The phrase was coined by the author K.W. Jeter in 1987 as an ironic take on ‘advanced technology’. Steampunk in fact refers to retro-technology (a technology possibly powered through steam) such as analogue computers set in a fantastical alternate history of the 19th century, where the gaslight aesthetic of our Victorian cities combined with the excitement of a Jules Verne or HG Wells adventure.
Recent authors such as Philip Pullman are enthusiasts and notably his epic trilogy ‘His Dark Materials’ has now been adapted as a film. And it is this cross-over into film that has reached out to a new mainstream audience and helped create the new aesthetic. Films like Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and more recently The Prestige have influenced a generation to connect to a time where adventures and discoveries were once accessible. Today, arguably we live in a World where we have no more adventures like our Victorian forefathers. Our forefathers used science to help deliver their adventures, be it travelling to the ends of the earth, discovering new cultures or scrutinising the natural world.
The Victorian Emporium's Steampunk inspired glass hurricaine jar
The Victorians had a deep fascination with the natural world and intrepid gentlemen would discover, collect and classify it. Specimen jars, display cases and taxidermy would be used to present the preserved curiosities. These curiosities would help adorn their homes. If you’re interested in the Steampunk look you could use these displays as well as the tools and paraphernalia that accompanied these hobbies such as magnifying glasses, hunting nets and brass telescopes. To evoke travel and adventure you can use old globes, maps, compasses, pith helmets, old luggage, hurricane lamps, old telephones and framed etchings of zeppelins, steam trains, biplanes and steamships.
The Victorian Emporium's Steampunk inspired clock
But yet at the heart of Steampunk interior lies a strong DIY culture; in part it’s because the look isn’t cheap and also it’s not just about replicating a period look in your house but living a 19th century alternative world. To achieve this you can customise old Victoriana furniture and change it's use into something new like changing a common bedside table into an amplifier for your Victorian looking electric guitar. In some ways there has never been a better time to invest in ‘brown wood’. For years flea markets, antique and junk shops have had a hard time as the mainstream vogue for interiors has been contemporary and flat-packed. It can be fun and satisfying to know that your object or furniture is unique with your particular customisation. A dominant element to Steampunk interiors is brass. Brass cogs and clock donor parts, bits of old machinery or Filament lamps and cathode tubes can help decorate items to make them look like the work on outdated power sources but this must be done with skill to look pseudo-Victorian.
The Victorian Emporium's Lincrusta wall covering
These DIY curiosities are the props and make superb talking points and statements but however great these items look, you will still need the basic room dressing and decoration of the room. This is of course means decorative wallpapers such as Anaglypta, sumptuous Victorian curtain and upholstery fabrics in rich colours, embellished rugs and stair runner carpets with ornamental brass stair rods, dark exotic woods, ceiling chandeliers, black and white encaustic tiles. Even a simple modern radiator could ruin the fantasy; a Victorian cast iron radiator painted in metallic copper would be better suited, however if the budget is tight, radiator covers can be used. The items you can use are as endless as your Steampunk imagination.
The Victorian Emporium's Church cast iron radiator
Like all mainstream fashions and trends the original inspiration for Steampunk may be diluted to accommodate the taste and budget of the many and for that reason we may see only single rooms being refurbished or simply Steampunk may lose the punk and keep the steam - a return to period interiors. Over the past decade people have viewed houses as investments and not homes or personal spaces; the general inclination has been to decorate in plain non-invasive colours like magnolia as any personal stamp could be perceived as detrimental to the all important quick sale. As people decide to stay put and are willing to invest in making their home truly their castle, Steampunk may be here to stay.
The Victorian Emporium sells a wide range of Victorian and Steampunk inspired products for the interior design of your home.