Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From Planes to Furniture

Furniture designer Giancarlo de Astis designs wonderful furniture out of old airplane parts.

Il Cardine, a lamp from mahogony and an aircraft door hinge.

Il Sole, made of jet engine turbine blades and burl walnut. (The knights of the round table would have loved it!)

According to his website, Giancarlo earns his artistic license in the American West, where creative man-hours are embedded in the shapes of thousands of airplanes glimmering under intense heat awaiting their irrevocable meltdown in the desert bone yards of Arizona.

Similar to old prospectors spotting potential sites, Giancarlo delicately selects each airplane part that beams the brilliance of its engineered design.

A trip to the junkyard has never sounded so romantic!

Thanks to reader Gary for sending me these.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Build your own hidden door

Remember this library with a secret powder room behind a bookshelf? I just ran across instructions for making something similar from off the shelf parts at Ikeahacker...

You'll have to play with the aesthetics a bit to make it steampunk styled, but the idea was too good not to share.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mod My Fridge!

So if you were around last summer for the refrigerator posts, you may remember that I was leaning towards modding a panel front refrigerator as the most cost effective way to get a stylish fridge. After some regular Craigslist watching, $400, and the manual labor to haul it home 30 miles, I'm now the proud owner of a 5 year old, cabinet front, counter depth, GE fridge similar to this one.

So what's a steampunk homemaker to do with such a thing? It probably isn't the obvious first thing, but I've started by buying gauges on Ebay.

I liked the irony of having a heater gauge on a refrigerator.

This one is actually a working fridge thermometer -- if I get the probe sensor inside, I'll actually get the internal temperature on the outside.

This one is just a pressure gauge, easy to find on eBay.

Gauges for Milliamperes and Microamperes

Beyond the obvious "buy cool stuff" part of it, I think the actual first step is going to be finding/fitting/cutting some brass sheets to replace the cabinet fronts with.

I'm not the most artistic person, so I'm a bit worried about the whole "design something that looks good" aspect of this project. I'm taking inspiration from this Kohler ad, the Steampunk Treehouse, and Roger Wood's Klockwerks.

I'm soliciting ideas -- what else should I do with it? Do I go overboard and cover the entire front or should I take a more restrained approach? Any ideas for how to cover the black plastic of the water dispensor and the black handles that run the length of the doors? At this stage of the project, I'm open to any suggestion, no matter how crazy. Bring it on.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

On Heaters and Radiators

Here's some heat related goodness to warm you up this winter.

Reader Joe Kesselman sent me a link to a Turkish company, Carisa, who is making hot water radiators in some very unique shapes. Unfortunately, all are chromed stainless steel and not warm steampunk metals, but they do have some clever designs.

The pipe organ style is the cleverest:
In only slightly related news, reader Paul Hulbert sent me this device from the South Western Electricity Historical Society in Bristol, UK.

My first guess was that it was a 1960s mod of a Victorian device, but it turns out I was wrong -- the extremely modern looking innards are just as Victorian as it's outtards.

This type of heater was available around the turn of the (19th!) century. This Apollo "Dowsing Sausage" Fire dates from approximately 1910. My friend and former colleague John Heath of the SWEHS explains that:

The electric filament lamp was considered inefficient because far more energy was converted into heat than produced light.

H. J. Dowsing, in 1896, designed a "heating lamp" with a frosted glass envelope. It had a 250 watt carbon filament which gave off no light except a warm red glow.

These were the first practical electric radiant heaters.

The Cannon bulb fire in 1904 had four of the "Dowsing Sausages" set against a polished reflector and controlled by brass switches.

The Apollo fire in the museum is similar.

Anyone visited the SWEHS in Bristol? It sounds like a lovely place!

Thank you Paul and Joe (and John!) for sharing these with us.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Are you an Alchemist?

I was struck by Dylan Kehde Roelofs saying he was an alchemist -- a word that we don't use much anymore, even if we have the chops to back it up. It made me start thinking that perhaps I'm an alchemist, too!

Let's look at some examples that happen in my house:
  • turning milk into cheese
  • turning water and grain into beer
  • apple juice into hard cider

{I wonder -- does turning electricity into light count? }

It may not be as romantic as turning lead into gold, but I definitely think these sorts of projects qualify as alchemy.

Why am I even thinking about this? Steampunk is the intersection of the Maker movement with science fiction aesthetic and a revival of interest in the Victorian. Would it have gotten off the ground, and be gaining speed as quickly as it is, without physical goods made by hand by people like Jake von Slatt or Datamancer? Those first steampunk pieces thrilled us -- made us say "I want to be part of this! I want this to be part of my life." -- but without them we may not even of known that this thing called steampunk exists.

The struggle for me is in finding some level of "authenticity" within the steampunk home -- if all we do is buy stuff that looks good that's not exactly the spirit of steampunk (although patronizing artists is a noble cause not to be overlooked). Figuring out what you can make (or what lead you can turn into gold) -- with or without a neoVictorian spin -- can help inform your personal steampunk style. Into sewing? Why don't you make a desk from an old sewing machine table, or find some old sewing machine parts to use in a mantel still life or incorporate into a lamp or clock. If coffee is your thing, why not build a brass vacuum brewer? If it's something you have a passion for, you'll find learning about how people used to do it, and understanding the antique objects used to do it, brings a level of satisfaction and a depth of understanding that truly makes your home interesting and unique. (Our friends who visit only rarely always want a tour of our "Garage of Wonders" to get a glimpse into what the current projects and passions are -- and we love showing off our interests and indulging our love of lecturing.)

In our steampunk home, this means our interests tend toward the electrical or the alchemical. The electrical because we're both software engineers -- at it's most elemental the blinking of electrical signals and the moving around of ideas through the aether of the mind -- so gauges for the fridge that were used for measuring milliamperes and microamperes on some old piece of equipment brings a frisson of delight every time we look at them or the building of a mad scientist light reminds us of just how electrical circuits work.

This is a bit of a lecture laden departure from my normal sort of post, but at best it will give you something to ruminate on, and at worst you can just ignore it.

Dialogues between filament and bulb

Artist and glassblower Dylan Kehde Roelofs emailed me about his new collection of hand blown incandescent sculpture (also known as "light bulbs"). Rockets, insects, upside down bulbs, moon walkers -- the collection takes inspiration from a number of natural and industrial forms, while still maintaining a distinctive incandescent light bulb look.

The first question I had -- and all of you, too, I suspect -- is "what do you do when they burn out?" Dylan anticipated this and first takes us to task for focusing on a mundane practicality: The emphasis of these art objects is on their sculptural form and lighting quality, not quantity., before saying that you should be able to get somewhere between 100 and 1000 days out of them: This being said, the filament temperature is slightly lower than that of bulbs rated for 25,000 hours, and about the same as other famously long-lived bulbs. The filament thickness is at least 10 times that of a standard 2000 hour bulb. The initial inrush of current from being switched on, and vibration are the worst enemies of these sculptural filaments, since the rate of evaporation is several orders of magnitude lower that a standard bulb. Test bulbs approaching 2500 hours of age are not even beginning to show signs of darkening from this evaporation.

How does he make them? These are lampworked at an oxy-propane (hot!) torch from raw pyrex tubing stock. I do all of the filament winding and glass-to-metal seals on the tungsten (with uranium glass! Oh boy!) myself, as well as the vacuum processing.

I wondered where he got the sockets (or did he make those, too?!). Dylan says
I got the little sockets after begging to every lighting company in the book. Those sympathetic to the cause of Mad Science are occasionally willing to send 'samples'.

It's taken Dylan years to acquire the knowledge to build these. He is a Mad Scientist by career, a daguerreotypist, and, unlike the rest of us (who merely want to be), he actually is an alchemist -- he makes 16th century glass distillation equipment and uses it!

Thanks for sharing these with us, Dylan, and for answering my inquiries. I'm looking forward to what you do next!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Steampunk Treehouse Tour

Boing Boing TV has a wonderful tour of the Steampunk Treehouse up today. According to one of the creators, it's "what a tree would look like if built by people who had never seen one"

Make sure you watch it through -- the interior shots (I adore the occuli!) are in the second half.

Xeni visits the Steampunk Tree House, a 40+-foot-tall interactive sculpture created by a group of artists in Oakland, CA, and assembled for the first time at Burning Man. More than 60 people helped to create it, and in today's episode, you'll hear from project participants Alan Rorie, Nathaniel Taylor, and David Shulman.

Some design details to watch for:
  • Iron (or possibly steel?) scrollwork over the door
  • Valve as a flower face
  • What feel to me like doorbell surrounds used a miniature frames
  • The steam whistle levers remind me of the gear shift in my Dad's dump trucks.
  • I love the warning sign: "Please operate the trioperator Delicately. It may Explode" in a genteel script, at an cock-eyed angle.
  • The demilune iron balcony is lovely

Original post on Boing Boing TV.

Dr. Kim's "Office"

It all happened by accident... (Vices always do, don't they?) Dr. Kim was buying a sound booth from an elderly doctor friend.

When I arrived at his office to pick up the booth, he gave me a lot of the big, basic pieces. The vintage medical pieces were his and his father's (who was also a physician - and was, in fact, a patient of Sigmund Freud!) Almost everything works, the otoscopes light up, and the rolling cart has a working suction pump.

My students and friends found out I had the 'office' and started to contribute a lot of the other pieces including the stainless bedpans, old books, and signs. One friend just donated a (non-functional) X-Ray machine just last year. Who knew there was so much old medical stuff out there?!

The wooden medicine cabinet has a lot of patent/chinese medicines and cures donated by friends.

While I wasn't sure I wanted to know, but I asked the good doctor what he did in this lab.

It doesn't really have a practical application now, although I did use it as a 'lab' for doing makeup and visual F/X for a while; It's pretty much just an "art installation" at this point (I'm sorry to say: I'm not really a mad scientist...) although there will be a film being shot in it later this year; and it's been a set for various other shoots in the past.

He also had some advice (he is a professional F/X person, after all) on getting some of these effects in your own lab/workshop/home:

I would describe the paint as: "an industrial green, that was sunk with the Titanic, and then recovered." The running rust on the walls was done by daubing brown on the green base, and then spraying lightly with water so the brown paint would run down. As I add the wall mount items, I position them to match the position of the stains.

The frames of the windows and door were painted with a metallic base and then layered with an oxidizer used to create real rust. The rusty medicine cabinet was actually a new galvanized piece from Ikea, also sprayed with the oxidizer to create the rust.

Incredible, isn't it? There's a couple more pictures on Dr. Kim's website.

Update: Dr. Kim sent along a panoramic view for our enjoyment. (Click to get a bigger version...)

From left to right you can see: my (all too modern) computer monitor; the vintage floor-standing medicine cabinet (filled with Asian cure-alls); the victims' 'table-of-doom'; the 'rusty' medicine cabinet; otoscope; the rolling 'suction' cabinet; vintage "Vornado" fan; phone; hydraulic chair; radium storage (glows green in the dark!); antique books and bedpan/urinal set (above); and above the clock, you can see a tiny picture of the two original doctors, as well as a framed photographic diptych of Dr. Freud.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Riveted Coffee Table

Just ran across this table on the website of French antique company le Grenier.

You have to inquire for a price, and it's in France. Lots of other interesting things on their website.

Thanks to Apartment Therapy for pointing out le Grenier.

Steampunk Range Hoods from Archive Designs

Ran across these range hoods by Archive Designs in a magazine yesterday.

Hammered nickel and distressed steel... it reminds me of an iron foundry (or something that would be in Lord Iron's house in Michael Moorcock's Silverheart)

He has a number of other interesting designs.

Some very industrial looking...
Beaten iron with hammered brass straps and rivets.

Others a bit more rustic...
Hammered copper with forged steel straps.

I really like this look -- trying to do something similar would be great for a fridge (more on that soon!), or a wall.

The site also has fireplace doors and screens, mailboxes, switchplates, and more fun things, but these were the most steampunk looking of the bunch.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Library and Air Ship of Genomo

Found via a link by Angelus on the steamfashion community, these lovely paintings by Tom Kidd of Genomo -- a "a state of mind, a craving for adventure, the need to travel into unknown territory just to see what is there, the desire to have new experiences and to work with great people – maybe, even, dare to be great yourself. "

There are lots of paintings on the website, but these are two of the most appealing interiors. To the left is Peale's library:
With the early morning light sparkling against his marble floor, deep in his musty library, with gargoyles perched above and shelves of books packed tightly below Charles Wilson Peale III searches through documents....

There's also the navigation gondola of HMAS Wyeth. It reminds me of Paris, in an Eiffel Tower/Metro Station iron work sort of way.

Related: Airship Fantasy Room

Design notes on The Golden Compass

Jordan College

I finally saw The Golden Compass last week, and would describe it as "beautiful with moments of trite." (But then, I'm not the biggest Philip Pullman fan, petering out somewhere in the middle of The Subtle Knife.) Since this blog is all about how things look, however, I definitely think it's worth a viewing since the sets were fantastic.

Lord Asriel's Study

What I really liked was how the sets managed to blend styles from multiple eras -- Gothic at Jordan College, Art Deco at Mrs. Coulter's house, an old west feel in Trollesund, and then an almost 1960s lab in Bolvangar.

Mrs. Coulter's

Production designer Dennis Gassner is quoted at on how he created the look: This will be the turn of the century to the '40s. We have that window of 40 years to say…' For costume, for props, everybody needed to have a window in time to deal with. But it's a broad window of time. We're dealing with a generality and that opened things up. It's much more fun for the audience to look at because it is a fantasy, even though we're basing it in a reality environment. We're saying, 'This is a real time, real place that you're in now.' But it gave me the scope to play with a lot of elements of time. And that accumulation is the exciting part about getting to do something like this.”

Jordan College

He calls it "cludging. It's taking one element that exists and another element that exists and putting them together, combining into something else.” A very steampunk perspective, no?

I had also read that he based his aesthetic for the movie on the circle.


Actually, I learn from the interview with Gassner, is that it's a bit more complicated.

“The question that I had for everybody was what is The Golden Compass? And to me, I deal in symbols, I'm the architect of the film. How do you get into a world like this which is a very unusual world, one that I haven't created and nobody has? So you start with that, something simple,” explained Gassner. “The simplicity for me was actually the sphere which became the golden compass. The protagonist and the antagonist of our films, you need symbols, simply become that. The symbol for purity for Lyra and then the antithesis of that would be for me the oval, which is the extension or manifestation of that symbol. So it's nice to have a contrast, and you can start to build the world from there. That's how I started, very simply and very direct.

Both of these ideas -- design inspirations that span 40 years, the circle as a recurring design element -- are ones that you can incorporate into your own home. My own home, which is slowly becoming more and more steampunk, has elements drawn from Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco fraternizing quite nicely together. I also use the circle -- a very steampunk shape -- in many of my home accessories -- mirrors, a large copper bowls on the dining table, etc.

Ugo has a video about steampunk and the look of the movie.
Ugo's Gallery's Gallery
IMDB's Photos

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gothic Glow: Steampunk Lighting for your Home

Reader Barry Berman recently wrote to me. Inspired by the post on Mad Scientist lamps (mine is still in progress, the gods of procrastination and interruption have gotten in the way...) he decided to build one out of parts he had laying around. He showed it off to his coworkers, they encouraged him to build more and make them available for sale... So here they are!

Gothic Glow has models in 2, 6 or 12 bulbs, available in limited quantities.

This is definitely a labor of love for Barry:

I ... scrape, grind and sand portions of the box to have rounded edges, and so the parts fit inside. I buy the brass plate, cut all the plates by hand, and hand stamp a drilling pattern for the lamps and screws. Afterwards, I stain the boxes with two different stains, one red and one brown. Then I electrolytically etch the brass using the toner transfer method, before doing the final assembly and hooking up all the parts.

The skull dimmer is a knob made for guitars by Q-Parts. I've been experimenting with making my own knobs though too. And being the crazy person I am, I'm melting the brass pouring them into bat shaped molds. You have no idea how cool molten metal is!

I think we'll hear more from Barry, since he's since started on other steampunk projects like electric violins and phonograph players and will add them to gothic glow if there is enough interest. (And molten brass! How great would that be -- how about doing a line of gear shaped knobs for projects like this, or drawers or cabinets, Barry?)

Are you working on anything appropriate for a steampunk home? If so, let me know -- I'd love to feature more project like this one. Have skills but no inspiration? A while back I suggested (space) ships in a bottle or plates with steampunk diagrams on them (kilned or decoupage...).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chemical Appeal at CB2

One of the few places the pervasive "modern" style intersects with steampunk is in laboratory style (the other one is industrial, as we've recently seen). This means you can occasionally uncover affordable steampunk treasures in mass market home goods retailers.

I've mentioned CB2 before, and I recently perused their newest catalog. In addition to the beaker glass vases I have in my house, they've added some wine decanters in the shape of a volumetric flask. (Want the real thing? Indigo has some, but they're $20 compared to CB2's $15.)

The biggest surprise, however, is the Alchemy side table and stools. The Alchemy is a nice dark wood table top over a matte stainless steel lab stool bottom. The side table seems stuck at 20 1/4 inches high, but the stools are adjustable (I believe by spinning!) from 15 1/4 to 10 1/2 inches high. I just wish they made a small dinner table sized one I could use in my breakfast room.

The Victorian chemistry lab look has a lot of appeal -- the dark woods and clean lines work for a less fussy style than traditional Victorian interiors, or would be a good way to add some steampunk style to a transitional, modern, or eclectic home.

More science style.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mr. von Slatt's Victorian RV

Mr. von Slatt (yes, that von Slatt) recently posted some pictures and a video of a school bus he converted to a Victorian styled recreational vehicle.

I was trying for a Victorian look in my design, I wanted something that had the feel of a sea coast summer house that had been in the family for generations. Something bright, light, and simple but with an air of country elegance. All within the constraints of material I found or was given.

My favorite is the kitchen, with blue greens similar to the interior paint of the typical school bus.

There's a whole video on how he did the conversion -- it's very interesting!

According to Jake's video, people ask: "Why would you do this?" His answer -- the best one -- "I love to build things!"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ceiling Fans!

Reader Jon was so kind as to recommend a very clever ceiling fan. The Air Shadow is a ceiling fan whose blades retract when not in use. Sort of like a transformer, except for grown ups.

I like the idea, both from a "clever gadget" perspective, but also because it doesn't take up the visual space in a room a traditional ceiling fan does.

The other find from Jon? The site he found the Air Shadow on is Fanimation, which has some of the most fabulous fans I have ever seen.

Have you ever wanted multiple ceiling fans belted together, like they have a Dave and Buster's? Check out the Brewmaster.

Have an extremely high ceiling and want to fill the space to make the room more cozy? I'd say the American is your fan.

Perhaps something more evocative of a hovering airship?

What fun! There's lots more on the Fanimation site (and be sure to check out their gallery).

Other fans.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

DC Area Auction -- Tom Sarris' Orleans House

Reader HappyCthulhu was so kind as to send me a link to this online auction (pickup only, though, so definitely more suited for locals) of a recently departed restaurant in Rosslyn, Virginia called Tom Sarris' Orleans House. I don't know anything about the establishment, but the auction is full of architectural elements and clever devices.

The neatest? A large recording clock. What it was used to record, I do not know, but the face is beautiful and the innards are full of brass rods, gears, and a reel for paper.

I thought this fern stand -- with chains on it! Was interesting, too.

Auction ends on February 8th, so you have plenty of time to dream, research, and bid.

Ah -- I think Happy found this via BoingBoing, so thanks all around.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Homes and Cities of Dinotopia

Waterfall City

After reading Dr. Fabre's post on Dinotopia a week ago, I was determined to lay my hands on some of the Dinotopia books by James Gurney. Today, I spent my lunch hour delightfully browsing the first Dinotopia book, with 2 more in "the pile" for when I'm finished with that one.


Are you familar with Dinotopia? Not distinctly steampunk (too few things are), but with some decidely steampunk aspects -- for instance the idea of time as a helix is a delightful one, and a helix pocket watch one of the interesting inventions of this world. It's a series of lavishly illustrated young adult books that have been turned into a movie, a miniseries, and an animated movie. (I'm holding off on the movie and miniseries until the steampunklet is a bit older and we can enjoy them together.)

Chandara -- echos of Istanbul for me!

For my purposes, I focused on the buildings of this land. Mr. Gurney (whose works both invite and delight) builds an incredible fantasy world that blends the architectural styles of many cultures and some straight out of his imagination.

The village of Bilgewater, made from the hulls of sailing ships -- the most imaginative of places.

Are you or your own steampunklet as enamored as I am? Did you know you can get a wallpaper mural of any of 8 different scenes from the books as large as 9 feet tall? For the more moderate, there are also posters available on Gurney's website.

Also worth browsing is Gurney Journey, the artist's blog. His love for his art and his teacher's patience both come through.


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