Gettin’ Steampunked With ModVic

Bruce-Melanie-300x200FEH recently sat down with Bruce Rosenbaum, one of the founders of Massachusetts-based Steampunk design firm, ModVic to get the scoop on what steampunk design is all about. Bruce and his partner & wife Melanie started ModVic in 2007 and have one of the only functional Steampunk properties in the United States, which is currently for sale. The Wall Street Journal just dubbed Bruce as the “Steampunk Guru” and was named the “Steampunk Evangelist” by Wired. His property was also recently featured in WSJ Mansion as their Property Of The Day.

I see there are varied interpretations of what constitutes “Steampunk design”. What is your take on what the design aesthetic is?

What Steampunk design means for me is ever evolving. However, at the core of this design movement is the re-imagination of the Victorian and Industrial periods of history blending the past, present and future creating something that is not only beautiful and relevant today, but more importantly functional.  I would say that Steampunk is an amalgam of history + art + tech fused with the recycling and reusing of objects. When working with clients, whether they are commercial or residential we take a customized approach to each design challenge taking into consideration the object that will be re-imagined, the space in which this piece will reside, and of course the client’s personality. The design process is very holistic in nature ultimately leading to a one and only custom design.

How did you end getting involved in Steampunk design?

By complete accident! We bought our current 1901 Victorian Craftsman home, in Sharon, Massachusetts, which is now for sale back in 2000. We started restoring the property, and collecting antiques for the home and blending them with technology in rooms like our kitchen and theater room. Our vision was to combine the best of the Victorian, Arts & Crafts and Industrial ages by fusing modern technologies and appliances into Victorian elegance, craftsmanship and design. The idea was simple. Combine opposites. Old with new. Past with present. Form with function. Ultimately to create something new, functional, relevant and purposeful. We had no idea at the time that there was a term for what we were doing instinctively, but someone came along and told us that we were “Steampunking” and this is where it all began.

Can you give us a recent example of a project that really challenged you creatively?

Mast' Steampunk
Photo by: Matt Norris


We had an opportunity to participate in Design for Dining where the Design Museum of Boston paired seven restaurants with seven design firms to create seven new dining experiences. Since design permeates every aspect of dining including the space within which the restaurant is located, the interior design, the menu and even down to the plating, every design discipline is represented. Boston-based design firm, Nelson Design engaged ModVic in creating a Steampunk Chef’s Table for Mast’ restaurant located in Boston. A chef’s tableside dining experience is typically located in or near the kitchen so that the diners can see what is happening in the kitchen and engage with the chef.

Mast' Restuarant
Photo by: Matt Norris


The challenge for this particular space was that the kitchen was located in the basement of the building and there was no way around moving the location of the kitchen. The solution that we came up with was to create an 1800’s “Magic Lantern” remote kitchen viewer, which the diners could control and the images were projected on the wall right behind their table to create the intimate experience where the guests could see and hear what was going on to recreate the chef tableside dining experience.

Period objects used for this creation included an 1800’s wooden survey transit tripod, a magic lantern, flashpoint measurement device, and a car taillight to name a few. Modern technologies that were blended into this custom piece included an Ipad, GoPro camera, media projector, LED lighting, and a projector. In the end, we created a unique old-meets-new dining experience where the remote viewing camera solved the logistical issue of the kitchen location while simultaneously creating a functional conversation piece that makes guests feel as though they are right in the kitchen with the chef and his team.

Your own masterful Steampunk house outside of Boston is currently for sale. Why are you selling it, where will you be moving to and will your new space be Steampunked?

Steampunk House

It really comes down to where you are at in life. Melanie and I moved to Sharon because it is a great place to live and has top-notch public schools. Now that our kids are grown it’s time for us to turn our attention back to ourselves and our passions and part of that is selling our historic home and moving into a space that fully supports where we are headed in life next.

We currently have an offer in on a historic 1875 church for sale in Palmer, Massachusetts and the goal is to create a live/work space where we can incorporate a gallery and have enough space to hold educational events for people interested in learning about the Steampunk aesthetic. The purchase is contingent upon on the sale of our current home so we will see how it all shakes out. The church is an ideal location with amazing gallery-like natural light and and an expansive gathering space to accommodate a large amount of people. But, if for some reason this property is not in our cards we would look at adaptively re-using another church, post office or a former bank as our new live/work space . We will keep you posted on where we land once we know.

How and where do you acquire the unique and rare period pieces that you use in your Steampunk designs?

Great question. If we were trying to do what we just did now with our current property twenty years ago, it would have had some serious logistical challenges. Luckily, with the advent of the web and a world-wide marketplace we can easily find the objects we need that end up coming from all over the world. We do have a hefty list of about thirty or so architectural salvage places that we use regularly. But, we also find great items on Ebay and Etsy and various antique shows.

I know that you and Melanie tour the country participating in various Steampunk events. Do you have any coming up that may interest our readers?

In fact we do, we have two TEDx talks coming up in the next few months. The first Tedx talk is TedxFultonStreet in lower Manhattan on September 20th, 2015 and the second event is TedxBeaconStreet in Boston and will be on November 15th, 2015.

We’ll be bringing your more on ModVic’s Steampunk story as their design journey continues so stay tuned.

For those of you interested in seeing this charming historic property loaded with architectural details both inside and out––there is an upcoming private showing August 20th, 2015 from 5-8pm. For more information or to confirm your attendance contact Sotheby’s International Realty team, Linda Buckland-Morando ([email protected]) or Robyn Olson-Mackenzie ([email protected]).

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