Saturday, January 16, 2016

Spotlight! Your personal tour of historic Van Alst House

In our area, house tours are a big deal. People buy tickets to traipse through high end and interesting dwellings. So we thought you might like a personalized tour of the historic home we are most interested in.  Welcome to Van Alst House, home of Harrison Falls’ leading (and most hated) family and the primary setting for our book collector mysteries.  Your guide will be Jordan Bingham, Vera Van Alst’s research assistant.  Like Jordan, we think that the covers of the book collector mysteries give you a sense of this grand old book-filled house.

Jordan here! Are you ready to start the tour?   Look out for the little pug, Walter. He's my 'aunt's' dog, but he spends all his time with me. He'll scamper along trying to cadge treats. Just be careful not to trip over him.

Since Great grandfather Van Alst established the shoe factory in the nineteenth century, the family’s fortunes swelled and the Van Alst influence grew.  When the factory went out of business, the community was devastated and many people hated Vera, the last of the family, perhaps because she had just enough money left to continue living in her ancestral home, not so opulent, but still way above what most people had.  Of course, Vera is a recluse and a noted curmudgeon, so that didn’t help.
Still, while the fortune was pretty well gone, the sprawling granite pile (Scottish baronial perhaps?) lingers on in the middle of acres of still manicured grounds, fringed with evergreens on one edge and stately maples on the other. 

Come on in!   We just have a short time, so let’s make the best of it.
Here in the grand foyer, you can see in both directions what I like to think of as the endless corridors running in both directions.  Vera, as you know, is in a wheelchair, as a result of a long ago accident and that elevator gets her to the second floor where her suite and the guest suites are.  Off limits for us, I’m afraid.

Except for Vera taking the elevator, we rarely use the foyer.  Everyone in Van Alst House resists answering the door, so it’s lucky I was here to let you in.  Anyway, our life in Van Alst House mostly takes place in other parts of the house.

I call this the ‘mile-long’ corridor although that may be an exaggeration. Am I walking too fast?  We are heading past the ballroom and the parlor.  We rarely use those, although at one time, celebrities, politicians and even minor royalty might have danced and chatted there. On the walls, those oil paintings are of Vera’s ancestors. Yes, they all do look rather constipated. Yes, an unfortunate gene pool. 

Here is one of my favorite rooms: Vera’s study!  The Sheridan desk is worth a fortune.  I love the ten foot windows and the faded velvet drapes and the fainting couch, which is now faded to a pale amethyst. Yes, that is an Aubusson carpet on the floor.  Vera likes to lord it over people from behind that desk.  I am still recovering from my interview in this space. 

Let’s hurry along so we can be into and out of the conservatory before Vera shows up for lunch.  Your day will go better if we don’t run into her.  Not far now!  And ta da!  Here it is:

I love the conservatory and we eat breakfast and lunch here every day.  We would be Vera, me, my Uncle Kev who is a general helper around the place when he’s not blowing things us. Meals are served by Signora Panetone, who has been here since Vera was a child back in the sixties.  That swinging door leads to the kitchen, but the signora prefers not to have a lot of people there.  She did, however, prepare this wonderful Italian sponge cake and these almond cookies for you as well as the vat of coffee.  

While you have a snack, I can point of Vera’s New York Times crossword. She does one every day. Um, sorry, but I wouldn’t touch that, in case. 

Yes, it’s very comfortable and beautiful in this room.  And we do enjoy the view of the property from the glass expanse here in the conservatory.  As you can see, Uncle Kev has been making snow angels instead of whatever he was supposed to be doing. Still, like Uncle Kev, snow angels are pretty cheerful. 

Now, on to the dining room.  Go ahead, have a seat at the table, but watch your legs.  There may be a cat seeking an opportunity to give you a swipe.  It is grand isn’t it?  I sit at this end every night. We dine as eight and proper dress is required. Sorry about that. Bad Cat likes to claw. Good Cat likes to cuddle. Hard to know who's under there.  I always wear high boots to dinner for that very reason. I’m sure Uncle Kev can find you a bandage. 

Good Cat or possibly Bad Cat

The black walnut sideboard is priceless as are the Georgian silver candle sticks.  I love having dinner here and as Vera’s at the far end of the table with Uncle Kev in the middle, it’s not too bad socially.  The food is always wonderful. You can see another swinging to do the butler’s pantry and the kitchen.
Let’s head along to the library.  This is why I work here. You may know that Vera is a noted book collector of fine first editions, with a specialty in mysteries from the Golden Age of Detection. I help with improving the collection, buying and selling.  The library is very special and I had to plead to get permission to let you in.  Security is tight around here and we require a pass to get through the door. Uncle Kev will make sure no one leaves with anything and of course, we have security cameras.

You’ll notice that the room has a specially build mezzanine.  Vera’s collection is spread over both levels. I love the wrought iron circular staircase and the balustrade. The rosewood bookcases were also custom built. They add such warmth and richness to the room.  Again, the rugs are Aubusson. I can’t even imagine what they cost.  The artwork and bronze statues were bought by Vera’s father and are very important to her.  Yes, the leather chairs are amazing.  I don’t get a chance to relax in here, but if I did, I’d pick those chairs.  I love the scent of the library, all rich old wood, leather and books. Everyone inhale. You can’t beat that.

It seems that we are out of time. I had hoped to show you my lovely little apartment on the attic level, in what was once the maids’ quarters, but perhaps you’ll visit again and we can complete our tour.
Now if we play our cards right we can lock up, dash along yet another endless corridor lined with Vera’s unappealing ancestors and, if our luck holds, we can be at the front door before she descends for lunch.  

I’ll let you all know when the coast is clear and you can come again for part two.  In the spring or summer you’ll be able to walk in the gardens including the signora’s quite eccentric kitchen garden. Stay out of the woods though. Who knows what Uncle Kev had been cooking up there.
In the meantime, Signora Panetone has packed up little packages of chocolate almond biscotti for each of you.  Thanks for visiting!  Now run for your lives!