If you find yourself heading through Guerneville at night between now and New Year's, slow down once you pass through town and gaze across the river. You might for a moment think you've stumbled across a fairyland twinkling amid the darkened redwoods.
That would be Kimo's place, a joyous explosion of Christmas where seemingly no surface save the floors is spared a holiday dressing.
Leave it to Kimo Cochran to mount a holiday production right in his own home. A former sword dancer, fire swallower, actor, model and San Francisco entertainment impresario, his eponymous nightclub on Polk Street was a favorite hangout for some 34 years.
"It's a huge undertaking. But I love organizing things and I like producing and directing shows," says Cochran, whose efforts culminate in a dazzling Christmas party for 125 of his closest friends, with catered food, an open bar and an endless feast. One room is devoted to desserts alone.
The decorations start coming out on Oct. 1, which is none too early considering the sheer volume of stuff he has accumulated over some 30 years. And each year he hits the after-Christmas sales to add more.
"I don't want to be decorating up to Christmas day," he explains of the pre-Halloween Christmas kick-off.
He usually hires a couple of kids to help bring it all down from the attic, a job that takes an entire day. Boxes are labeled by room, however, to streamline the process.
Then the real fun begins. For the next two months, the man who prefers to be known simply as Kimo strings lights and hangs bells, wreaths, reindeer, poinsettias and Santas throughout every room of the vintage 1400-square-foot cottage he and his partner Russell Burt bought in 1998. Even the chandeliers and the outside deck get the holiday treatment with poinsettias and hanging balls and lights strung from the redwoods.
The centerpiece is an 18-foot, floor-to-ceiling artificial Christmas tree ablaze with some 5,000 lights of every type available and topped with a 3-foot tall angel. It takes a team of four or five people several hours to assemble it. It takes another five days to deck the tree until seemingly every needle is adorned.
Cochran was born in Alabama at the end of The Depression, the baby in a family of six.
"I didn't have hardly anything at Christmas as a kid," he confesses, explaining his yuletide obsession. "It's nice now to have a little money and be able to enjoy it."
Cochran and Burt, who manages Santa Rosa's Third Street Cinemas, moved up to the riverside cabin with its own sandy beach full-time about three years ago, after years as weekend visitors. They hired local contractor Tom Lynch to make the 77-year-old cabin into a comfortable home for entertaining that capitalizes on their beautiful river views.
A tiny window out to the water was replaced with a ceiling-high arched window now encircled in Christmas lights. French doors open out to a new multi-level deck. Crews spent a year refinishing the spectacular redwood interior walls and building a massive fireplace out of river rock.
Their open-door form of entertaining has enlivened the old Guernewood Road neighborhood, where people may swing by any day of the week with nibbles and wine for pop-up parties in his little Mardi Gras-themed courtyard in front, complete with century-old wrought-iron fence, masks on the trees and an old-fashioned street lamp from New Orleans. Or they can gather around the firepit near a bar he installed on their new and sweeping deck.