Steampunk style melds past and future
Steampunk staples -- a unique design of rich colors, salvaged antiques and ingenuity -- blend an elegant Victorian viewpoint with industrial elements to create an eclectic ethos that feels like a modern throwback.
"Steampunk design is an exercise -- not in juxtaposition -- but in fusion: beauty and durability; art and science; the past and present," says Bruce Rosenbaum, founder of ModVic, (short for Modern Victorian), a steampunk art and design company based in a Gothic church he's remodeling in Thorndike, Massachusetts. "I've always been passionate about history, art, antiques, technology and gadgets," Rosenbaum continues. "Steampunk brings all of these passions together."
Leather, wood and metal all fuse together in a rich color palette of black, dark red and browns to create a steampunk style that reveals how something works by exposing inner parts and showcasing gears, machine cogs, gauges and pipes. Rosenbaum repurposes salvaged antiques into functioning, modern Steampunk pieces: a pipe organ turned into a computer display desk; a contemporary cooktop made from an old cast-iron stove; and a cool commercial ceiling fan transformed into "Helioman," a Leonardo da Vinci-inspired installation.
At the same time Rosenbaum is renovating a Gothic church for his family's residence downstairs, he is also creating a showcase of steampunk pieces in the structure's nave. Sculptor Michael Ulman took Rosenbaum's idea for a "Humachine" -- a human/machine hybrid -- to mount an antique wooden mannequin onto a large ceiling fan. The installation of this unique cooling system 20 feet above the floor can be viewed during the eighth episode of the Netflix original series "Amazing Interiors."
"A steampunk sensibility can be hard to define, but you intrinsically know it when you see it," Rosenbaum says. "Steampunk has a worldwide following and is continuing to grow in many forms of popular culture, because it is fueled by STEAM -- science, technology, engineering, art and math."
Rosenbaum says this movement is picking up steam as the millennial generation grows weary of modern objects that have a built-in obsolescence. "A Steampunk style lifts the curtain behind how things are made and how they work," he says. "Younger folks are looking for meaning, authenticity and experiences in their lives, and steampunk delivers on all cylinders."
But, having a steampunk style in your home doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing design decision, says architect Andre Rothblatt, whose eponymous firm is based in San Francisco. In 2012, Rothblatt designed a steampunk surprise in an otherwise traditional Craftsman-style home on Clayton Street in San Francisco.
"This bathroom captures people's imaginations with its retro-futuristic style," Rothblatt says. "The space really celebrates pipes -- with an accentuation on the joints -- giving the bathroom a magical quality."
Instead of hiding the inner workings of the water lines, Rothblatt exaggerated and showcased the copper pipes as much as possible. Water lines zigzag and cross one another, with larger ones working as outtake drainpipes and smaller pipes serving as water intake supply lines.
Reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg machine -- in which the design is ingeniously constructed to perform a simple task in an overcomplicated fashion -- everything in this powder room is purposeful. With Frederic Grasset Design Build, based in San Francisco, serving as the general contractor, black tiles were installed to create a rich backdrop that allows the copper fixtures, sink and pipes to really pop.
Water is gravity-fed into the toilet bowl, with a gauge located near the separately elevated tank that actually measures and displays the water pressure. The patina of the copper pipes influenced the choice of the Victorian-style wallpaper, and Rothblatt designed the sconces on either side of a simple, antique-style mirror.
"Using industrial elements in home design is very popular today, but this project took that concept in a fun and quirky direction," Rothblatt says. "While the rest of the house reflects a traditional Arts-and-Crafts-style home in its design, this bathroom is a captivating curiosity."
The essence of true steampunk art and design is that it is both functional and beautiful. It is meant to engage the user to pay attention to details that might otherwise be overlooked, Rosenbaum says.
"Steampunk design is not just about the objects, but also the personal stories behind them," he says. "In its purest form, steampunk design is the intersection of history, art and today's technology. It is both form and function -- ageless and engaging."