BRUCE ROSENBAUM BOUGHT a fixer-upper in 2001 and promptly went into renovation mode. After dealing with the roof, chimney, wallpaper and floors of the century-old house, he prepared to tackle the kitchen.
That’s when Rosenbaum fell in love with a Victorian-era stove named Defiance. The affair transformed Rosenbaum from a handy homeowner into a steampunk wizard adept at turning intriguing antiques into functional modern furniture.
“This gorgeous sculptural stove commands the kitchen and brings back this nostalgia for a period when people put pride and craftsmanship into objects,” Rosenbaum tells Wired.com by phone. “There’s all this ornate detail even behind the thing, where nobody would see it. You can’t get that type of quality nowadays, so we decided to bring it back and give the piece a modern use.”
He and his team updated the stove with a sleek glass cooktop, and the rest is steampunk history. Today, Rosenbaum’s house in Sharon, Massachusetts, brims with weird eye-examination contraptions, gleaming nautical devices and other antique oddities picked up from nearby flea markets and repurposed with fully functional digital guts.
Besides serving as home for Rosenbaum, his wife and their two sons, the house showcases his credentials as a go-to guy for all things steampunk. Rosenbaum, who runs steampunk shop Steampuffin, curated a retro-Victoriana exhibition at a Manhattan tattoo gallery earlier this winter and has partnered with a producer of The Biggest Loser on a reality-based steampunk series that’s being pitched to cable TV networks next month. Later this year, he’s outfitting a Nantucket hotel, a Los Angeles nightclub and a New York City office building with turn-of-the-century objects embedded with modern technology.
Check the gallery above for a guided virtual tour of Rosenbaum’s steampunk house.
PUMP ORGAN WORKSTATION
Bruce Rosenbaum lifts the lid of a digital scanner that he incorporated into an 1880s-era pump organ. “When I saw this organ, I said, ‘This is a desk,'” he recalls. “I pulled out all the stuff, the bellows and stuff, and that created a perfect cavity for all the technology.”
GLASS-TOPPED DEFIANCE OVEN
Rosenbaum became hooked on steampunk after updating a 19th-century Defiance No. 18 wood-burning stove made by the J. L. Mott Iron Works. “The center door has the controls to the oven and the warming compartments now serve as storage department for pots and pans,” he says.
Rosenbaum grafted a high-end Miele cooktop to stove’s cast-iron framework. “We looked at a lot of glass cooktops, but the electronics were too thick and interfered with the stove structure,” he says. “Because of way Miele uses modern electronics, it has a very thin profile that worked out perfectly in terms of the dimensions.”
OLD-TIME WATER FILTRATION TANKS
Rosenbaum used an old newspaper advertisement illustration of the Defiance as the basis for a replica of the stove’s companion piece: a copper water tank.
“The original vertical copper water tank ran pipes into the stove to warm water to the tank for dishes or baths,” he says. “We didn’t need hot water, but we did need water filtration, so I built a filtration device in the basement, ran a copper tube up to the sink and installed a plastic flex tube into the tank so the filtered water comes out of the spigot.”
PRINTER’S DESK KITCHEN ISLAND
“We repurposed a printer’s desk from the late 1800s that has long drawers used to store the typeset which we now use for storage,” Rosenbaum says. The adjacent unit on the left comes from a girls’ school in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and has been refashioned to serve as a dog-food storage cabinet.
19TH-CENTURY TIME-MACHINE DESK
“This kind of looks like a time machine,” Rosenbaum says, describing the International Time Recording Company contraption he converted into a desk. “Each employee in the morning would take the articulating arm, push it into a numbered white circle that basically acts like a punch card. This is what IBM used as the basis for their first computer.”
“Pump organs are beautiful pieces of furniture but their bellows often crack or break and they’re hard to repair,” says Rosenbaum. “They’re like big paperweights.”
HOT-PLATE IPAD RECHARGER
“We use this old hot plate as a wireless iPad recharger,” Rosenbaum says. “That top brass piece would be filled with kerosene fuel.”
The home library is decorated with fancy clockworks made by artist Roger Wood, who “takes Victorian gears and parts and lamp bases to make this assemblage art that’s put together to look as if it actually does something,” says Rosenbaum.
PORTRAIT STUDIO COMPUTER WORKSTATION
“We turned this Century Studio Portrait Camera from the early 1900s into a workstation,” Rosenbaum says. “Photographers would stand there with their cape and flash and take pictures. I affixed a monitor, speakers and computer to the framework. The great thing is, those wooden knobs that allowed photographers to move the camera box still work, so you can adjust the tilt of the monitor. The wheel on the side cranks the whole thing up or down so you can ergonomically get the monitor to the right height.”
The workstation’s antique typewriter is embedded with a chip and USB port that enables full functionality when connected to a computer.
PORTRAIT STUDIO DENTAL MANIKIN
Looking to add a decorative element to his computer workstation, Rosenbaum considered a skull, but figured it would be too bizarre. Then he found an antique dental manikin, an aluminum head that dentists used to practice upon.
“It had this mechanical, robot type of feeling, with just a little bit of creepiness,” Rosenbaum said.
NAUTICAL COMPASS MEDIA CENTER
This ship’s compass from the late 1800s, known as abinnacle, functions as a storage unit. “You can use this as a media center to store computer components, and house DVDs, CDs, photos,” Rosenbaum says.
Rosenbaum used an art deco oak door from the ’30s as the foundation for this closet door, then added a mid-century twist: a portal salvaged from a 1960s Chris-Craft boat. He also incorporated a solid bronze valve wheel. “It’s operational, so that if you turn the wheel to the left it unlocks the mechanism and opens the door,” he says.”
A ship’s light mounted above has green, red and clear lenses that light up when the door opens. What’s inside the closet? “I have this great library card catalog cabinet from the early 1900s that I use as a filing cabinet,” Rosenbaum says.
These Prohibition-era whiskey stills were acquired from a local family that used to be in the bootlegging business. “They had the lock on it to keep their son from stealing the booze,” Rosenbaum says.