Armour-Stiner Octagon House dome

An Unusually Shaped NYC Day Trip: The Armour-Stiner Octagon House

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This is not your typical house. This is an octagon house. But this isn’t your typical octagon house either. This is the Armour-Stiner Octagon House in Irvington, New York, about a half-hour outside of New York City. It was built in 1858 for Paul J. Armour, a New York City banker who got caught up in the octagon house fad of the mid-nineteenth century. Read on to hear more about the octagon house craze, how the Armour-Stiner Octagon House differs from other houses in this trend, and how this Victorian time capsule is still standing today.

Armour-Stiner Octagon House

An Intro to the Octagon House Trend

What do you picture when you think of the perfect home? If you had asked Orson Squire Fowler this, he’d probably make the case for octagonal homes, houses constructed to have eight sides. According to Fowler’s book The Octagon House, a Home for All, octagons, with their similarities to circles, are the superior shape for houses. Not only would an octagonal house have a greater area than a square house with the same sized lot, Fowler argued that octagonal houses would receive twice as much sunlight and ventilation than square-shaped houses.

At this point, I should note that Fowler’s expertise was in the thoroughly debunked pseudoscience of phrenology, and he was only an amateur architect, so you may want to consult other experts before designing your octagonal dream home. But in the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of people across the United States and Canada took Fowler’s book and ran with it — or rather built with it.

One of those people was Paul J. Armour, who had a relatively modest octagon house built for himself and his family, following the guidelines laid out in Fowler’s book. Armour and his family lived in the house for over a decade before Armour’s widow sold the house to Joseph H. Stiner, a New York City tea merchant. A more extravagant man than his predecessor, Stiner tricked out the house with a two-story dome and wraparound verandah, as well as gardens, a greenhouse, and servants’ quarters. Out of the one thousand octagon houses built during the fad, about 500 remain, but the Armour-Stiner Octagon House is the only one with this distinctive dome.

Saving the Armour-Stiner Octagon House

With eight different owners and various renters, the Armour-Stiner Octagon House was well-loved and enjoyed, but by the 1970s, it had extensive structural problems. Its owner at the time, the author Carl Carmer, didn’t have the funds to upkeep it, but he didn’t want to relinquish it to someone who would just tear it down. So Carmer sold the house to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who was then willing to sell it to someone with the skills, historic appreciation, and vision to restore the house to its former glory. The National Trust entrusted the house to Joseph Pell Lombardi, an experienced preservationist and restorer. It has taken decades of careful work, since 1978 and still ongoing, but Lombardi and his team have been able to turn the Armour-Stiner Octagon House into a time capsule of the Victorian era. Today, when you visit the house, you get to experience it as it was in 1872, with its painted floral ceilings, octagonal garden, and Egyptian Revival room.

As the house and its grounds double as a private residence, you’ll have to book a tour in advance if you want to see the house for yourself. But I can assure you that it’s well-worth the time and money to see this quirky yet charming piece of history.

Sources, if you want to read more about the Armour-Stiner Octagon House and the Octagon House fad:

The Armour-Stiner (Octagon) House by Joseph Pell Lombardi

The Octagon House: A Home for All by Orson Squire Fowler

Episode 498: The Octagon House by 99 Percent Invisible

One response to “An Unusually Shaped NYC Day Trip: The Armour-Stiner Octagon House”

  1. Vicky Avatar

    Peaks my interest, thanks Shiloh

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