Karen Croke Rockland/Westchester Journal News
Published 10:59 AM EDT Apr 23, 2019
The only known, fully domed, eight-sided home in the world has a new distinction.
Irvington, New York's Armour-Stiner Octagon House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has just become a house museum, open for public tours.
Joseph Pell Lombardi, an Irvington native and noted preservation architect, bought the then-derelict landmark in 1978 and has spent the ensuing 41 years bringing it back to life.
Back then, the dome had separated and rain was pouring in, said Lombardi's son Michael Hall Lombardi, also a preservationist, who remembers riding his bike around the home's wrap-around veranda as a child. And everything was painted white.
Today, due to the efforts of the father and son Lombardis, the Octagon House, built in the 1860s to resemble a 16th century Roman temple, is resplendent.
On a spring day, the raspberry-hued exterior resembles a Fabergé egg, with exterior embellishments in contrasting hues and a backdrop of spring-flowering specimen trees. There's floral detailing in the cast iron railings and extensively carved wood scrollwork and capitals, all painted in shades of pink, violet, blue and red.
Paul J. Armour, a New York City financier, built the original house as a summer retreat. In 1872 it was purchased by Joseph Stiner.
He was the Starbucks of his time, said Lombardi. Stiner owned more than 40 coffee and tea shops in Manhattan. He added the impressive dome and observatory to what had been a flat roofed, eight-sided house. He also added the veranda and personalized it by incorporating the profile of his prized show dog in the scrollwork of its railings.
Visitors today get the full scope of what it would have been like to live in The Octagon House, or been a guest, during its heyday in the Gilded Age. The Lombardis have assembled much of the original furnishings (some after exhaustive research), including pieces that were still in the home when Joseph Pell Lombardi purchased it. In a karmic twist, a former owner bequeathed additional original furnishings to the house upon his death.
The Octagon House has four glorious floors, including a unique dance room on the fourth floor, capped by an observatory. For now, guests will be able to tour the three principal floors of the home. The first floor contains a library, tea room and solarium, along with the formal salon and dining room.
The ladies kitchen contains the original wood stove, now converted to electric. We occasionally still make a roast in it, said Lombardi. There's an impressive copper sink and the original hot water heater.
There are four bedrooms, a nursery and another sitting room on the second floor. The third contains a curio room and the only domestic Egyptian Revival room still in existence with its original 19th century furniture and decoration.
This room was created for fitness, said Lombardi, who was responsible for its restoration. In that time, fitness meant yoga or mediation, painting and playing music. Thus, the room contains a sink basin ( for washing your brushes ) a piano and large north-facing windows for ample light.
Outdoors, the grounds include a formal Fox Glove garden, replanted original specimen trees and an exact period replica of the original 19th century Lord & Burnham greenhouse, painted to match the main house.Preservation 'CSI'
Lombardi called the exhaustive sleuthing, research and work done throughout as akin to architectural CSI — from doing microscopic and chemical analysis to reveal the original 1872 interior and exterior finishes, to jacking up the dome to stabilize and repair it, to recasting cast-iron elements and replacing missing wood elements.
Tracking down the original suite of furniture created specifically for Stiner's Egyptian room was another.
Elsewhere, original etched glass panels served as guides for replacing broken panes; the same for the elaborate brass hardware. Original pieces of carpet were replicated.
It was fortunate that so much of what was original was still here, otherwise we would have had no inkling of how to replace or replicate it.
Having those clues was key, for although both Lombardi and his father are preservationists, it's not our opinion or conjecture about what should be here, it has to have been here.
Lombardi credits his father for his four decades of dedicated work on the house — it was a great challenge but my dad is patient; he is willing to wait 40 years to make sure it's right — but also gives a nod to The Octagon House's previous owners, who included a Finnish explorer who lived in the house with a female pirate, and the author and poet Carl Carmer, who was in residence from 1940 to his death in 1976. Carmer was one of the founders of Scenic Hudson and worked to restore the Boscobel mansion in Garrison.
All worked for the same purpose, noted Lombardi, to preserve the integrity of a lyrical and fragile beauty.If you go
What: Tours of the Armour-Stiner Octagon House
The 45-minute tour in groups of 20 people are conducted by docents and include the three principal floors of the house.
Cost: $24 for adults. (Not suitable for children under 12 years of age.)
Tours are by appointment only. Go to www.armourstiner.com to reserve