What to Do with 100,000 Newspapers

What would you do with 100,000 newspapers? If you were a Swedish immigrant named Elis F. Stenman, you would build a house, a paper house.

Stenman was a mechanical engineer who, in the early 1900’s, designed the machines that make paper clips. He was an inventive, curious guy, always doing little experiments.

In 1922, Stenman built a two room summer home in Rockport, Massachusetts, a little town just north of Boston. The floor and the roof were nothing unusual; they were made of wood.  However, Stenman decided that the walls would be a good place for an experiment.

Paper Walls

To make the walls, Stenman made a glue of flour, water and apple peels. He glued together 215 layers of newspaper, then pressed the layers together using two tons of pressure. The resulting walls are one inch thick.

Varnish was applied in hopes that the paper would be waterproof. While varnish is still routinely applied to the outside, the inside walls have been left alone so that the newspapers are easier to read.

Originally, the newspaper walls were intended as insulation and were going to be covered with clapboard, but Stenman changed his mind. He was curious to see how his paper house would hold up.

Paper Furniture

Paper was used to make everything in the house except for the fireplace, piano and radio cabinet.  Even then, the piano and radio cabinet were covered in paper.

To make the furniture, newspaper was rolled to 1/2″ thick and cut to different lengths with a knife. Then the paper logs were glued or nailed together. Stenman’s design resulted in heavy, durable furniture that thousands of people have tried to purchase without success. paper house Rockport Massachusetts

One desk in the home is constructed solely of The Christian Monitor, another of newspapers about Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic. The newspapers covering the radio cabinet are devoted to Herbert Hoover’s election, and the front of the grandfather clock boasts a newspaper from each of the 48 states.(Alaska and Hawaii weren’t in the union when the clock was built.) Even the drapery is made of newspaper–the comics so that the drapes have some colour.

  • paper furniture in large room of paper house
  • paper desk in paper house Rockport
  • paper covered piano in paper house Rockport
  • paper furniture in sunporch of paper house, rockport
  • paper desk made of Christian science monitor in paper house, Rockport
  • grandfather clock made of newspapers of 48 states in paper house Rockport

 

The Paper House Over Time

Stenman finished building the house, including electricity and running water, within two years. There was no bathroom, just an outhouse which was not made of paper.

Altogether Stenman and his wife spent six summers and four full years living in their paper house. Apparently during the four winters in the home, the couple regularly used the fireplace for heat. However, no one now dares to tempt fate and light a fire in a house made of newspaper!

Stenman died in 1942 at the age of 68. After his wife died, a great-niece became caretaker of the cottage and it was turned into an inexpensive museum.

A porch was added to the house in later years. Fortunately, the roof of the porch has helped to prevent rain and snow from damaging the newspaper walls so this quirky little experiment of a creative man can be enjoyed by anyone willing to make the drive and pay the nominal $2.00 entry fee.

 

13 comments

  1. I can’t imagine a house made from paper! He was definitely creative.
    Pictures are the result of his “work”
    Unbelievable.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Karen. It really is unbelievable, isn’t it. The paper logs he used for the furniture makes me think of kids’ Lincoln Logs. It would be like building a house out of lego! Hmm, I wonder if anyone has tried that yet.

  2. Great story for the use of paper. I don’t know if I would have the patience to work with the glue and all the time it takes to dry.

  3. 100,000 papers? Hoarder much? LOL, seriously can you imagine collecting that amount of material up before coming up with something constructive to do with it all? I mean, looking at the results now I am astonished and thoroughly impressed given the era this was done in. I think people back then were more likely to make everything count, and repurpose things, rather than throw things away and buy new like what happens more often than not today.

    I am with Gerri on not having the patience to work with the glue and the time it takes to dry. Until he got the ratio of ingredients right for the glue; flour, water, and apple peels there must have been some sloppy messes to clean up. Speaking of which where did he get that many apple peels?

    I do have to give Elis F. Stenman major kudos for thinking of using comics for curtains in order to incorporate color into the house.

    I must admit, Karen, you find some fascinating off the wall topics to research for the WOW Notes section. Thank you! 😀

    1. Hi Susan,
      I don’t know how many papers Elis collected before starting to build his house, but it wasn’t 100,000. As people heard of what he was doing, they contributed newspapers. That’s probably how he managed to get papers from all 48 states.
      There’s some suggestion that he used newspapers because they were inexpensive and he was thrifty, but we’ll never know for sure. Even his great niece, who is the custodian of his paper house, can only speculate as to his intent.

      1. Hi Karen,
        Okay, now I can see how that could happen that way. Contributions could definitely explain how he amassed enough paper for his projects and may even explain the apple peels that he would have needed for all that glue. I believe it is the natural pectin in the apples that promotes the thickening of his glue. I was looking into making crab apple jelly last year and found out that is how the jelly thickens, no extra thickener needed. He has definitely left his mark on the world with his paper house..it is still here long after he is gone. I had a look at the Paper House website you linked to in the post. I love that the admission is on the honor system for the $2.00 since it is out in the middle of nowhere. Reading the warning to bus tour operators was surprising too.

  4. Karen, you never fail to amaze me with your posts – who would ever have thought there was a house built of paper. But then I think back to your report about the Japanese village “people”. Funny, you hear people talking about their apartment walls being “paper thin” – now I know there are some true paper thin walls near Boston.

  5. Ha! As someone married to a mechanical engineer… I can sort of relate to this! Our house isn’t made out of of paper, but some of his “repairs” are pretty creative!

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