“I like props that have a little soul to them,” says Kristi Hunter, freelance interior and prop stylist. To Kristi, this means rifling through dusty flea markets for hidden treasures from yesterday or sourcing locally from resident artisans instead of big box stores. She likes her props to have a story to tell.
Kristi is tousled when she enters The Random Tea House. Her golden-brown hair droops effortlessly into a messy bun and she jokes that all of her sweaters have holes in the arms from wearing them on photo shoots for work. Kristi, dog- tired after a long work day, sips Chai from an enormous ceramic mug and glances at the artfully displayed teacups and trinkets of The Northern Liberties tea room. The intimate space full of quirky character features the gems of local Philadelphia artisans. Being surrounded by such lovely creations makes the tea room one Kristi’s favorite spaces.
Kristi’s love for true craftsmanship traces back to her childhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her father is a carpenter, “who can build anything,” and her mother is amazingly creative and always making something new. Being steeped in an innovative environment as a child inspired Kristi to pursue a profession where her passion for creative expression takes flight.
“I didn’t know any of the jobs I had were jobs,” says Kristi. She says she could never sit behind a desk day in and day out but at the beginning, she “didn’t have a direction or an end goal” aside from knowing she wanted to be inventive and work with her hands. So, Kristi began a journey into studying three-dimensional art and a professional world full of unknown options.
Kristi started by studying sculpture and majoring in Advertising, Art, and Design at a community college in Minneapolis with a strong track in arts. Chiefly, Kristi studied graphic design with a 3D aspect. Three-dimensional creation eventually captured her imagination and helped her conceptualize an artistic vision. Unsure of her path after community college, Kristi became a cosmetologist. While styling hair and makeup, she hustled side work designing retail window displays.
Soon Kristi fell in love with the artistry of the job. She quit the salon and began work full-time designing window displays and digital merchandising. Kristi’s eye for designing vignettes, or concept sketches, and making them real in the layout of store designs. She burst with ideas perfect for featuring trends and the unique vibe of Forever 21, one of her top clients.
At twenty-eight, Kristi sought a change of pace, so she stepped out to Philadelphia and began doing window displays for stores like H&M. Ultimately, she began getting requests for fashion styling photo shoots and fashion shows. Kristi came to the realization that styling was her thing, and she was good at it. She longed to leave the crazy hours of retail, but never imagined that styling could become her career.
Others began to notice Kristi’s talent, too. At last, Kristi captured an e-commerce studio client that yielded regular work. The job jump started her freelance business and she began her company in earnest with “a leap of faith” and large measure of nerves. At first, finding steady work was not so straightforward. Kristi would acquire work from a friend who talked to a photographer, who then talked to an agency, and so on, which led to getting assignments via a convoluted path of word of mouth. Kristi said that once she got started, “everything piggy- backed from there,” and it became a “web of connections.” Working e-commerce was also beneficial to Kristi because it was a great way to network with other freelancers and build even more connections from one another.
Kristi’s client list is ever expanding and includes URBN Home, Knoll Furniture, Campbells, Lord & Taylor, and Wayfair to name a few. One of Kristi’s favorite projects early on was for a small Philadelphia home goods company. The shoot was at the owner’s home and the crew included only three people — the photographer, the company owner, and Kristi. The collaborative two-day shoot meant so much to Kristi because she could inhabit this lovely space and have free reign to carry out her vision for these beautiful pieces being featured. The pride in Kristi’s voice as she relays the story tells it all; she knew she could stand behind her work and deliver a fine product answering her clients’ needs.
It is 8 p.m. and the Tea Room is bustling with patrons mingling and grabbing a nightcap. Kristi is making a last note about her method. She notes she doesn’t follow strict rules, freeing her body and eyes to piece together the ultimate creation in her mind with almost magical mastery. Kristi says with conviction that, “Beautiful things work with beautiful things, regardless of the style of them.” Whether they have a luxurious, modern, or bold flair, they each have a common artistry.
In a recent pull of props, Kristi seamlessly orchestrated a grab from store to store for a holiday shoot for Sous-Vide Magazine. Drawing on her vision board she acquired dark modern water glasses, cranberry linens, and crystal votives from CB2. Then song continued to her favorite places as we strolled through second hand stores looking for hidden treasures from another day.
She thinks “the most beautiful things happen by accident,” and says she’s learned not to second guess but trust her gut when molding a scene. Although her interior design choices are intuitive, there is always experienced craft and purposeful intent behind each choice, whether by functionality or artistic expression. She loves the juxtaposition of traditional and fresh pieces brought together to make a unified space. To her, this mix brings more soul and depth into the hard, clean lines of modern objects.
Kristi chuckles when asked if her own home is as stylized as her work. She says she eschews clutter and likes to live minimally, simply wanting a place to relax and unwind from a day of sometimes taxing creativity. Home is a simple palate for refreshing her three-dimensional creative path. The next day will bring another space to create and fill with her intuition and vision, a fascinating place to live for a while, along with Kristi.