The phrase “good things come in small packages” could have been created with Curt Decker’s holiday parties in mind. His 1,900-square-foot pied-a-terre is already a lustrous little jewel tucked away in Mount Vernon. Every inch dazzles with treasures he has collected in his many travels: neolithic Chinese pots, pre-Colombian Mexican and South American artifacts, French Art Nouveau posters.
But, come December, Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, wraps it all up with a big shiny bow.
“Every year, I decorate the house over Thanksgiving. It takes a couple of days to get everything in place. And each year, I’m tempted to add more,” he notes with a chuckle.
Out come angels and ornaments he’s collected from his frequent trips to Santa Fe, along with a few nutcracker figurines in honor of his recurring role as the toymaker in the annual production of “The Nutcracker” ballet put on by the Baltimore School for the Arts. (Not this year, though. The show is on hold while the school undergoes some major construction.)
Up go artificial garlands and wreaths on the mantels, over high mirrors and on the side tables. (“They’re reusable and the cleanup isn’t as difficult [as the real thing], though storage can be a problem!”) A Christmas tree takes up too much room, so Decker goes all out with poinsettias. His red-walled foyer leads guests into the main sitting room, enveloped in carved mahogany walls. Red poinsettias go in both places. The dining room— painted in deep pink— is where you’ll find the variegated version of the Christmas plant. The cream-colored front parlor gets the white poinsettia treatment. The rooms follow in a row, with large doorways in between, all of which lends a good party flow, especially fetes of up to 100 guests.
“I have to say, I like parties where it’s crowded, because people are forced to talk to each other,” Decker says. “A crowded party means people have to talk to people they don’t know, instead of just talking to their friends.”
So, what does that say about the guest list?
“I try to invite people who can enjoy a party. You invite not just old friends, but new ones, so there’s a good mix,” says Decker.
And how does he know when the mix is a good one?
“I listen to the noise level. When I hear a lot of chatter, I know people are having a good time.”
Food also helps with the flow. Decker offers “stand-up cocktail food, so people keep moving and they’re not stuck in corners.”
The City Cafe provides passed hors d’oeuvres and a few dishes. But Decker prepares a lot of it himself, then lays it out on the dining room table.
“I’m not a great cook. I’m a good assembler of food,” he explains.
Favorites include roasted tenderloin, smoked salmon, crackers and cheeses and cream puffs— much of which he finds at the local membership warehouse club. “Costco has become my best friend,” he confides with a sly smile.
Move over, Costco. Many of Decker’s guests consider themselves in that category, too. And, in this shimmering little holiday treasure box, it’s hard not to feel part of another precious collection. That of Curt Decker’s dearest friends.