Romanticism dominated the arts during the 19th century America and it was during this time the grand Van Cortlandt mansion was first conceived. It began as a villa in 1840 and the Gothic design immediately drew the notice of neighbors. Admirers also called it "Bedford's Folly" due to its fantastic turrets and asymmetrical outlines, a type of architecture seldom seen in post-colonial era homes.
As the norms of wealth and status changed with the growing nation, so did the estate, reflecting the tastes and interests of wealthy society New York. In 1865 Van Cortlandt doubled the size of the manor for his growing family. When Van Cortlandt's son inherited the large mansion he renamed it to "Arbor House" after the trees that were planted on the property.
The grounds at Arbor House endure as an outstanding illustration of 19th century landscape design. Sweeping lawns covered in fresh winter snow are accented with shrubs and skeletal specimen trees dotted with twinkle lights. The curving entrance drive reveals quite a number of surprise landscapes and views, the angular-sharp repetition of the Gothic roofline in the evergreens, as well as the steel framed conservatory. A later addition is the indoor rose garden and fernery which houses blooms all year round.
The elegant ballroom, with its 28-foot ceilings, fanlight windows, hand-stenciled ceiling beams, and 12 opulent crystal chandeliers, is the room of choice for formal affairs. The hardwood floors are overlaid around the edges with cornflower blue Persian rugs, leaving the center bare for dancing. In the far right corner a small stage is set, upon which a small orchestra plays smooth renditions of classics from Mozart to Ravel.
Each table is set with fine Egyptian linens that are detailed with gold brocade. Slender silver candlesticks are converted into topiary centerpieces, decorated with fresh roses and winter greenery. Surrounded by 8 chairs each, there are no place cards dictating a sitting order for the guests, allowing them to mingle freely with each other.
At the head of the room is a long table set with a splendid ice sculpture of a rearing elephant around which a buffet of canapes, crudites, and bite sized appetizers can be found. Waiters in formal black and white attire can be seen drifting through the room carrying trays of champagne flutes and hors d'oeuvres.
For the star watcher, the event is quite the treat. It seems as though everyone in the area who has money or has ever been famous has been invited to attend. Among them are the old woman's neighbors, Martha Stewart (who is keeping a careful eye on the decorations while testing nearly everything that comes to her on a plate), Rosie O'Donnell (who is simply testing everything on a plate), and Glenn Close (who is thankfully without her dogs this evening).