The Rosenbaums’ 14-room house in Sharon,

The Rosenbaums’ 14-room house in Sharon,
Massachusetts, was built in 1901, when architectural
styles were in transition. Its fieldstone foundation
and lower façade were made from the wall that
originally surrounded the property.
Massachusetts, decided they wanted to buy a Victorian house,
they drove all around the town picking out the prettiest
prospects. They ended up with a wish list of 20 houses, but,
alas, not a single one of them was for sale.
BY N A N C Y A . R U H L I N G
A Massachusetts couple takes their steampunk house back to the future.
So Bruce got this bright idea: He would write an “I’d-love-to-buyyour-house” letter to each owner. “I only got four responses,” he
recalls. “Three of them said they didn’t want to sell. The fourth one
happened to be considering putting the property on the market and
invited us over for a tour.”
As it happened, that house—the one the
Rosenbaums now call home—was at the top of
their list. The three-story, 14-room mansion,
which sits in the town center as if on a throne, is
one of the fancier Victorians in the neighborhood.
Built in 1901, the year of Queen Victoria’s death,
it is in a transitional style, what Bruce describes as
a Craftsman/Shingle/Shaker hybrid.
The original owner, John G. Phillips, was a sea
merchant who made his fortune in the export
business. He already had built a mansion in Dorchester, Massachusetts, but when he retired in his 50s,
he decided to move back to his hometown.
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When the Rosenbaums and their two sons
moved in a century later, they began the process of
restoring the house with the idea of giving it what
Bruce describes as a “modern Victorian look.” They
replaced the leaking roof and chimneys, and traded
the vinyl siding for cedar clapboard. Despite its
size—5,000 square feet—the house was architecturally plain. Melanie chose forest green, cream,
black and plum for the exterior color scheme and
added architectural details, including a sunburst
pattern at the apex of the roof, diamond-pattern
designs below the second-story windows and
rosettes around the window frames.
The Rosenbaums took a wood-burning
stove, a late 1800s Defiance model by
J.L. Mott, and added an electric glass
cooktop from Miele and two stainless steel
ovens. The reproduction hood was copied
from a vintage ad that showed the Defiance
in all its glory.
The use of the new to
enhance the old makes
the home livable
for at least another century.
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Inside, they removed wall-to-wall carpeting that dated to
the 1960s and linoleum that was from the 1940s, and
restored the oak floors. The wallpaper was replaced with
paint in jewel colors similar to those that would have been
popular in the 1860s. To cover up the imperfections in the
plaster, the walls were faux-painted to look like marble.
The couple decided to decorate with Eastlake pieces, whose
angular lines and incised decoration have a crisper, more contemporary look than other Victorian styles. “We like the high
drama of Victorian, but our personalities fit more with the
Arts and Crafts or Craftsman style,” Bruce says.
Above: The workroom is a steampunk wonderland. From the
computer workstation to the drafting table and hall tree, ordinary
antiques house modern machinery in the most fantastical ways.
Above right: Bruce paired an antique Chelsea ship’s clock with a
Victorian hall tree to create a decorative, nonworking timepiece that
literally has all the bells and whistles.
Right: A vintage studio portrait camera found new work after Bruce
turned it into a computer workstation complete with a monitor that
moves up and down and speakers on the support posts.
The “command computer station” in Bruce’s
third-floor office is made from a Victorian pipe
organ whose insides have been replaced with a
high-speed computer.
“We wanted everything to be late
1800s to early 1900s to coordinate with
the year the house was built,” he says. “We
bought things piece by piece.” The Rosenbaums stuck to their conventional ideas
until it came time to renovate the kitchen.
“We wanted to redo it in a romantic Victorian style,” Bruce says. “Victorian kitchens
were dark and dirty; they weren’t made
for the family, they were where the servants worked. So we came up with this
idea that we’d go for ‘modern Victorian.’
We’d bring in period pieces and modify
them to work in this century.”
They started with the stove. During a
trip to the famous outdoor antique show
at Brimfield, Massachusetts, they discovered a dealer who restored and modernized vintage cast-iron stoves. “Originally,
there would have been a copper water
tank with the stove,” Bruce says. “So I
Opposite: The door to the closet in
Bruce’s office features a porthole and a
vintage brass valve wheel that is used to
open and close it.
Right: The 1960 movie “H.G. Wells’ The
Time Machine” starred Rod Taylor and
this small-scale model, which is shown in
its original red-velvet-padded case.
Above: Eastlake furnishings, including this
round table and chairs, provide a neutral
Victorian backdrop for the steampunked
pieces in Bruce’s office.
found an old copper tank. I love the look, but I wanted it to work so I turned it into a filtration system
for our drinking water. When people saw the kitchen, their jaws dropped, and one day someone came
in and told me that this style that I thought I had created was called steampunk.
Steampunk, as Bruce found out, merges the inventive Victorian style of gears, gadgets and gewgaws
with the latest technology to create vintage-looking pieces that are not only high-tech but also highly
functional. Some steampunk aficionados, like the Rosenbaums, take old pieces and modernize them;
others take new pieces and make them look old.
Bruce began designing more steampunk pieces, and the Victorian home in picturesque Sharon
became known far and wide as “The Steampunk House.”
“Steampunking is a way to preserve the Victorian era in a new way,” Bruce says. “It preserves the past
by making it relevant to the present and future, and gives things at least 100 years of new life.”
The proof is right through the front door of The Steampunk House. N
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A general definition of steampunk is the blending of fashion, décor and machinery from an era where
steam power was widely used—such as Victorian-era Britain—with elements of science fiction or
fantasy. Machines written about in fictional works by authors H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are often
referred to by those in the steampunk movement.
Although the term “steampunk” entered the vernacular vocabulary in the late 1980s when it was
coined by sci-fi writer K.W. Jeter, it’s only recently that it has become part of popular culture.
The genre really picked up steam when the University of Oxford in England held a major exhibition
from October 2009 to February 2010. For more information, pick up a copy of the new book The Art
of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the
Steampunk Movement by Art Donovan.
Above: While the overmantel houses a
flat-screen TV, cords and electronic devices
are hidden behind the fireplace screen.
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Steampunk inventor and designer Bruce Rosenbaum and
his wife, Melanie, frequently make public appearances to
educate people about steampunk. “We don’t hack up
important antiques or alter the original purpose of the
pieces,” Bruce says. “We work on pieces that are in great
disrepair and need some TLC. Instead of turning these
pieces into dust collectors, they are used and enjoyed
every day.”
Their collection is featured in the Charles River
Museum of Industry and Innovation’s new exhibit
“Steampunk, Form & Function, and an Exhibition of
Innovation, Invention and Gadgetry” that continues
through May 10. For more information, see
The couple and The Steampunk House will be
featured in an August episode of the HGTV series
“This New House.” See and for more information on this
and other upcoming events.
The third-floor bathroom retains its original fixtures,
which include a sink and claw-foot tub.