Labour of Love: A Small and Minimal Family Home Built from Scratch

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , By Catherine


Today I’m taking you to coastal Maine, United States, to tour a gorgeous home that I find very inspiring, and a reminder that simplicity is a beautiful thing. As you’ll see from the pictures below, the interior is modest with pared-down aesthetic. It is quite utilitarian and minimal, and very attractive, too.

The New England-inspired house is the vision of Julie O’Rourke, the founder of kidswear brand Rudy Jude, and her husband, Anthony Esteves. He built the place entirely from scratch in about nine months – What the sculptor lacks in formal (building or architectural) background he makes up in curiosity and rock-solid willpower! He created the beautiful ‘Soot House’, a home named after its charred black structure. Esteves used a traditional shou sugi ban technique and a self-made, Japanese-style fermented paint made out of soot.

The place is small -a snug 55 square meters (600 square feet)- but it seems to be plentiful for the family of four living here. It is also built to be very energy sufficient. A wood burning stove is the only source of heat which, according to the owners, is more than enough to keep them warm, even in winter. The home is sparsely furnished with sentimental items, flea market finds and antiques, and you’ll spot a few DIY projects like the closet, kid’s bed, nightstands, exposed-pipe faucets, etc. Eastern White Cedar, Douglas fir, concrete, and plaster were used throughout the place.

The property also includes a white-painted historic 1754 Cape Cod home that Esteves restored for his mother. A classic New England barn is under construction and will serve as the family library.



About Shou sugi ban

“Devised as a way to make wood less susceptible to fire and to keep away insects and rot, this longstanding Japanese method involves torching your building materials. The results are long lived and hauntingly beautiful. And the good news is that charred wood is now widely available for domestic use.” – Source


Natural & authentic

“We both love early New England architecture and the rural vernacular of Maine,” shares O’Rourke. “It was important for us to have homes that settle themselves easily into the natural environment, both with shape and material use. We used as many natural and non-toxic building techniques and materials as possible, and it really feels like each building belongs in its spot.” – Source




Thoughts on living in a small home

Here is a nice Q&A with Julie O’Rourke found on Domino:

Q: One thing I wish I knew before I lived in a tiny space:
A: That you really can’t have any clutter, and that everything needs to have a home. I wouldn’t describe either of us as minimalists, so it was kind of a surprise to figure out that all of the beautiful things we loved would need to find a home. It’s so much nicer to see the corners of this space and bare walls than it is to see stacks of books or bundles of random keepsakes.

Q: One thing I would have done differently to make my small space more manageable:
A: We would have added a lot more creative storage, and probably another closet. We made a huge bathtub, which is nice, but I wish we had used some of that space for a coat closet or something.

Q: One thing every small space should have:
A: A lot of outdoor space! In the summer, it feels like our space triples in size because we have the deck and the dooryard and the woods.

Q: One fail-proof design hack that makes a small space feel bigger:
A: Big fixed pane windows: This is both a good design hack and a budget hack. We only have three new operable windows in the space and the rest are fixed, which saved us so much money. Also, if you can divide a space with open shelving or a step-down, your space will feel infinitely bigger.

Q: One thing I learned while raising a family in 600 square feet:
A: That each one of us, both our things and our energy, takes up a lot of space! It’s important to take time to go outside and give each other space to be alone.

Q: One of the best things about living in a tiny home:
A: Really figuring out the things that are important to you and getting rid of the things that are not.”



For more small homes inspiration, check out my gallery page dedicated to the topic.


Photos:  Greta Rybus for T Magazine; last one is from Julie O’Rourke


Note: This post was first published in 2018, but it was significantly updated and republished. 









  1. Arne
    2 May 2018 / 05:35

    Beautiful home done with love and incredible skill

  2. Hannah
    11 Jun 2019 / 09:14

    Your home is so beautiful—a breath of fresh air—I am inspired!

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