Steampunk is one of the more popular artistic themes currently being applied to modern home offices. The mixture of technology, science, and vintage antiquities makes steampunk all the more appealing to many geeks.
Steampunk itself is a popular genre of science-fiction commonly referred to as speculative fiction. Much of the look and feel of steampunk borrows from the Victorian era in a way that blends modern invention and ingenuity with steam power. Perhaps the best way to describe it as an art style is our modern world as envisioned by the British in the mid to late 1800s. Perhaps best described in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, the perception of the future was largely steam powered (as electricity hadn’t been widely adopted at the time) and based around the artistic styles of the time.
Today, steampunk remains one of the most popular sub-genres of science fiction. In addition, it has evolved into a sub-culture embraced by many geeks from all walks of life. Neo-Victorian and steampunk booths and events can regularly be found in association with geek-centric conventions including the San Diego Comic-Con International.
So, why would you want to give your home office a makeover? Frankly, it would be rather boring to sit in the same space every day grinding away in solitude at an Ikea desk, staring at a monitor and a blank wall. Giving your home office a unique look and feel is paramount to the creative process. Being one of the most popular geek-oriented decorating themes currently out there, steampunk merchandise is fairly easy to come by.
The general rule about steampunk decorating is to keep things believable. While it might seem strange to us to see a steam-powered monitor and keyboard, a proper design takes this into account and makes it look fairly clean and believable. Some steampunk items are extremely detailed and complex, but if you’re doing an entire home office in the theme, you might be better off scaling it down just a bit and going for something more minimalistic.
Steampunk isn’t about brass fittings and cogwheels; it’s about imagining what modern technology would look like if we had never advanced beyond steam power. It’s an alternative history as imagined by the people of the 1800s, and one that blends function with form in an artistic harmony. Remember, items made way back when were works of art because they were often crafted by hand. Even basic furniture contained a flourish of craftsmanship beyond the boxy Ikea items we fill our houses with today.
Here are a few places you can find steampunk decorative pieces for your home office.
Every component from your monitor to the blank canvas that is your wall can be converted into a neo-Victorian escape from reality. Even your desktop background can be made to look like a fully operational steam-powered 3D clock. Here is one example for Macs called Steam Clock.
Windows users can accomplish a steampunk-inspired look for their systems through a WindowBlind simply called Steampunk.
Even if you don’t have the space and/or time to put in decorating your home office with hardware, you can still enjoy the steampunk look and feel with these simple add-ons for your primary operating system.
Few sites on the Web offer more in the way of unique and original art as Etsy. Etsy is a great place for sculptors, painters, crafters, and other artists to find buyers for their original work. One of the most popular styles found on Etsy is steampunk. Cogs, brass fittings, and other Victorian inspired pieces can be found very easily on the site, and many of them are perfect for a home office setting.
During research for this article, I came across this vintage style LCD monitor and wireless keyboard combination which was hand made and custom-built by an artist. Each piece is unique and could be an excellent addition to any steampunk-themed home office.
I was able to find over 100,000 unique items through a basic search of Etsy. This search includes clocks, furniture, decorative accessories, paintings, maps, computer parts and accessories, and more.
I may be on a bit of a pawn shop kick lately, but I have had amazing luck finding antique radios and decorate pieces at them. Kids receive an inheritance that includes a bunch of “old stuff” from their grandparents and quickly turn to pawn shops to cash in. These shops do their due diligence and offer a fair price for the item. In turn, a fair price is usually what you’ll find when buying. I located an old vintage Thomas radio at a nearby shop for $30 that sells online for at or near $50. Aside from a single small scratch, it looks and operates perfectly and would serve as a perfect base for a steampunk DIY project.
Vintage weapons and smaller items are also commonly found at a good pawn shop. If you’d like some tips on shopping at a pawn shop, check out my previous article, which outlines five things you should know about them.
eBay is a great resource for finding a great deal on items that you normally wouldn’t be able to source locally. Not only do crafters and artists sell their stuff on eBay, but you’re fairly likely to find a good deal on an antique that could be that perfect addition to your home office.
Do a search for vintage items. You might be surprised just how many cool things you come up with.
The one downside to eBay is that you’re often pitted against other aggressive buyers that are looking to turn a profit on an antique. Sellers occasionally post items not knowing what they’re worth, making it a tempting place for antique shops and other resellers to check for potential merchandise. In addition, some folks post items that have greatly over exaggerated value. It’s better to do your research before bidding on something that seems a bit too pricy. Remember, you’re decorating your home office, not putting these items up for auction or selling to an art gallery.
If you’re looking for components for a DIY project, eBay is an excellent place to start looking. You can find pretty much anything and everything you might need to turn your speakers into a neo-Victorian work of art. Cogs, brass fittings, pipes, buttons, and other essentials are typically sold in bulk or pieced out for very reasonable prices.
Perhaps the best way to furnish your neo-Victorian home office is by visiting your local (or online) antique shop. Old desks, chairs, picture frames, lamps, and other essentials can usually be found at an antique shop for a reasonable price. If you establish a good rapport with the owner, you may even be able to work out a deal where you get first dibs on items that fit the “Wild West” or Victorian theme.
You’re probably not going to save a boatload going through antique shops, but you may very well find exactly what you need. Much of the merchandise carried by a finer shop is properly restored, maintaining that vintage patina that collectors go gaga over.
You would be hard-pressed to find a comic convention that doesn’t have at least one neo-Victorian booth. Common merchandise carried would include decorative steam-powered firearms that are perfect for filling your shelves, bookends, and other interesting pieces.
Depending on the booth, the items sold may be either mass produced or original works of art. The price difference between the two can be dramatic, so you’re probably better off doing a quick price check before throwing down a large wad of cash for that vintage inspired desk lamp.
Still, the original artists that do make it out to these conventions often have incredible pieces available for sale.
Here in Austin, we have several excellent locally-owned businesses that carry neo-Victorian and steampunk merchandise. One of these businesses is The Mysterium which sells the creations of local artists and members of the community. I came across this shop at a local market. Just walking in you can find everything from vintage clothing to steam-powered top hats. I was amazed to see a wide selection of computer mice and other custom peripherals.
Local businesses are a great place to find unique hand-made goods at a reasonable price. If you want something truly original, and don’t want to risk damage in transit, this can be the best way to furnish your home office without dropping a fortune to do so.
Steampunk is a brilliant blend of old and new. Rather you want your home office to feature a few conversation pieces of the genre, or become a full-fledged tribute to the Victorian principals of design and beauty, you’ll find the bits and pieces you need a lot easier if you know the right tools.
Neo-Victorian design is largely driven by crafters and the greater DIY community. Turning the modern into something out of the imagination of H. G. Wells is an art form in itself. If you’ve been looking for a productive hobby that plays to your passion for all things vintage, this might be a great project for you to undertake.
After all, what geek hasn’t thought of themselves as a mad scientist of sorts, tinkering away on inventions well beyond their time and space?
Photo by: Matt Ryan