The Curious Expeditions blog has something very tangentially book-related, so I can post it here, right? They paid a visit to the Paper House, in Rockport, Massachusetts. Their photographs are lovely, and the house sounds like a true oddity…
In 1922, a mechanical engineer, Elis Stenman, began building a small summer home. It started out like any other home, with a timber frame, roof and floors, but Stenman had other plans for the walls; newspaper. 215 sheets of newspaper (about an inch thick) varnished together into walls, to be exact. Paper walls were an economically brilliant idea, not that Stenman needed the money, having designed the machines that make paper clips. Newspapers may be cheap, but they also make great insulators. While no one is quite sure what Stenman’s motivation was, be it thrifty, logical, or merely curious, it is clear that he was utterly devoted to the idea. Layer after layer after layer of newspaper, varnish, and a homemade glue of flour, water and apple peels were pasted together until more than 100,000 newspapers walled the home. Stenman had originally intended to put up clapboards on the outside, but decided to leave the newspaper, just to see what happened. The result is still standing, still insulating, and “pretty waterproof”, according to the Paper House Website.
Here’s their photo of the exterior. It really does look like a relatively normal old house!
Everything inside the paper house is also made of paper, from the curtains to the chairs to the clock, save for two objects; a fireplace and a piano. Those are real, thoughtfully covered in paper. The fireplace is functional, though it is hard to imagine a fire on a cold night not ending in certain disaster in a house made of paper and varnish.
Perhaps the most wonderful part of the paper house is the paper itself. After nearly 100 years of exposure to the elements, the topmost layers of the walls are slowly peeling back, revealing bits of newspaper articles from the 20s. Wanted ads, recipes, news from Herbert Hoover’s presidential campaign, and headlines like “LINDBERGH HOPS OFF FOR OCEAN FLIGHT TO PARIS.” can be discovered by inquisitive visitors. The walls are a timecapsule, one that can only be viewed and enjoyed in tiny, random bits. As time goes on, more of of the walls will peel away, offering an ever-changing glimpse into the past.
Here’s a close-up of one of the text snippets from a wall:
Unfortunately, the only photos of the paper furniture are on the Paper House website, and they’re very tiny. The desk of rolled-up paper does look sturdier than I would have expected. I like to see strange structures like this, re-purposing waste products into a useful shelter. Does anyone have a link to a house made of books? That’d be a lovely library design! Instead of discarding old, worn-out, outdated books, we could just save them to turn into another wing.