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. WHEN BRUCE AND MELANIE ROSENBAUM OF SHARON, 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 P H O T O G RA P H Y B Y J AY G R O C C I A 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. 60 Victorian Homes ¥ www.victorianhomesmag.com 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. April 201161 The use of the new to enhance the old makes the home livable for at least another century. 62 Victorian Homes ¥ www.victorianhomesmag.com 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. April 201163 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 April 201165 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 66 Victorian Homes ¥ www.victorianhomesmag.com April 201167 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. 68 Victorian Homes ¥ www.victorianhomesmag.com 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 www.crmi.org. The couple and The Steampunk House will be featured in an August episode of the HGTV series “This New House.” See www.modvic.com and www.steampuffin.com 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.
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