The following interview appeared in the Cape
Ann Sun, 1996.
Mr. Elis F. Stenman, a mechanical engineer who designed the machines that
make paper clips, began building his Rockport summer home out of paper
as a hobby. That was in 1922. The paper was meant to be good insulation.
Now Stenrnan's grandniece, Edna Beaudoin runs the Paper House as her mother
did for many years. The following interview is from a conversation with
How do you make a paper house?
Well, let me see. (Elis Stemnan) started out making a house for the summer.
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, and, well, here it is,
some 70 years later.
Have you re varnished it?
Oh yes, lots of extra varnish on the Paper House walls. When the house
was built, of course, the porch wasn't here. That was built sometime in
the early '30s. So the porch roof really protects the bottom part of the
Paper House walls. The top section up there on the peaks of the roof that
has shingles on it. Roofing shingles, so there really isn't any paper exposed
to the weather. Rain blows in, sometimes snow, but it's held up pretty
well considering how old it is. We really don't varnish the inside of
the house because the more you put on, the darker it gets and we really
just like to leave it so you can still read the papers.
After the wall material was made, and he was living in it, he made the
furniture. The furniture is made out of little paper logs. The little rolls
of paper are maybe a half inch thick and they're all cut to different sizes-cut
with a knife. Then they're glued together or nailed together.
Who was Elis Stenman?
He's my- I guess you could say he's a grand uncle. He's my mother's uncle.
He and Mrs. Stenman lived in Cambridge when they started this and he was
an engineer. He designed machinery and we just really don't know where
he got the idea to build a house out of paper. He was just that sort of
a guy. He was curious - an amateur inventor. He started dabbling with trying
to make a steam iron and that was back in the '20s. I don't believe that
he ever patented it, but he was always doing little experimental things.
When he was making the house here, he just mixed up his own glue to put
the paper together. It was basically flour and water, you know, but he
would add little sticky substances like apple peels. But it real1y has
lasted. The furniture is usable-it's quite heavy. Basically the furniture
is all paper except for the piano which he covered.
He covered the piano with paper?
Yes, it's a real piano and he just put the paper outside. And then there's
the mantle on the fireplace. The fireplace actually is usable because it's
really a brick fireplace.
There's a clock in there. It's actually very interesting. It's a grandfather
clock and there's a paper from each one of the 48 states in it, so there are
all the state capitols and you can read them all the way down the front
of the clock. It was made in the '30s, so there's no Alaska and no Hawaii.
Do you know when the electricity was put in?
The house was built with electricity. Yup, electricity, and they even had
running water in it when they lived here. It was summer water; the pipe
came right up over the ground, but there was water in there. But there
were no bathrooms. They were over there in the woods-over yonder. And,
no, the outhouse wasn't paper.
What's the lineage? How did the house get passed down to you?
Well it was the Stenman's who actually raised my mother. Her parents dies
when she was very young and they were her parents basically. I never knew
him- he dies when I was just a baby, but Mrs. Stenman -and it was she who
made all the little drapery things in there, which are also made of paper-was
really like my grandmother. So, it's really like the family heirloom.
When did the house get opened up as a museum?
Probably in the '30s. When they were living in here in the summertime,
people used to come up to the house. You know, word got around. This is
a small town. Word got around that there was this man making a house of
paper. People were curious as early as the late '20s. But I don't think
they started to charge admission until after Mrs. Stenman died in 1942.
I suppose that's when it really became a museum. It used to be 10 cents
to get in.
How much is it now?
A dollar and a half. Inflation. lt is $1.50 for adults and a dollar for
children six to 14.
Do you feel a great responsibility to keep it intact?
Yeah, I do. I feel responsible for it, but I don't worry about it. 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. You just take care of it and that's
What's the most commonly asked question about the Paper House?
I think probably the most common question is just, "why?"
Do you know the answer?
No. I don't really know the answer. I don't really know why unless he was
just really thrifty or something. Newspapers were pretty inexpensive; everybody
gave him their papers.
Photographs of the Paper House are available: If you are a media representative or someone interested in writing about the Paper House, you can get color high resolution images by clicking here.