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.
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 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.
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.
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.