Holidays offer an excuse to go over the top with decorating. But few go as far over the top as Michael Kuczkowski.
“I’ve always loved Christmas,” he said. “Every room has some Christmas in it.”
Over the years, Kuczkowski kept expanding his seasonal decor until his 1,450-square-foot home in Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr neighborhood was filled with Christmas trees. Lots of Christmas trees — 40 of them last holiday season.
Not just simple trees with lights and a few baubles but lavish, themed holiday creations, such as the peacock tree in his foyer, the butterfly tree in his TV room and the small forest of dramatic Chinese-inspired trees on his front porch.
“One guy walked in and said, ‘It’s so Bloomingdale’s!’ ” Kuczkowski said. “I think he meant it in a nice way.”
Transforming his house into a holiday spectacle was no small task.
Kuczkowski usually started his decorating a couple of weekends before Christmas, getting all those trees up and in place. Then he took a week off work, plus the two weekends on either end, to add finishing touches. “I blast through it,” he said. “I get in the zone and spend 15, 16 hours a day on it.”
What drives him to invest so much time and effort on such an elaborate setting for just a few short weeks?
“Sharing it, sharing it, sharing it,” he replied. The New York native moved to Minneapolis about eight years ago, and though he doesn’t have relatives here,
his house was filled with people — friends, neighbors and co-workers — all holiday season long. “I entertain at Christmas and in summer when the garden’s blooming,” he said. “I like to cook, and I have parties just about every night.”
Guests’ jaws often dropped when they got their first look at the house in its fairy-tale holiday finery.
“It felt like you were walking into an enchanted place — an enchanted Christmas world,” said Karen Gemill of Deephaven, a former co-worker who attended a holiday dinner party at Kuczkowsi’s.
“I spent many holidays there,” said friend and former colleague Jenn Dingmann of Plymouth. “The first time I visited, I remember thinking, ‘Wow! Winter wonderland.’ Even pulling up to the house — the whole experience. Experiencing Michael’s Christmas magic brought your inner child out.”
Her own child, not quite age 5, also was impressed. “He remembered the decorations from year to year, and he said, ‘Mom, it’s so magical!’ ” Dingmann said. He especially loved a toy train displayed on one of the trees.
Kuczkowski enjoyed watching children’s reactions to his decor. “Kids love it,” he said. “Their parents are worried they’re going to break something, but they’re really respectful. They hold back and really look at it.”
Despite the carefully rendered themes, Kuczkowski said he decorates mostly by instinct. “People ask, ‘What’s the plan?’ I have no plan,” he said. “It’s emotional.”
Still, his instincts are more honed than most. He studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York before making his career in financial marketing.
His holiday decorations range from family heirlooms, to secondhand finds, to items he “picks up on clearance,” he said. “It’s different parts of my life, all worked together. I like flea markets and consignment shops. I find something wonderful, put it next to something, and you see it in a different way.”
His century-old house was not designed for all the illumination required to keep 40 trees lit and glowing. “I max out the circuits. There are usually at least one or two disasters,” he said, recalling the time a friend asked to use his microwave oven to heat something for her child. “I had to say, ‘Let me unplug a couple things first.’ ”
All but the glitter
A week or so after the holidays, Kuczkowski always disassembled his Christmas creation and packed it away for another year. “I’m done by Epiphany,” he said. “I take Martin Luther King Day off to pack it up. But I’m cleaning up glitter through July.”
Only last January, unbeknownst to Kuzkowski, he was packing up his decorations for the final time. A few months later, he got a job offer he couldn’t refuse in Connecticut and decided to start over — with a new aesthetic.
“I turned 50 and wanted more of a Zen, calm feeling,” he said. “I thought it would be fun to try something completely different.” So this year, in his new home, he’s opting for simpler holiday ornamentation with a focus on sustainability and reuse. “I found a craftsman who makes wreaths out of recycled jingle bells,” he said. “Everybody always said my decorations looked like a department store. Well, now I’m living in one, a converted loft in an old department store from the 1890s in downtown Hartford.”
After Kuczkowski left town, he arranged for a neighborhood gift shop and estate sale company, Cockadoodle Doo, to sell many of his belongings, including his Christmas and Halloween decorations. “I was not there for the sale. It would have been a little emotional for me,” he said.
Dingmann, who was there, estimated that the sale drew 1,000 people. “You could hardly move around in the house,” she said. Competition was fierce, but Dingmann did snag some green and burgundy ornaments from the dining-room tree, plus the toy train that her son had always coveted.
“It was sad when Michael left,” she said. “No one can re-create that.” But she’ll remember his magical holiday house when she looks at his decorations on her tree. “I’ve got a little bit of him left.”