The contemporary fascination with the age of steam driven machinery (and imagination) and complex moving parts as a social statement began in the 80s with designers, inventors and architects coming together to blend Victorian buildings, equipment, machinery, costumes, literature, music and artwork with the latest technology while retaining their brass, iron, wood and leather look and feel. The Gormenghast of Mervyn Peake’s imagination has finally been coming to life with the burgeoning of neo-Victorian designers, advocates and adopters.
As with any anti-establishment movement, steampunk too has its share of detractors. Often ridiculed as infantile regression and denial of modern reality by bowler-hatted and monocled mods, steampunk has had difficulty breaking out of its unicycle, leather costumes and cogs image. Social scientists and psychologists have not been able to see this movement as anything more than an obsession with the past in order to avoid dealing with the social crisis of the present. A look at the steampunk movement of today, however, will take you by surprise. It is not exactly just a slightly older generation of goths and punks. Its proponents include articulate writers, musicians, artists, designers and architects. The range of steampunk expression is broad and deep, with meaningful social comment and thought provoking innovations that will put a smile on your face.
Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum are ardent lovers of all things steampunk and their own home in Sharon, Massachusetts is an indicator of what they are capable of doing through their company, ModVic (Modern Victorian) Home Restoration, which promises to turn the modern into Victorian and vice versa for contemporary steampunk aficionados.
The Rosenbaum house is a 1901-built craftsman style Victorian house. In restoring it, inside and outside, with steampunk aesthetics, Bruce and Melanie have managed to fill the house with fine examples of what can be achieved in this genre. In the kitchen, Bruce has installed a heater with a fire-back and a hearth to recreate the magic of the industrial age. The heater was brought back to life by David Erickson, a local antique restorer, with re-plated nickel and fire-bricking to make sure it burns well into the future. The fire-back and hearth were created by Bruce with cultured stone to match the original and natural fieldstone used in the exteriors of the building. The main work area of the kitchen is an antique printers workbench that has been topped with a lab of quartz stone. The large drawers of the printers bench have been repartitioned to give all the storage comfort of a modern kitchen. The kitchen also includes a copper water heater that is typical of the Victorian era kitchens. The stove is a restored 1890 J.L. Defiance piece, again from and by David Erickson, and is fitted with two electric ovens and a Miele glass cooktop and a range hood.
In the living space lies another brilliant example of the marriage of modern technology with Jules Verne-ian sensibility. The entertainment center houses a large plasma screen television built into a Victorian era mantlepiece that Bruce spent weeks searching for, and a gothic fireplace below it that houses the rest of the media center and the subwoofer.
Bruce’s work desk has also received a lot of critical praise, and is, according to him, his favorite steampunking project ever. It took him over 6 months to find and put together all the stuff that he wanted to build what he calls the Victorian Organ Command Desk, working along with 3 other furniture and electronics experts. With authentic Victorian antique constituents, this has a set of organ pipes mounted behind a fully powered modern workstation with three monitors, an iPhone dock, a scanner, a keyboard made from typewriter keys, a webcam inside a vintage camera, and horn speakers on each side that contain modern acoustic suspension drivers.
The attention to detail extends to commonplace items like electrical fittings and light switches (high tech dimmers built into antique switch panels), doorframes, partitions, clocks (clocks are an all-time steampunking favorite) and even telephones is proof of the Rosenbaums’ love for the neo-Victorian. The growing media attention that such initiatives have been receiving has served to strengthen the movement and highlight its philosophy. The Rosenbaums have also been actively involved in promoting steampunk as an alternative lifestyle and philosophy.
Highlighting the spirit of invention and industry that characterized the gaslight era, the steampunk movement empowers wild and fantastic imagination to blossom forth. The home of Bruce and Melani Rosenbaum is just an example of the vibrancy and relevance that can be brought to the artifacts of the Victorian era by the application of modern technology and principles.