90-Year-Old Newspaper House Still Standing Strong

paper house photo
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If you think that using creatively recycled materials to build a house is something new, think again. Almost 90 years ago, inventor and engineer Ellis Stenman of Rockport, Massachusetts set out to construct a summer home with thousands of recycled newspapers. Nowadays, his Paper House is not only a popular tourist attraction, but a monument to the eco-friendly lifestyle long before the term was even coined.

paper house front photo

Mr. Stenman, an immigrant from Sweden, is credited with inventing a machine that makes paper clips, so it's no wonder that paper came to mind when he decided to build a house. He originally began constructing the house as a hobby in 1922, hoping to explore the insulating properties of newspaper, but as time went on it grew into much more than that.

Eventually, Stenman began crafting chairs, tables, lamps, and even a piano out of rolled-up newspaper, held together by a glue he created himself out of flour, water, and apple peels. Soon, most of the interior of the house was fashioned out of newspapers, many of which were donated by his friends and neighbors.

paper house room photo

Stenman's grandniece Edna Beaudoin, who acts as caretaker of the old house, explains how it was built.

The framework to the house is wood-just like any other house-it has a regular wooden floor and wooden roof. The wall material, which was supposed to be insulation really, is pressed paper about an inch thick. It's just layers and layers of newspaper, glue, and varnish on the outside That keeps it pretty water-proof actually. This was done in 1924 and he lived here in the summertime up until 1930. Actually, I guess he was supposed to cover the outside with clapboards, but he just didn't. You know, he was curious. He wanted to see what would happen to the paper..
paper house wall photo

Nowadays, it's become more popular for folks to turn to recycled material to build their houses, often to reduce the environmental impact of the construction. But Stenman's motives in building the paper house aren't quite as clear. "I don't really know why [he built the house out of paper] unless he was just really thrifty or something," says Beaudoin. "Newspapers were pretty inexpensive; everybody gave him their papers."

A quote given by Stenman to a local journalist at the time, however, suggests that he was driven to build his house for reasons we can all relate to today. "I always resented the daily waste of newspapers after people read them for a few minutes."

Now, thanks Stenman's recycling spirit, his Paper House has joined its place in history -- fitting for a structure which is literally built from so much of it.