How much does Matt Kiser love holiday decor? Let us count the trees — 20 of them — all lavishly trimmed in different themes and colors.
There’s a purple Mardi Gras mashup, a “rustic tree” with birds and “outdoorsy ornaments,” and not one, but two wine-themed trees.
In fact, there’s at least one Christmas tree in virtually every space in Kiser’s home, even the laundry room, guest bath and master-suite closets.
“I had an aunt growing up who decorated over-the-top for the holidays,” Kiser said. “I always loved going to her house and feeling that magical Christmas spirit.”
Inspired by those magical memories, every year Kiser re-creates it in the home he shares with his longtime partner, Chris Nichol. Their place is no sprawling McMansion but a high-rise condo in downtown Minneapolis. Granted, it’s a very large condo, at almost 3,700 square feet, so it can handle a lot of trees without resulting in wall-to-wall branches.
“It’s not overkill,” said Nichol.
Kiser, a health care consultant, does almost all their holiday decorating on weekends, starting in October and finishing in time for the annual party they host for their neighbors on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. “It’s the kickoff to the season,” said Nichol. “It’s a pretty social building.”
Kiser has always decorated in a big way. “Even when I had a small one-bedroom apartment, I had two trees,” he said. “It’s definitely a good creative outlet for me.”
As his homes got bigger, his decorating grew, too. The number of Christmas trees doubled two years ago when Kiser and Nichol bought the unit next door and created one super-size condo.
The second unit came with an additional storage unit, which became the “Christmas tree storage room,” said Kiser. Their large trees are on custom-made stands with rollers, so that they can be wheeled into storage — fully decorated — then wheeled back out the next year.
“Having a Christmas storage room has cut it down to one-third the work,” Kiser said.
Only three of the trees are dismantled after the holidays: the “winter wonderland” tree in their master bedroom, the contemporary steel tree with wine-bottle “branches” (“it’s the easiest to set up,” said Kiser) and the “Christopher Radko tree,” trimmed with 450 handmade, blown-glass ornaments from the eponymous designer’s collection. “The ornaments are too fragile to move the tree with them on it,” said Kiser. “I put them back in their original boxes.”
The oldest tree is the “main tree” in their living room. “I’ve had it since 1996 when I got out of college,” Kiser said. “It’s a collection of random ornaments,” including Elvis, a slice of bacon, a pair of flip-flops and a bottle of Tabasco hot sauce. “It’s memories of places we’ve visited, ornaments people have given us as gifts and Chris’ childhood ornaments — his mom gave him an ornament every year.”
Kiser transforms the “random” assortment into a stunning design statement using “tons of lights” — about 5,000 bulbs — wrapped around every branch, ribbon to hide the cords, then gold and burgundy floral picks to fill in. “It gives it a cohesive feel,” he said.
The newest tree is a shimmering golden creation trimmed with giant stars and wide gilded ribbon. “I had never done an all-gold tree,” said Kiser. “It’s an homage to my uncle. He passed away, and I inherited his decorations. He had many gold ones, so it’s in memory of him.”
Kiser’s most personal tree is the “travel tree” in their sunroom. It commemorates his three-month trip around the world in 2014. “I saw 32 cities in 18 countries. I had limited luggage space so I got one ornament from each place.” Some of the countries didn’t celebrate Christmas or have traditional ornaments for sale, so he brought home other decorative keepsakes including lanterns, key chains and even currency, which he displays in clear balls on the tree.
Wine is a recurring holiday motif. Kiser and Nichol are both wine aficionados and collectors, who recently added a “wine wall” and inventory-tracking system to their condo. Their wine-themed tree in the dining room, trimmed with grapes and actual wine bottles with lights stuffed into them, is so heavy on one side that Kiser had to use hand weights, tied to the back, to balance it.
Sharing the season
Sharing their holiday decor with friends and family is a big part of the fun.
“We love hosting small gatherings,” said Kiser. “A lot of people bring kids and grandkids” to see the Christmas trees. The whimsical red-and-white tree in Nichol’s office is a child magnet, exuberantly trimmed with giant candy canes, lollipops and a pair of red-shod feet with striped stockings, poking out of the tree as though an elf had dived in head first. “It’s the kids’ favorite.”
Grown-up guests are also enchanted by the festive setting. “We had a guest who left the tree lights on all night. She said, ‘I love to wake up to them,’ ” Kiser said.
Even when they’re not entertaining, Kiser and Nichol make it a point to savor all their carefully curated holiday atmosphere. “We both enjoy it. We wander around with a glass of wine, sitting with different trees in every room,” Kiser said. “All the trees are on remotes. I can turn on three at a time.”
Acquiring so much Christmas cheer is a costly hobby. The Radko ornaments, for example, sell for $60 to $70 apiece. “We take pictures, for insurance purposes,” Kiser said. But he also hunts for bargains.
“When things first come out, I go to get ideas,” he said, “but after the season, I shop the sales.” He gestured to a huge silver ball etched with snow-covered trees. “I admired it for years but it was too expensive.” After Christmas one year, it finally got a big markdown, and he snapped it up.
Kiser also scours craft and fabric stores for floral accents, which he buys in bunches and cuts apart to trim his trees.
And instead of investing in 20 tree skirts, Kiser drapes color-coordinated fabric around the base of each tree.
He had to get creative when he decided to create a pair of silver-and-black trees, to complement their artwork, in their front entry.
“You don’t see a lot of black Christmas ornaments,” he said. “I got things from the Halloween decor at Michael’s.” And he scored some sleek black candelabra-arm decorations when the downtown Macy’s store went out of business. “I saw them there when it was Marshall Field’s,” he said. “Every year, I asked if I could buy them. When they closed the store, I went to the sale. I didn’t want to see the store tattered.” But, sure enough, there was a box filled with the coveted candelabra arms.
Friends also give Kiser their hand-me-down decorations, which he repurposes. “One friend is downsizing her decor. She leaves bags.”
But even a Christmas connoisseur has his limits. Come January, Kiser is tired of looking at lights, baubles and bows. “By New Year’s Day, I’m ready to take them down.”