What It's Like to Live in a Historic House Museum

Mary Elizabeth Andriotis
·4 mins read
Photo credit: The Lombardi family
Photo credit: The Lombardi family

From House Beautiful

Visiting historic house museums allows us to see a tangible piece of history up close and personal, and to better grasp what life was like decades (or even centuries) ago. These homes are filled with design elements that are often absent in newer homes, and they transport visitors to another time, in a way that photographs and words cannot. Oftentimes, these museums have not served as actual homes in quite a while, but there are some. exceptions. For proof that a house can be both a residence and a museum simultaneously, look no further than the Armour-Stiner Octagon House in Irvington, New York, which was built in 1860 and was purchased and restored by preservation architect Joseph Pell Lombardi, who opened the house for public tours just last year.

Lombardi’s son, Michael, lives on the property in the carriage house, along with his wife, Jessica, and their four year old son, Enzo. The Armour-Stiner Octagon House “is used for private family events, and occasionally, family will visit and stay in the house,” Jessica tells House Beautiful. Michael and Jessica even held a birthday party for their son at the house, “complete with a magic show, to everyone’s delight.”

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Upon visiting this magnificent house, expect to be taken aback by its unique pink color and fanciful architecture (which you’ll immediately want to post on Instagram). Inside, you’ll see various pieces of Victorian furniture and an Egyptian Revival room that is the only domestic room of its kind, complete with its original 19th-century decor. The home is named after two former owners, financier Paul J. Armour and tea importer Joseph Stiner.

Since the Armour-Stiner Octagon House began holding public tours a year and a half ago, it has been met with praise and enthusiasm from “the village of Irvington, the National Trust, our neighbors, and the general public,” says Jessica Lombardi. “We were delighted. It has been our pleasure sharing the house with its admirers and we feel fortunate to receive such positive feedback from people who have enjoyed taking the tour.”

Although this historic house now looks picture-perfect, the road to restoring and opening it to the public was no quick feat. Joseph Pell Lombardi—who has restored over 1,000 historic homes in the last 50 years—purchased the abode from the National Trust in 1978, just three years after it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Lombardi’s son, Michael, was only nine years old at the time, and since “the house was in desperate need of architectural restoration,” Jessica says, he grew up seeing the home transform into its present awe-inspiring grandeur, right before his eyes.

Photo credit: The Lombardi family
Photo credit: The Lombardi family

“Michael has fond memories of riding his bike in circles around the 360-degree colonnade porch,” Jessica shares. “He remembers most details of the cast iron porch were obscured by thick layers of white and grey paint. This paint would eventually be stripped, and with the use of color analysis, the original 1872 colors are what we see today.”

After seeing his father’s devotion to bringing this remarkable house back to its original beauty, Michael was inspired so much so that he too works in architectural preservation, managing several historic homes in the area. Given all of the time and energy that went into the renovation of the Armour-Stiner Octagon House, it was a no-brainer to open it to the public. “The house is one of the most visually unique homes in the world,” says Jessica. “It is a window into a different time and part of Irvington's history and local identity, meant to be enjoyed and experienced. We could not keep this to ourselves any longer.”

Tickets for tours of the Armour-Stiner Octagon House can be purchased through its website, and, following a hiatus on tours prompted by the pandemic, tours will resume on Thursday, September 3rd. Can’t make it to visit in person? You can buy a mug that features photos of the house in 1883 and 2019, and there's even a book about the home written by its owner, so that you can further immerse yourself in the property's fascinating history.

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