Visit to the home of a steampunk house-restorer

Jake von Slatt sez, "Last week I went out to Sharon, Massachusetts to visit the home of Bruce Rosenbaum, a friend of a co-worker whom I was told was 'interested in steampunk.' When I got there what I saw blew me away!"

Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum started ModVic (Modern Victorian) Home Restoration in June 2007 and have now moved onto steampunk Home Design. ModVic's mission is to authentically restore historic Victorian homes (1850 - 1910) to their original beauty and richness while completely modernizing the home's systems, functional layout and conveniences for the family of today (sound familiar?). Bruce and Melanie also love the steampunk design aesthetic of combining the best of Victorian high design and craftsmanship with modern functionality and usefulness...
A Visit to a Steampunked Home (Thanks, Jake!)


  1. I was in a “McMansion” for a work thing a couple nights ago. HUGE house, lots of beige furniture (which was completely outsized by the ginormous rooms) and neutral colors. Everything felt soft, flimsy, insubstanstial. Like if you leaned on a bannister it would crack. Home as movie set.

    That’s what I love about Steampunk, it has weight. It clanks and creaks and cracks. It’s made of metal and will last you. Just lovely..

  2. #1: I partially agree to you, and imma let you finish, but there is lots and lots of Steampunk stuff out there that probably won’t even last the next 12 months, you remember this wristwatch thing Cory posted a couple of days ago?

    Many of those steampunk-ish things look rather like some leftover leather pieces with random brass crap sewn or glued onto it that then get called “Steampunk Accessoire XY”.

    But then again, I agree with you on the timeless beauty of heavy-duty, beautifully handcrafted items and furniture.

  3. That house is indescribably awesome. I think I would feel really out of place and massively underdressed in my modern clothes, though. If I lived there, I would spend a fortune on a wardrobe to match the surroundings.

  4. While I’m a little more into the Arts and Crafts houses this is beautifully done.

    Knowing what it cost to do Arts and Crafts restorations/conversions this much cost a fortune…

  5. Wait, their mission is to “authentically restore historic Victorian homes” and yet I see a door with a porthole and a huge brass wheel. The only thing that would make that authentically Victorian would be if it was the entrance to a safe.

  6. “Bruce and Melanie also love the steampunk design aesthetic of combining the best of Victorian high design and craftsmanship with modern functionality and usefulness… ”

    That might be their definition of Steampunk, it’s hardly the generally held one. Most steampunk art and design delights in older technology… er, like steam.

    Combining Victorian design with modern fucntionality just sounds like your typical mis-use of faux-period features – “I want a flatscreen LCD TV behind the Victorian wooden panels, and can you integrate a lighting control system into the original door architraves?”

  7. Hahaha, I wrote the above comment then noticed this image in the original article:

    Yeah, this is not good interior design.

    The author also writes about these light switches:

    “What’s particularly neat about these is that, while the switch in the background is original to the house, the one in the foreground is actually a modern dual switch/dimmer combination!”

    Yeah, no shit.

  8. Felix, dude! you are so gonna get it. Not only did you comment before clicking through you hauled out that old ‘but there’s no steam’ saw.

    “Mis-use of faux-period features” is EXACTLY what I love to do here at The Steampunk Workshop.

    1. @Jake von Slatt – I did click through, just missed the TV image until I re-read the article.

      I didn’t mean to say Steampunk has to include steam. Steam is just an example of the ‘industrial hi-tech’ which Steampunk uses, which is at odds with things like LCD TVs.

  9. That porthole on the door in the first image is from a circa 1949 Chris Craft. It can be flipped open to provide air for the v-berth. The three strakes keep you from putting your foot through the glass when you’re walking on the deck above.

  10. Personally, I think it’s beautiful. The flatscreen seems to be well-integrated, although I might have put red curtains on the sides and along the top. I hope there’s a wunderkammer in there somewhere!

    One thing that always puzzled me about these “uber-custom” homes… what happens when the owner needs to sell? Even if the owner stays in there for 20, 30, 40 years. Then what?

  11. If the Rosenbaums want to engage in this “mis-use of faux-period fixtures,” I have no objection, but they should certainly not be describing what they do as “authentically restoring historic Victorian homes […] to their original beauty.” Their layouts are completely inauthentic, and dreadfully dull in their modernity: if the kitchen, with builtins, an island with stools, a table, a microwave, and decorations everywhere, is representative of the rest of the house (it’s the only room we get a good view of), they have no claim to authenticity whatsoever.

    As Felix Mitchell noted, the mantelpiece is an abomination. Even uncorrupted, the mantelpiece would not have fit well in that corner, but with the modifications, it became a giant shrine to the LCD god, with ugly and unjustifiably modern speakers tacked on to the walls apparently as afterthoughts. Televisions in the place of mirrors leave awkward black voids; they aren’t interchangeable. Might I suggest, for others trying to do steampunk designs, that a projector would be far better? The projector could be easily made to look steampunk, and wouldn’t cause a design disaster.

    I’ll also note, with disapproval, the horrible track lighting that’s visible on the edge of one of the photographs. Track lighting does not possess beauty and richness. I can’t see any reason why this would be there, unless it was there already and they’re planning on ripping it out as soon as possible.

    After looking at these pictures, I feel as though they’ve been chosen to hide parts of the design that show no regard for authenticity or even aesthetics. I’ll admit that my style and views on interior design are extreme; my family tries to do restoration with little regard for the ersatz functionality and unpleasant convenience of modern designs. Still, this isn’t at all authentic, and doesn’t even seem to be good design.

    mgfarrelly: I’ve seen steampunk that ranges from decent to horrible construction; it’s impossible to tell from these photos whether the furniture here has that “weight” that you describe, but my cynical guess is that much of it doesn’t, especially if it isn’t shown in the photographs. It’s worth noting that most Victorian and thus steampunk furniture is much smaller than modern furniture, and tends to look far more fragile (this isn’t always clear in photographs).

    Mitchell: Those switch/dimmer combinations are terribly annoying. I have one in the kitchen of my apartment, next to a standard on/off switch, and can never remember which one is which. I inevitably end up trying to turn the one that doesn’t turn, and trying to press the one that does.

    1. “After looking at these pictures, I feel as though they’ve been chosen to hide parts of the design that show no regard for authenticity or even aesthetics.”

      Rome wasn’t built in a day I guess. A project like this must cost quite a lot and be time intensive. I think it’s OK for them to focus on the more complete areas.

      Thanks for agreeing the mantelpiece is an abomination!

    2. Well said cge. Although I applaud any contractor that tries to incorporate hand crafted details, and it’s worth noting that the homeowner may have insisted on design details that differed with the Rosenbaum’s vision, I am left underwhelmed by the overall design. The gadgets are well and good (well, not the tv — but again the owner may have wanted that) but the overall feel of the space is contemporary.

      There are a large number of design choices that scream out conventional (and not steam punky), such as the kitchen island, the counter top material (wouldn’t slate or slate-look-alike be way cooler?), the light oak flooring (a darker wood stain would be more in keeping), the pot lights…

      We are redoing our basement and I toy with ways to give it a steampunky feel without accessorizing it with gizmos. It seems to me that the heart of it is using dark natural colours (wood, leather) with metal detailing and the patina of age. The ingenious devices (for lack of a better term) in this house are certainly cool, but I would like to see more attention the the rest of the house. Isn’t the job of a home renovator more in setting up the house than in decorating it? I don’t know what the homeowner wanted or requested — but I’d sure love to hear what the Rosenbaums vision would be if they could do everything that they wanted to a house.

  12. Steampunk is not an aesthetic that I’d want to live with (way too many iron things for Jr. to bonk his head on), but it beats the socks off what is generally accepted as “interior design” of late – beige everything. It’s boring, unimaginative, unadventurous and banal. There are less polite adjectives that I could use which speak more directly to the psyche of people who have a fear of color and individuality.

    Indeed, Mgfarrelly, the McMansion is designed to confer only the *image* of wealth.

    1. @ IronEdithKidd “but it beats the socks off what is generally accepted as “interior design” of late – beige everything”

      False dichotomy? You’re just not seeing the right buildings. I’m kind of confused where beige everything is latest interior design.

      Interior design trends IMHO seem to be white walls, walnut, brushed steel/aluminium, acrylic panels, floor to ceiling glazing and slatted timber.

  13. Some of you seem to be conflating these people’s house with their business. Their business is authentic restoration of Victorian houses. That doesn’t mean their personal home is an authentic restoration any more than your homes are full of arthritic donkeys.

  14. Oooooh. Pretty.

    And they’re not too far from me. And I have a house in the right time period. (I also have a friend who is a newly-minted architect looking for resume work.) This could be dangerous.

    I don’t expect to make the whole house period-appropriate; it’s already been altered and I’m altering it a bit more. But doing this in even one or two rooms — the library in particular — would certainly be worth considering. And I’m very willing to stretch the definition of “period” to be “the way it should have been”, which includes steampunk and other speculative elements.

  15. I’d like to see the furnace controlled by that awesome thermostat. While quite inefficient, a big scary octopus furnace in the basement would be sweet.

  16. I’d like to see the furnace controlled by that awesome thermostat. While quite inefficient, a big scary octopus furnace in the basement would be sweet.

  17. Cool. One nit to pick though. I think the plasma screen need to be in a round, oval or oblong frame.

  18. Narddogz – Sorry! The furnace is a small efficient oil fired steam plant now, though all of the original radiators and iron piping has been retained.

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