Of Witches and Whimsy: Gloria Kimber‘s Halloween Display

This Laurel Hills homeowner’s elaborate Halloween display is fun, heartfelt and (just) a little spooky.
by Susanna Klingenberg | photography by Juli Leonard

Gloria Kimber is a Halloween devotee, but not for the reasons you might assume. Creepy costumes and hocus pocus? Definitely not her thing. Spiders and spooks? Certainly not. So what does light-hearted Kimber love about Halloween, the scariest of holidays? In part, it’s what the holiday is not: “You don’t have to buy or wrap presents, send cards, or do a lot of baking,” she says. “You just get to have fun!” Kimber’s fun-loving spirit takes center stage each October, as she transforms her traditionally-decorated Laurel Hills home into a celebration of Halloween whimsy. 

The decorating process begins in September, when Kimber and her husband, John, move carefully-labeled boxes down from their in-house storage space—a space built specifically to house Kimber’s lovingly-collected holiday décor, everything from strands of lights and garlands, to orange-and-black tableware and a tiny haunted village. John Kimber names his wife the artistic director of the yearly project and good-naturedly resigns himself to “the muscle” (he’s in charge of moving boxes and arranging outdoor wiring). “Like so many things in life, only one person can be in charge,” he grins. “On Halloween, I’m definitely in the back seat!” Long before the first item is unboxed, Gloria Kimber’s wheels are turning. She gathers inspiration from magazines and reviews photographs of the previous year’s display to decide what to update. “Then, I let my imagination go!” she says.

Her collection began in the 1970s, when their two boys were young. Back then, the decorations were smaller and a bit generic—“corn stalks and hay bales and such,” she says—but since then, the collection has grown significantly in size and whimsy, but also in refinement. Kimber’s favorite pieces are antiques, like old-fashioned papier-mâché pumpkins and handmade vintage children’s costumes. She has found some items at the Raleigh Flea Market, and she keeps an eye out for treasures when she travels. Especially when it comes to antique Halloween pieces, Kimber says, “it’s all about the thrill of the hunt!” 

Despite those more polished additions, childlike delight still defines her style. “My husband says there’s a lot of little girl left in me,” says Kimber, with a wink. In a typical year, Kimber would host a long parade of Halloween-themed events in October: bunko and bridge nights, wine time with girlfriends, covered-dish suppers and celebrations for the Raleigh Garden Club. She considers one such event a turning point in her style: when Kimber hosted a fundraiser for the Raleigh Garden Club, a fellow member with a background in theater helped her put finishing touches on the decorations. “He laid out a giant skeleton in the middle of the dining room table,” laughs Kimber, “and I’ll never forget people’s reactions to that!” 

That experience gave her a fresh eye for her collection. She points to the fullsized witch in her guest bathroom as proof that she’s stepped up her dramatic flair ever since: it’s unexpected, and just creepy enough. “Everyone says they feel like somebody’s watching them in there!” she laughs. Despite all the work that goes into transforming her home each fall, the decorations are really just a means to an end for Kimber, an excuse to invite people over for some wholesome fun. This year, Kimber’s friends and family are begging her to move the Halloween collection outside, so they can still enjoy it. “Gloria is the epitome of a person who loves to celebrate being alive,” says her sister-in-law, Mary Regan. And if that celebration includes bats, skeletons and ghosts of all shapes and sizes? All the better.