It’s true. Many young people leave Aroostook County after high school to pursue education and careers. Some of them return, for reasons that are not always easy to define.
For Niklas Roble, the feeling of being home took on new meaning after a year and a half away from Maine.
“Virginia was never right,” he said of the time he spent working there. Just being among the people of Aroostook when he returned created a sense of home, even people he didn’t know.
In the past year, Nik has made that feeling tangible. By day, the 24-year-old New Sweden native is a certified Yamaha technician at the dealership in Caribou. But every evening after work and every weekend since last spring, he has been consumed by the details of building his own house.
“There’s not a thing you can look at that I didn’t do,” he said.
With a degree in residential construction from Northern Maine Community College and experience helping friends in the community build their homes, Nik knew he wanted to build his own house when he finally decided Aroostook County was home.
He acquired the 2½-acre property on Rista Road in New Sweden from Dan Olson. The original log house that stood on the lot was a showplace in the early 1900s. If famous people came to town, they were sent to see the house.
That home and its barn are now commemorated in a panel of three archival photos matted in a window frame from the old house, which Nik received from Dan as a housewarming gift and hung on the wall of the living room.
Nik’s house began in his imagination. He devoted the winter after he moved back to New Sweden in 2010 thinking and researching with the goal of getting everything into a small space. Groundwork began in May 2011 and the 18-foot-by-28-foot slab was poured July 9. Just a year later, July 8, 2012, he had moved in and was entertaining guests at an open house in the finished home consisting of a living room with dining area, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and loft.
It wasn’t just the construction Nik enjoyed. One by one he tackled problems posed by design, wiring, heating and plumbing, as well as carpentry. He pondered each new dilemma — “there’s got to be a way to make it work” — and made lists of everything he had to do. He figured out how to plan the plumbing around pre-set drains. He put a lot of work into tiling the shower and building a frame for the vanity.
He installed radiant heating in the slab and an on-demand heater for hot water, both electrically powered. The utility room is his pride and joy — no furnace, no hot water tank — everything contained in a 3-by-6-foot closet.
“I write one check a month,” he said of the electric bill for the utilities, noting it will be a long time before the cost equals what he would have paid for a furnace and the oil to fuel it. He also is pleased with the consistency of radiant heat. The temperature is the same in the loft and the ground floor. And it’s quiet.
The walls are 8 inches thick with double-wall framing that contains highly efficient insulation and wiring that is perfectly straight with clean right angles. Describing the extra care involved to assure the wiring would pass state inspection, Nik admits to considerable pride in knowing that “behind the walls everything is straight.”
Recently Nik stood in the fully equipped kitchen looking into the dining area and adjacent living room with two recliners and a flat-screen television which also serves as his computer screen.
“It’s just the right size for one or two people,” he said, “and nothing seems compromised.” Should he decide to add on, he has located the back door for access to an addition “so it will make sense.”
But for now, he has everything he needs — except for a project to plan and execute.
“I was actually sad when the last list [of things to do] was done. It was so much fun. I really enjoyed it.”
Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.