Interview: Anthony Esteves

Posted by Charlotte Boates on

Based out of a self-built property in the coastal forests of Maine, Anthony Esteves is a multi-talented sculptor, designer, and builder. He lives here with his partner—artist and designer Julie O’Rourke—and their three kids. Having trained both in New England and in Japan, Anthony’s work draws from deep research, respect for legacy craft, and an innate creativity—naturally bringing together functional design with an essentialist beauty. 

Anthony is known for structures like Soot House—a charred black house in Maine that brings together traditional Japanese techniques like yakisugi and soot paint, alongside heritage New England architecture. 

We’ve long been admirers of Anthony Esteves’ work and his materials-focused approach. Deep thought, intention, and skill permeate each of his projects. A friend of GOODLAND, we’re excited to share an interview with Anthony that dives deeper into his work, processes, and inspiration.

And soon, we’ll be sharing a new project inspired by Anthony’s work.

Anthony Esteves at Soot House

Photo Credit: Jon Levitt

 

You originally trained as a sculptor—how does this inform your work?

I went to Rhode Island School of Design, where I got a degree in fine arts with a focus on sculpture. There, I spent my whole time understanding materials, especially how to use different techniques and mediums to create a feeling and mood. I was trying to answer the question: how can I create work that evokes a feeling, not just a thought or an observation?

After RISD, I also spent time in Japan doing an apprenticeship in furniture making. I’ve always been really interested in the relationship between a piece and the space around it, and bringing the surrounding  context into the piece. I kept on trying to do this with sculpture and smaller works, but after school when I moved to architectural and building projects, I found a lot of freedom. Architecture allowed me to focus even more on materials and technique, and apply those to larger volume works. I love creating things where the work itself helps you experience of the essence of the materials.

Anthony Esteves charring wood - yakisugi
yakisugi wood

Photo Credits: Jon Levitt


You work with traditional Japanese techniques like burning cedar for yakisugi. How did you begin working with yakisugi?

I was first able to try out the process of creating yakisugi on our first house—Soot House. I had come across yakisugi when I was training in Japan, but had no idea what it was at the time. 

When I was building Soot House, I researched and figured out that what I had seen in Japan was yakisugi—heat-treated, charred cedar. I learned more about the technique to make yakisugi, and how this charred wood is used all over Japan—to cover houses, temples, walls, and so much more. And I learned the proper way—the most efficient and beautiful way—to burn the cedar. I had been very much into training in Japanese techniques and with woodworking teachers in Japan, and am always interested in researching these old techniques and using them as best as I can in my work.

What do you find special about yakisugi?

It just felt like the right technique to me in so many ways. You’re creating a fire, you’re using the boards themselves as a chimney and the fuel for the fire, and there’s also this element of physics—it combines so many great things. 

The charred finish of yakisugi is so full circle and evokes the process itself. That’s what I found so special about yakisugi—that the process is evident in the look and feel of the final result. And it’s really a process that’s true to the essence of the material itself. There’s a sense of singularity of material, where the beauty and the qualities of the wood really come through. 

For me, yakisugi is about a respect for the entire process, not just the end result. It isn’t just a finish quality or design aesthetic, it’s so much more—there’s an entire traditional legacy there.

Anthony Esteves mixing soot paint

Photo Credit: Jon Levitt

  

Apart from yakisugi, you also often use something called soot paint to blacken wood in your work. Can you tell us more?

I first came to work with soot paint pretty directly—I was trying to figure out how to have construction elements that weren’t burned, but that had the feeling of being burned. So, I started doing research. I read through these amazing old Japanese texts that I would get someone to translate for me, and came across soot paint. I ended up coming up with my own attempt at a recipe for soot paint—made from fermented botanicals and natural pigment. 

So much of how I understand Japanese culture is about combining performance with beauty, and soot paint is another example of this. In Japan, there are these incredible processes with natural ingredients that produce a really refined finish. It’s a true art—the skills to apply naturally  foraged or grown pigment and binders are so incredible. 


Following along with you, it’s clear that you really value slow living. What attracts you to that lifestyle?

The thing that I’m really conscious of is my time and being as much in control of my present as possible. Thinking about my time as incredibly valuable has led me to have a drive for things that are more self-sustained. And to make that happen, we wanted to live rurally and to be self-employed. This whole idea is what’s led me to learn as much as possible, research into all of these different things, and apply them to my life. 

Fundamentally, we’re just trying to live a really good life. And to me, to live a really good life means being with family, making good food, being in my shelter, and having time.  

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