The restoration of the Louis Armstrong House transformed a modest private dwelling into a house museum that is a principal destination along New York’s famous “Jazz Trail”. The project reanimated the early twentieth century structure with the spirit of one of America’s greatest musicians who lived in the house for thirty years.
The goal of the restoration was to recreate the architecture and atmosphere of Satchmo’s occupancy. At the same time, the level of amenities and exhibits required to accommodate new public access, as well as life safety improvements, could easily overwhelm the ordinary scale and extraordinary interiors that generate the magic of the place.
The garden was restored and a third floor that had been added in the late 1970’s was removed, returning the house and grounds to the form present during Louis’s lifetime. The garage was converted to a visitors’ center and museum shop, an accessible restroom was constructed in a storage closet and display cases for exhibits installed in closets along a wall of the basement recreation room.
In addition to what are rather common restoration techniques, the age and characteristics of the house required several unusual efforts. Invisible speakers, playing recordings made by Armstrong of daily life in the house, were incorporated in several rooms to add a unique interpretative experience. Everyday 20th century materials such as laminates, Formica, linoleum, and the electric-blue enameled kitchen cabinets were restored to their original condition. Modern furniture and fabrics were repaired and conserved. Reproduction wallpaper and fabrics were produced to match the originals. “New Jersey Brickface,” used on the exterior, was restored. New air conditioners were fit into the original metal enclosures. The team even benefited from the support of the Department of Buildings, which permitted us to retain the original “Inclinette” stair lift that had enabled an ailing Louis Armstrong to continue to live in the house of which he was so proud.