Transforming historic Boston homes into modern marvels

Transforming historic Boston homes into modern marvels

By Leslie Benson

Do you love the look of your old Victorian home, but refuse to give up the convenience of modern-day technology?

You can do both through steampunking - an artistic movement that's gaining popularity.

Steampunk is a term penned by science fiction author K.W. Jeter in the 1980s to describe retro-technology from an era when steam power still reigned. Much of steampunking involves mechanical tinkering and artistry done by modernizing 20th century artifacts.

Jake von Slatt of Littleton, who runs, a website covering news and events related to the subculture, used brass, recovered from the city dump, to steampunk his computer monitor and keyboard, making it look more like an old-fashioned keypunch.

"Steampunk is going mainstream," von Slatt says. "It has a broad appeal to artists and musicians."

Bruce Rosenbaum, president of ModVic, a licensed home remodeling contractor in Sharon, and his wife, Melanie, remodeled their first home, a 1901 craftsman, using steampunk elements in the design.

"We soon discovered there are other people out there who think this way," Bruce says. The couple renovated another property, an 1830s Italianate house in North Attleborough, that's on the market for $900,000.

For part of their renovations, the Rosenbaums hid speakers in the ceiling, concealed their flat-screen television behind a mirror and ran special cabling for a home theater system through an antique-looking interface.

"We want our custom work to change as technology changes," Bruce says. "So, for example, I also created skins that resemble antique water tanks for my 60-gallon water tanks. When I need to replace them, I can use the same skins."

The Rosenbaums have also steampunked an old printer's bench from the Industrial Age by adding granite countertop to transform it into a kitchen island.

"There's a romantic notion of what a Victorian kitchen would look like in today's world," Bruce says. "Everything has some tie to the past and the future."

His favorite antique is a cast-iron oven that previously served as a wood stove, which Erickson's Antique Stoves upgraded into an electric stove. "It can cost between $5,000 to $30,000 to modernize an antique stove alone," Bruce says.

Angie's List member Effie Hatzimichael of Medford shops for antiques in the Cambridge Antique Market, which sells old world decor for her 1920s home. The high cost of steampunking, however, might not fit in her budget, Hatzimichael says.

Although it can be cost prohibitive, Bruce says ModVic has a wide range of resources. "I've built a network of salvage and antique companies where I can search for Victorian pieces," he says.

Dave Martin, chairman of the Sharon Historical Commission, says the Rosenbaums received the 2009 Preservation Award for their commitment to preserving Sharon's history.

"There is a market for this, especially for people who want to upgrade their appliances but want to keep the look of their Victorian home," Martin says.


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