“Steampunk” is a term that was coined in the late 80’s to describe a certain kind of science fiction. Namely, stories set in an alternate 19th century, usually Victorian England, the American wild west, or a futuristic/fantasy world that resembles one of the two, where steam power is the primary source of energy. These worlds are filled with future technology re-imagined as it would have been designed in the 1800s and powered by steam. But though it started out describing a type of fiction, steampunk has evolved far beyond that, with the aesthetic sneaking its way into fashion, art, and yes, even home design.
At its heart, the ideology that surrounds steampunk is a very optimistic one – based on an industrializing world (but without the horrible coal smoke and grime that filled actual-London during this time period) with seemingly unlimited potential for invention. And it’s an aesthetic that’s bright, cheery, and whimsical, so it’s unsurprising that enthusiasts have started to adapt it into their homes.
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So what does a steampunk home look like? One of the most common elements is brass or copper – paneling, exposed pipes, sinks, and so on. Many people who go all-out with the design even incorporate more unusual objects, like copper distilleries, oversized brass clockwork room dividers, and so on. And remember, steampunk is based on steam power, so exposed plumbing and huge, hefty air ducts are actually desirable design features – the more complex and intricate the designs, the better.
Get The Look: With a hand hammered copper sink, custom exposed bulb lights, and lots and lots of copper piping.
You can hardly call a home steampunk unless it’s filled with cogs, gears, valves, and dials. Like the exposed pipes, these don’t have to be functional, or even imply a function – they’re meant to evoke huge, sprawling clockwork machines. Some very elaborate steampunk homes are even designed to feel like you’re living inside a machine, like a zeppelin or a submarine. Specialty designers make sculptural art – some functional some not – made of copper, brass, and wood with fanciful designs and lots of moving parts (and often a vaguely nautical theme, like a periscope or binnacle). If you haven’t yet embraced your inner aeronaut, non-moving sculptures of cogs and gears and old fashioned clock faces are a good way to get a hint of the style.
Get The Look: With a few decorative cogs and gears, a Wesley lamp, and Winchester arm chair.
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If you aren’t planning on turning your home into a living, breathing, steam powered airship, though, a steampunk design really lies in the little details. You can find stylized, steampunkified objects, like manual typewriters and old fashioned phones, bookshelves made out of steam pipes and so on. Many specialty designers even offer stempunk versions of modern items, like laptop shells, keyboards, monitor frames, or even a gramophone style speaker for your phone or mp3 player. All these items borrow from 19th century design with a little extra mechanical twist.
Get The Look: The Victorian furniture is easy, but for the smaller, unique wingdings, check out Etsy – just search steampunk under their housewares category.
In some places, steampunk design overlaps with the growing popularity of reclaimed industrial furniture. Both draw from industry and machines of similar time periods, and while steampunk designers tend to add a few extra widgets, the actual designs of the late 1800s and early 1900s are often so whimsical that the styles overlap. Simple industrial style furniture – from refurbished factory stools to drafting tables made from reclaimed wood secured to old lathe bases – are relatively easy to find and mainstream enough to be a little more affordable than the majority of individually artisan made steampunk pieces.
Get The Look: With some reclaimed industrial factory stools, cool aviator style chairs, some antique pendant lights, and a whole lot of custom copper work.
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Industrial style lighting is especially popular in steampunk design, and while the same stick-a-cog-on-it mentality still applies, exposed bulb lighting, pulley lights, and other antique factory lights are often so intricate and unique looking to start that they mesh perfectly with the design all on their own. Look for lights on pulley systems, with counterbalances, cages around antique bulbs, or scissor arms to get a look that’s mechanically complex, whimsical, and functional – everything you want out of a steampunk style.
Get The Look: With an industrial draft table and stool, and a Jasper floor lamp.
Steampunk style is a pretty niche aesthetic, but tell me, what do you think? Have you heard of it before, and would you ever consider incorporating steampunk elements into your home? Let me know in the comments!