Photography courtesy of Greta Rybus.
Esteves built the Soot House from scratch, despite having been trained formally in sculpture, not architecture. It has influences from both old New England and Japan: The shape and scale of the structure and roof is decidedly New England, and the main part of the building is fitted with traditional colonial clapboards (visible nails included). But the cladding is painted with a Japanese-style, fermented paint that Esteves makes out of soot, water, and persimmon. “It absorbs into the wood like a stain. The color is extremely matte because of its high pigment content,” he says; it’s rot resistant and will never chip. The small addition is fitted with wide-plank boards that have been burned using the Japanese shou sugi ban technique. The house is small (“it’s just shy of 600 square feet,” Esteves says) and designed to be super-efficient during Maine winters, heated only by a wood stove.
Even through the island’s long, cold winters, the wood stove is the house’s only source of heat. The secret is Esteves’s smart, efficient design: The heat from the wood stove, centered in the low-level kitchen, rises into the loft directly above. A floor grate that runs the length of the loft then pulls the hot air back down, in a convection cycle. “This airflow maintains a consistency in temperature throughout the house, and the loft stays within one to two degrees of the main floor,” Esteves says. It’s economically and ecologically efficient as well: “We use about half a cord of wood a year, roughly $150,” he says.
Above: At left, built-in wood storage. At right, Esteves made use of empty space beneath the floor to create niches for jars of spices and dry goods. The family also stashes out-of-season clothes and bedding there.