Collecting Christmas Trees

Odd Collections, People, Seasonal, Traditions
on November 29, 2011
Chad Ryan Kevin Kimpel displays more than 1,000 Christmas trees in his Indiana farmhouse.

A 4-foot-tall artificial evergreen decorated with old-fashioned crocheted and cross-stitched ornaments rotates in the living room of Kevin Kimpel's farmhouse in Butler, Ind. (pop. 2,725), amid a forest of aluminum Christmas trees shimmering in the sunlight pouring through the window.

In Kimpel's kitchen, a multicolored piñata shaped like a Christmas tree dangles from the ceiling, and in his bathroom, towels embossed with tannenbaums allow guests to dry their hands in holiday style after pumping soap from a spruce-shaped dispenser.
More than 1,000 Christmas trees made of a variety of materials-from fabric and feathers to wax and wood-and with a variety of functions-from decorative to practical-fill every nook and cranny of Kimpel's home from late November through early January.

"When I enjoy something, I go overboard," says Kimpel, 50, who inherited his holiday decorating obsession from his late father, Gene.
"He always did Christmas in a big way, inside and out," Kimpel adds. "We always had multiple trees; my brother and I even had a tree in our bedroom."
Kimpel didn't consider his collection out of the ordinary until 10 years ago, when he read a newspaper article about a woman who had 15 Christmas trees in her home. "I sent the paper an email letting them know I had 10 times that many," he recalls.
A civil engineer for Nucor Building Systems in Waterloo, Ind., Kimpel shifted his collecting into high gear in 2006. When he opened his home to friends and guests that Christmas, he had 367 trees. He's added about 200 each year since, finding low-cost treasures at garage sales, thrift stores and on eBay. He's also purchased unique souvenirs for his collection while vacationing in Aruba, Fiji and New Zealand.
Kimpel devotes about two weeks each November to lugging storage containers from his attic and assembling his annual display, which he dubs his Indoor Christmas Tree Forest.
"Every year it's different," he says. "That's what's fun. I can be creative. I like to figure out where everything goes and how to organize it all. I think about it all year long."
His trees are grouped by material-ceramic, glass, metallic and yarn-and by color scheme-green and silver in the living room, red and gold in the guest bedroom, blue and white in the master bathroom. Yellow and black trees in Kimpel's laundry room pay tribute to his alma mater, Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind. A "tacky tree" display includes an 18-inch cone covered with seashells, a tabletop tree made of yellow-green feathers and a painted wooden watermelon slice with a star on top.
Kimpel hosts open houses for friends, co-workers and community members to share his collection. For added fun, he creates a scavenger hunt of sorts, giving guests a list of clues identifying different trees and decorations. For instance, "Chuck's Forest" refers to a collection of spindly Charlie Brown trees on a Peanuts tablecloth, while "On a Roll" is the clue for a roll of toilet paper with a Christmas tree pattern.
"The first time you see his collection, it's mind-boggling," says Rosemary Byrum, a fellow member at Lakewood Park Baptist Church in nearby Auburn. "It's the biggest Christmas present you ever opened."
Kimpel's favorite tree is the fresh-cut one he sets up in his bedroom, decorated with 1950s ornaments. He's also fond of the oldest tree in his collection-a 3-foot-tall artificial tree that belonged to his grandmother during the 1940s.
Though space in his modest home is tight at Christmastime, Kimpel plans to continue collecting trees that strike his fancy. "If it's unusual, I'll pick it up," he says. "I'm always looking for something I don't have."