BY: ELIJAH BASSETT
In the 21st century, we understand the importance of environmentalism better than ever – but even we might think twice about building a home out of recycling. The 1920s were a different time, however, and it turns out that one man, Elis Stenman, was way ahead of us, building his own house out of newspaper. It sounds like something from a children’s story, but it’s very real.
To be fair, not the entire house is made of newspaper; the frame, roof, chimney, and floors are still made of more traditional building materials, leaving the walls and furnishings. However, Stenman made up for that by using newspaper to build nearly everything inside the house, including a grandfather clock made with newspapers from every state that existed at the time. It’s unclear exactly why he did all this, but his grandniece says that he probably wanted a cheap form of insulation.
It’s also possible that Stenman was interested in recycling, since even the glue he used was homemade and all-natural, consisting of water, flour, and apple peels. Whatever the reason, this project was clearly very special to him, and he ended up using about 100,000 newspapers as building material over the course of his life. Certainly if someone did this today it would be a triumph of recycling, but it’s harder to say whether this was exactly what Stenman had in mind.
Almost a century later, the top layer of newspaper is starting to peel away, but the house still stands and has been open to the public as a museum in Rockport, Massachusetts since Stenman’s death in 1942. It is a bit surprising that a paper house could last that long, but perhaps because of the varnish covering the newspaper, it has been more resistant to the elements than one might expect. Edna Beaudoin – Stenman’s grandniece and the current owner of the museum – says she doesn’t worry about whether the house will go down, saying: “it’s been here since 1924, so I guess that if a storm was going to blow it over, then so be it. Here it sits and you can’t spend your life worrying that something is going to happen to it.”
In the meantime, visitors to the house will be able to see snippets of history turned into material objects like curtains, clocks, bookcases, and more, making this both a blast from the past and an idea ahead of its time.