Friday, June 29, 2007

Inspiration: Ralph Lauren Home

It shouldn't surprise me (since I own a very steampunk miltary jacket by the same company), but it did. The Ralph Lauren Company, which has been doing "vintage Americana" styles for almost as long as I have been alive, is a treasure trove of decorating ideas that fit the steampunk aesthetic. I am most impressed by the styling of their photo shoots -- 80% of the items in the pictures are not for sale, but simply to create ambience. (They have plenty of products, too, but they tend to be pricey. I've seen occasional pieces on deep discount at stores like Marshall's, and discount linens at Ross.)

The above bookshelf, for instance, could be improvised readily with steel pipe, painted a glossy black, topped with furniture grade shelving. (From the New Bohemian Collection, which is the most steampunk of the collections.)

The camp chair, above, appears in many of the collections. I think there are plenty of wooden folding chairs out there that could be made steampunk with a brocade or leather, perhaps some brass accents.

This photo frame seems like a simple fabrication with some stripped brass canisters.

In the Hilter Hills Collection you find a maritime influenced collection with interesting 'workroom' style furniture.

The La Boheme collection has elements of Gothic Steampunk -- lots of blacks and reds.

And, to a lesser extent, The Sheltering Sky Collection, The Secretariat Collection (it's very horsey), and The Desert Hills Collection for some Western Steampunk.

Conant Custom Brass

Conant Custom Brass is a custom brass fabricator in Vermont. Their online shop is chock full of steampunk styled items -- you just have to poke around a bit to find them. There are lovely clocks and rain gauges -- like the float and level rain gauge (of their own design) shown above. They have brass table fans and an adjustable brass draftsman table lamp.

They even have things I've never heard of before -- brass "dust corners" -- triangles that can be installed in stair corners to simplify sweeping:

They do a lot of historical commisions and custom work.

If any of you steampunk engineers need some inspiration, I suggest reverse engineering their illuminated signs: When an image is etched into the smooth surface of plate glass that's illuminated from the side, it glows magically. Letters and graphics give the impression they're generating their own light

And, just in case you were doubting their steampunk cred, they even make rayguns.

Tip of the Hat to Apartment Therapy

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Carbon Arc Lights

Carbon Arc Light Originally uploaded by Curious Expeditions
To continue our recent fascination with light bulbs, Michelle, over at Curious Expeditions, found these carbon arc lights at the Electrotechnical Museum in Budapest. She says "They give off an eerie, shifting, pearlescent glow."

Aren't they lovely?

She has a full set of pictures from the museum on Flickr.

If you'd like to read more about antique bulbs, see Kilokat's Antique Light Bulb Site.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Smell of Steampunk

I have been meaning for a while to write about Douglas Little, a "modern alchemist" and indeed, I will write at more depth at a later time on his exquisite dark taste that overlaps steampunk. (Among other notable things, he introduced Andy Paiko to the "general public" -- assuming you consider shoppers at Barney's the "general public.")

For today, however, I wanted to introduce you to his Modern Alchemy Candles. I don't normally include candles in my home decorating, but Mr Little's were too hard to pass up -- I'm afraid I just ordered his Tincture of Winchester. I couldn't resist infusing my house with the scent of "wood, 19th century lacquer, and smoky gunpowder."

If, perhaps, you are more of a pacifist steampunk you may prefer some of his other scents:

  • opium den: collapse in a languid, hazy cloud of resin, opiates and tobacco fumes

  • ex libris: antiquated leather-bound volumes of handmade papers and parchment permeate and seduce the senses

  • coney island: briny ocean scents with popcorn and machinery

  • speak easy: gin, pipe tobacco, and discretion
  • Monday, June 25, 2007

    Simple Edison Bulb creates an easy steampunk lighting fixture

    Wandering around the aethernet today, I stumbled across this interesting observation:
    ...the late Victorians had a different attitude towards light bulbs than we do today. To them an exposed light bulb looked stylish and modern, to us it's a symbol of decrepitude and poorness. We hide light bulbs behind shades and diffusers. The Victorians liked to show them off.

    The blogger, Deadprogrammer, goes on to point out the Edison bulb (pictured to the right) and a simple unadorned fixture, both from Rejuvenation, that would be appropriate for showing it off. (I can personally vouch for Rejuvenation -- I have ordered lighting fixtures from them and been extremely pleased with both the quality and stylishness of their products.)

    One of Rejuvenation's creative customers put a series of these together in a way that combines the modern and the traditional -- a tension that is at the heart of steampunk.

    Thursday, June 21, 2007

    A Steampunk Kitchen

    A steampunk kitchen is a challenge. Victorian kitchens were dark, hidden spaces not the center of a home kitchens are today. I recently ran across this kitchen in an early 90s design book --
    Mary Gilliatt's Shortcuts to Great Decorating (the kitchen itself was designed by Pedro Guedes)and immediately thought it would appeal to steampunk aficionados.

    What makes this kitchen steampunk, to me, is the wonderful woodworking and the cluttered "laboratory" feel of it.

    The cabinets, I'm afraid, are custom work, and would require finding a local woodworker to manufacture for you (unless you happened to be particularly talented yourself in that way). The closest I could find online were craftsman style cabinets at kitchen design stores like Mosaik Design in Portland, Oregon.

    I did find a pair of concertina arm brass lamps, like the ones pictured, at an online antiques site for -- gulp -- £358 pair.

    The white marble counter top? Again, pricey, but available at most kitchen design places or even your big box home improvement stores. Apartment Therapy had a good article on white marble counter tops a while back.

    Gooseneck faucets are easy to find. Here's one at online retailer Plumbing World.

    What about the clutter? Do you really need my suggestions on that? I'd get a test tube spice rack. Store your pastas and beans in plain sight or in glass doored cabinets in old fashioned looking glass jars. Fill in with neat containers found in thrift stores or antique shops.

    Spending this kind of money on a kitchen doesn't quite strike me as a steampunk approach to things -- where's the reuse? Where's the do it yourself? If you like the look, I'd suggest a lot of patience and looking at unfinished furniture stores, Ebay and architectural salvage yards. I think you could create something with a similar feel -- perhaps with a commission to build a spice rack like the one towards the left in the picture -- with quite a bit of ingenuity.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    A Brass Menagerie: Metalwork of the Aesthetic Movement

    If you are interested in what decorative brasswork looked like shortly after the Victorian era (the appropriately named "Gilded Age"), and you live in New York, you should check out this exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center: A Brass Menagerie: Metalwork of the Aesthetic Movement

    An article in Antiques and Arts Online says: " While the Aesthetic movement evolved in reaction to industrialization, it was also a result of it. The new and fanciful embellishments of art brass and bronze would not have been possible without the expansion of technology. American art brass began as an aesthetic counterpoint to the dark and heavy rooms of the Victorian era. As a bright spot, it caught on quickly, relieving the ponderousness of period furnishings." As such, it's not very steampunk, but it is of interest to those of us who like brass.

    For those of us who don't live in New York, there's an exhibit catalog.

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    Results of...The Challenge

    The moment you've all been waiting for: what results would a designer not familar with steampunk come up with when given the mission of redecorating a bedroom in a steampunk syle? (This blog is almost as good as reality TV, isn't it? OK, perhaps not.)

    If you'll remember, a couple weeks back I posted about a company, Design By Photo, that I was engaging to propose a steampunk design for my bedroom. The results are above.

    Here's what Lynn Cimino, the designer of of Design by Photo has to say about it:

    Please find your room makeover attached. I want to thank you for introducing me to steampunk, I love it! That's not to say I think I have the style absolutely defined here but...

    Looking at the steampunk thing from a designers angle it makes a lot of sense. A basic design theory is called opposition, where elements of the room work together due to their differences rather than their sameness. I think that is the appeal of steampunk. The strong contrast between Victorian refinement and industrial grit, old technology vs new etc. makes it very interesting. It's also a green concept as we need to stop buying so much new and find ways to salvage and reuse.

    The challenge of this design style is not to make it look like a theme restaurant. For this reason, and because its a bedroom, I kept the "staging" to a minimal and I brought the cold industrial elements on the walls to contrast the simple but elegant, linen bedding. I've wrapped the main wall in a custom, sepia toned mural (actually free, well almost free at : ) and used copper ceiling tiles on the two walls which share the closet and bath. The challenge will be finding the right image. The wall opposite the bed should be more quiet, perhaps a warm metallic paint from Ralph Lauren. Rich, heavier fabric could be used on the window wall in the window treatments. I thought your existing dressers, tables played into the style fine. I've added some copper pipe pulls to the dressers. Two pharmacy lamps in a nickel finish would be nicer to read by and seem to pop out from the wreckage of the mural. I've given a second life to half of an old suitcase as a tray table. A fitted, tufted cushion could also make this a useful prop for reading or for a laptop. An old belt brings in some of the old west and dresser up a throw pillow.

    To be fair to Lynn, I also want to include my "before" photo -- in all it's cluttered glory, so you can see what she had to work around and why some parts of the "after" look the way it does.

    One of the things that pleased me is that she used a lot of elements I have been thinking about for this room. The pharmacy lamp sconces. The tin ceiling tiles (I was thinking for the ceiling though -- using them on a wall is an interesting idea!). The metallic paint. The heavy curtains (I'm thinking velvet or damask). Part of what I needed from a design was validation of some of my ideas, and I did get that. I also like how she reused much of the existing furniture -- the bed was a requirement, but I didn't realize that dresser would work so well, and I'm thrilled that she kept my round mirrors over the dressers.

    The brillant idea here, though, is the mural. I would never have thought of that. I'm not quite sure I'm brave enough to implement it, but I really like the idea. If you could find a nice closeup of some steam engine parts... cog wheels... pipes... wouldn't that work well? I'd perhaps go for a more brass toned mural than the sepia, but it's definitely a way to bring "steampunk" into the room. Gentle readers, do you have any ideas for pictures I could use to do this?

    Overall, the metallic shades she used were a bit more copper based (perhaps because of my recent posts on using copper pipe) than brass based, and we all know what the steampunk preference is. So I'm thinking brass more than copper for the ceiling tiles and drawer pulls.

    What you don't see in this view (and Lynn only does 1 view per project) is my windows and the opposite side of the room. I think I'd go with a deep red velvet/damask valance over my very long window with my chaise lounge uphostered in the same fabric. I like the the idea of simple bedcoverings for summer -- I have a white cotton duvet cover I could use -- but prefer something in a heavier fabric (the same deep red?) for winter.

    update 6/28/2007: I'm collecting potential pictures for the mural on this kaboodle list. If you know of any other good ones, send me a link!

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    New Feature: Shopping List

    Would you scroll down to the bottom of this page? Please? Go ahead, I'll wait for you.


    Did you notice my new feature? It's a Kaboodle shopping list. Actually, it's the most recent 6 things off of my 168 item and still going strong steampunk home shopping list. I've been putting things there for a while, as I trawl the web looking for things that have a steampunk appeal. It's not very edited -- some things may not actually be steampunk, or may just be sort-of steampunk, or may be more cyberpunk. I may delete things off of it. I may reorganize it at will -- I'm trying to have categories and to put things into the appropriate categories, but I don't always get around to it. Some things I may decide warrant an entire blog post. But I wanted to share the list with you, so the next time you find yourself staring at the ceiling wondering where you are going to get a hanging globe or an antique tractor seat you know where to start.

    Oh, what's that? You'd like to see the whole thing? Sure. Just click on over to the list in Kaboodle. Or, if you have the patience, you can watch the whole thing here, in a slide show.

    Steampunk for Kids

    I just finished reading Flotsam, a children's picture book by David Wiesner.

    It's wonderful. It tells the story of magical undersea worlds inhabited by cities floating on turtle backs, blowfish hot air balloons, octopuses reading the paper in their living rooms with lamps made from electric fish. All without a single word.

    It may not sound very steampunk, but trust me when I say it is.

    You can buy it at Amazon, if you are so inclined.

    (tip of the hat to The Practical Archivist -- a great source if you are trying to preserve your family history documents)

    Thursday, June 14, 2007

    Steampunk Material: Copper Piping

    new plant stands
    Originally uploaded by fast boy
    I've been grappling with an exterior design problem lately: my [big ugly privacy fence style] garden gate is falling off it's hinges. Not attractive. How to replace it has been an open question for a while. Cast iron? Make one out of scrap metal? What sort of motif?

    After seeing the 3 Rings office yesterday, in particular the bike rack, a light bulb went off: Pipes! Pipes are nice and steampunk. What if I built a gate out of copper pipes?

    So today, I spent some time researching copper pipe fabrication. There are a number of really interesting furniture pieces that people have made out there. The plant stands above are a particularly nice example, but there are many many more. I'm including a slide show below of some of the ideas I found.

    Mirrors! Frames! Trellises! Tables!

    So I'm going to investigate my garden gate idea some more, but I'll leave you with some ideas for using copper piping in your own home:
    --on top of a chair rail. perferably oxidized a nice cool green.
    --framing an entry way or room division (a nice 4-5 inch pipe would be good for this)
    --in the kitchen as a pot rack
    --towel racks in the bathroom
    --curtain rods

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Splendiferous Nautilus Office at 3 Ring Design

    I'm speechless at the spectacle that is 21st century office space modelled after the Nautilus (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Simply brilliant.

    The Wired Photo Essay
    The article at the fabricators

    More design ideas than you can shake a stick at: maps, libraries, leather club room style sofas, pipe motifs, Victorian wallpaper, wonderful bight colors: yellow, teal, red, velvet curtains, chaise lounges,

    And I *love* the space framing arches.

    Some how-tos to pull out of it:

    --Most of the work is done with a ShopBot CNC Router at $12,000 it's not a casual purchase, but cheaper than many cars.
    --chandeliers with frilly Victorian lampshades (seems like this could be adapted easily)
    --check out the lights, made from "a $10 ikea light turned upside down"
    --the desks -- oh the desks -- would be substantially harder to make with a band saw, but not impossible.

    (tip of the hat to Brass Googles)

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    The Challenge!

    I've recently read about a email based home design service called Design By Photo. You send them some pictures of a room in your house, and they send you back a CAD-based redecoration. Since I've been stuck on my bedroom for years now, I thought I'd give it a try and see what happened.

    They send you a 13 questions survey about how you use the room and what sort of style you want. I'll leave most of that out, but I thought you might be interested in how I described the steampunk style to someone whom I assume isn't familar with it.

    8. Tell us here if you have any ideas of our own you would like incorporated into the redesign of your space. Feel free, for example, to discuss colors you like or a wish list you may have for the room.

    OK. Here's where things are going to get wierd. (This is the internet, right? Full of wierdos.) What I want for this room is a style called "steampunk." What is steampunk? From a decor point of view, I'd call it "Neo-Victorianism" or "Victorian Science Fiction" You can scan this wikipedia entry for a more general introduction: If you saw the movies Wild Wild West, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Serenity (or the TV show Firefly), that's also steampunk.

    But since you are on a short time budget, let me give you the highlights of what it means to me, and what I'd like the room to feel like:
    old west
    the "used future" -- not too pretty, definitely not frilly, a bit salvaged

    So think old west/victorian, but strip it down a bit and make it bit more "scientific"

    Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here are some of my favorites for conjouring the "feel" of steampunk:

    Lynn, my designer, said "Great style, I can't wait to attempt it" so I am looking forward to what she does!

    The design should come in about a week, so I will be sure to share it and the "before" picture with you.

    Update: Here's the results.

    Monday, June 4, 2007

    The Lair of Vincent M. Dantes Esq.

    Browsing the forums at Brass Goggles the other day, I ran across another workshop that I immediately knew I had to share here. The workshop is such a strong symbol of the steampunk home -- it's the space in a home that embodies the "do it yourself" philosophy of steampunk.

    The following is the "Lair" of one Vincent M. Dantes, Esq. who generously allowed me to include his photographs (he's a photographer in addition to a customer and artist -- a multi-faceted talent indeed!) on The Steampunk Home.

    I think part of the reason this looks so wonderful is the lighting -- the ambient light is golden & soft, with bright points of light from his lamps and lanterns.

    So how might you go about recreating this look? Dantes' Lair is actually the attic of a toolshed, so you could start there. A toolshed is a great idea for anyone who wants to build a workshop but is lacking the space. I haven't done a lot of research into this area, since the garage in our house serves our workshop needs, but I will recommend Morgan Buildings as a starting place, simply because my dear departed uncle used to drive trucks for them.

    See at the top of the eaves -- it's a barometer. These should be really easy to find in thrift shops or antique stores. (If you want to buy one new, here's one.)

    The lamp to the left of his worktable? It's from Target, and it's still available online. (Only $40!) Floor Lamp with Tassel Fabric Shade - Dark Rust

    One of the most innovative stylings in this workshop are the lanterns hung from lengths of chain. The lanterns are tealight lanterns, and Mr. Dantes found boxes of 3 for $9 at Eckerd's. You'd think this would be one of the simplest things to locate online, but Eckerd's doesn't have a website for sales and I can't find anything that is a good match. This is the closest I came, and it's not brass.

    There are some nice brass vases tucked onto the bench off to the right -- I suspect they were found at a thrift store, as they are a dime a dozen (ok, not that cheap, but still quite affordable) there.

    The captain's chair was ubiquitous in the 70s -- they are harder to find now, but restaurant supply stores or thrift shops should have them. Here's one at an online restaurant supply house.

    If you need a hookah to complete your lair, has many, including one that is extremely similar to Mr Dantes'.

    There are some additional photographs and a nice discussion of this lair on the forum at Brass Goggles.


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