can I write honestly when I am focusing solely on aesthetic decisions: the pinnacle of artisan luxury?
Kristin Guy's blog DineXDesign visually answers these questions for me. No, my apartment does not need to reflect high end design trends. No, my daily life doesn’t have to become a product that I am selling. What I am selling is authenticity and knowledge, and my blog is a confessional of my aspirations by living them. My house and my style of entertaining can reflect a life in motion, and in creative flux.
In the food world, slow living is a meditation. It can be achieved by curating dining experiences that pluck creative inspiration from the direct resources surrounding us. I asked Kristen a few questions about her life as a food stylist for HGTV and more. Her approach is inclusive, natural, if not somewhat spontaneous. I took some of her answers to heart and curated a spontaneous cheese party in my backyard. The photos accompany her answers.
Kristin Guy, by Dine X Design
1. Has food been a central part of your life?
Absolutely! My mom and grandmother were a great cooks! While growing up I’d always take a seat in the kitchen to watch or participate - they both opened my eyes to cooking being an enjoyable and creative craft - not a chore. Family dinners were also very important in my home, every night my parents and sister would sit down at the table for a meal which taught me the importance of spending time connecting with the people you love over delicious food.
Today as a food-centric professional it DEFINITELY plays a huge part. It’s hard for me to travel without mapping out how many cafes, restaurants and design stores I can fit into each day. There is nothing better than stepping out of your routine to be inspired (or build that prop collection for that matter)!
2. How did you come into the styling career?
If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be making a living playing with food I wouldn’t believe you! The majority of my career I worked as a Designer and then later as Creative Director for large hollywood studios in the advertising and digital departments. I started a food blog (The Cuisinerd) as a side hobby that allowed me to do something creative for myself and try to forget the stress of my every day job life when I was at home.
Over time I was fortunate enough to get some positive recognition for my style, recipes and photography. In 2012 I made the leap to try food styling and content production full time after being hired by the likes of HGTV and Cost Plus World Market. I truly am so lucky and blessed to be a self employed creative and working as a stylist and photographer for those brands still today among many others. Never underestimate the power of a website or instagram account - those both served (and still serve) as a working portfolio for me and have allowed me to work on such amazing projects!
3. How do you recommend that people apply the verb dine by design to everyday life?
Dining by Design doesn't have to be overly complicated or intimidating. The idea is to make something ordinary feel a little more extraordinary. Putting in the time and care to show someone you are hosting brunch for, or just enjoying a happy hour patio cocktail with, that you care. A little detail goes a long way - try switching to cloth napkins for weekend suppers or putting a little black lava salt on top of your burrata.
You don’t need an extensive prop closet or culinary skills to appreciate and apply good design to your table. Pluck some flowers or branches from the garden for the table for no special occasion, visit a local craft fair and explore makers in your community, try your hand at making a cocktail garnish out of fresh berries and herbs.
No rules - only self expression and most importantly enjoyment.
Photo by Jess Hitt
4. How would you define your sense of style/aesthetic?
I think my personal style is a mix between mid century modern and eclectic. I love the imperfect beauty of handmade ceramics, the use of natural elements as texture (wood, leather, weavings), and textiles with patterns. I’m heavily influenced by Japanese craftsmanship as well as nature - you might noticed I tend to layer lots of botanicals and blooms in my work.
Photo by Jess Hitt
5. What is your favorite way to display a cheese board? And what would you chose to feature?
Cheese is such a fun way to express creativity - Be it a happy hour for two at home or a more elaborate gathering. I’ve done everything from making a one bite charcuterie on a cocktail pick to a multi-tiered presentation adorned with fresh flowers. There really are no rules when it comes to cheese display, quality cheese speaks for itself and is always a hit. I personally love artisanal cheese with interesting rinds - that texture from ash or some sort of herb can really play a big part in the creative presentation. Honeycomb, seasonal fruit and some edible blooms also a feast for the eyes - and something pickled, there always needs to be something pickled up in there.
6. What is your most valuable food presentation piece for entertaining? (i.e. a platter, a board, etc)
It is too difficult to choose favorites - especially for someone who has access to a prop closet 24/7! I am an avid ceramics collector (to the point that I’ve actually just started taking classes at a local studio to learn the process). I have favorite pieces collected from travels, some really amazing pieces from Melbourne particularly. I love using lots of different artist’s plates and serving dishes in complementary neutral colors - the different textures make for a beautiful yet not overly fussy set up. Plus the food pops off nicely, becoming the real star of the show.
If I have to pick one thing currently - it’s that I’ve finally updated my everyday dishes to a Heath Ceramics Set. Classic, quality, and they can be mixed up with just about any kind of style on the table.
7. What do you think is the best way to build a food design community online?
I think collaboration and celebration are the key to a successful online community. When I rebranded and launched Dine X Design (only a few short years ago) I think most of it’s success came from others willingness to participate in it. My series called “You Got Served” features different stylists and prominent food bloggers and how they might tackle a box of mystery props for a shoot. Getting to document that behind the scenes really created a larger community - besides, we all know everyone is interested in what goes on behind the camera when creating all those gorgeous food photos. That series brings an element of realness to the table which I think is a nice reminder we’re not all perfect...it’s true, sometimes our soufflés do indeed fall flat.
I also think celebration is very important. People need to stop being so competitive and negative! There’s room for everyone to create, and no one can do it exactly the same! Take a moment to applaud, comment and really express to those creatives you admire what an amazing job they are doing. I also make a practice to tag any makers in my photos for props I’ve used on a shoot - there’s no need to be secretive, I want those people to succeed too!
I don’t think we compliment enough in this digital age - and lord knows we could all use some extra positivity around here!
8. I once read that food design, as a term, does not include artisan food producers, because artisans are rooted in tradition and repetition, while food designers are focused on disrupting and re-evaluating these daily practices. Do you have an opinion about this term and what it means?
Oh “food design”! So interesting and yet so exclusive. I actually have to disagree about artisans not being food designers. In repetition there is also discovery, like new ways to make something - maybe a new recipe, process or concept. I found it interesting that this term also doesn’t include Chefs - only the ones that are exceptional or discovering new ways of food enjoyment in the dining experience are “true food designers”. Why can’t this exception be true for artisans? Maybe not all artisans are food designers, only the ones who are inventing and changing the usual?
Really, we could go around in circles on this topic for hours..days!. In the end, I personally feel like anyone doing something creative and curious in the food field should be considered part of the term. I will confess, I was a little saddened to discover that “Stylists” or “Food Photographers” aren’t considered a food designer either.
I suppose like art - it’s all subjective!