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Art and Beauty

Who else knows Steampunk Style?

By 05/07/2010January 25th, 201743 Comments

Has anyone heard of this look? Penelope Trunk called me today so excited that she’d just discovered it!

As a design blogger, I think I’m so on the edge of ‘what’s happening now’ (maybe not) but I had never heard of this look before and honestly, it sounded like she was talking Latin I thought it was such a strange name.


But I’ve been doing a bit of research tonight and here is what it sort of is: ‘The intersection of technology and romance. The definition is loose enough to include ‘Mad Max’, vaudeville burlesque and the structured gentility of the Victorian age’ as reported in the New York Times. Part of the reason it seems so popular is because it’s hard to pin down exactly what it is.


 I just realized this style goes with the Pretty Ugly colours that I talked about last week from the CMG Conference!

Colour Interrupted.

Victorian style meets the height of technology. The return to formality and manners! Hey, maybe they are on to something! The blog that tells the story best is More Ways to Waste Time, click here to read it.

What do you think? Ever heard of it? Share it with us by posting a link in the comments!

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  • sanctuaryhome says:

    I have wanted to do a blog on Steampunk for a long time, but somehow the words never came together. I love the industrial look and thought the in the right application Steampunk could be pretty fabulous but takes a very gutsy client and an careful designer.

  • Jacquie says:

    I've been trending this one for a while, and in my estimation it is about to break out big time. I first wrote about it in February of last year after reading about the brand Woolrich and thinking about Granny boots! You can see two posts about it mashed into one here:

    I blogged about using it as a wedding theme – but I love the idea of bringing this into home decor!

  • Rachel says:

    it's a pretty cool design look. the design fabrication firm, Because We Can, did a great office space in Steampunk style:

  • Tensy says:

    Steampunk refers to a type of fantasy science fiction that has been around since the 1980s. Do you remember the movie 'Dune', where everyone dressed in 18th century garb but had futuristic technology? That's the idea behind this literary genre. Mostly the novels deal with post-apocalyptic societies that revert to using steam engines in novel ways to produce new technology. I had no idea that there was also a fashion version of this!

  • Karena says:

    Maria, very fascinating and I loved the information you came away with from your color conference.

    A touch a steampunk decor mixed in looks great.

    Art by Karena

  • Struggler says:

    Never heard of it, so thank you!
    No, I won't be falling over myself to incorporate this look in our home office 🙂

  • Marcus Design says:

    Wow, that's very interesting, I definitely have never heard of steampunk style! Thanks for sharing!

  • Lorrie says:

    It's not new to me, but it is hard to define. I think the new Sherlock Holmes movie (not so new now) has a steampunk element to it.

  • Virginia says:

    The only time I've heard of it is when I came across a steampunk jewelry etsy shop:
    It's definitely interesting and fits with pretty/ugly.

  • Sarah B says:

    I have heard of it but wouls never have known how to describe it. A veer interesting post 🙂

  • Lucy says:

    It's a very strong visual identity – check out some of the pictures from this wedding blog

  • pve design says:

    Now show us the pretty ugly colors you would prescribe for steam punk! I like bits of it, but I think this is best left for movies or for the mad techno scientist gone goth.

  • Melissa Rakowski says:


    I had never heard of Steampunk style until I read Penelope's blog last night. Funny, I started doing research on it last night. I find it interesting and a little weird. Let's see if is a break out style.

  • MrsDoodlepunk says:

    It is fun to look at and interesting and all that, but I would HATE to have to keep it clean and dusted.

  • Nina says:

    Steampunk has been "coming" for a long time now. I was surprised to see it was not picked up earlier by magazines and mainstream blogs, since it looks so hip and yet gives a wide canvas for the imagination. That is lovely for a writer like myself 😉 But also for designers.

    If you search e.g. on for Steampunk, you can find very creative jewelry, in many cases lovingly combined from vintage and new materials, some looking more Victorian, others more punk-ish.

  • Jacqueline Rosadiuk says:

    It's true it has been a kind of subculture for a long time. The best words I heard to describe it was "neo-Victorian". That gives you an instant picture of the colours, fabrics, trims, lines, etc. I wouldn't want to dust it either!!

  • "Yeah, that works..!" says:

    I have not heard of it either. I just finished reading Penelope's blog right before your link appeared in my inbox – and I immediately thought of the movie Titanic and that era – not only due to the specifics of the look but the whole vibe it gives. I love anything that can bring together opposing elements, so I give it a high five!

  • Grace says:

    I had never heard of it before either. Thanks for enlightening me. I can't say it is something that really appeals to me, though. I'm not sure why but I always think it looks like someone is stuck in a timewarp. It's funny how they pick up on the dustier, fussier, Miss Havisham side of Victorianism.

  • Maurie says:

    Since a wise man once wrote, "There is nothing new under the sun", so creativity is coming up with a unique combination. Punk and Victorian are certainly an oxymoron! It is hard to visualize, and you are right, it would take an unusual personality to like both! Talk about edge!!!

  • Marjorie says:

    I have been reading a lot on line trying to get ideas for our kitchen redo and I noticed that one of the Kitchen Design blogs (Kitchen Sync)had a weekly post on Steam punk elements. Here is a link to a recent post on steampunk ceiling medallions.

  • Sally@DivineDistractions says:

    I learned about Steampunk last summer. Our firm was doing some design work for a restoration building on the square in our historic downtown. The building was beautiful and we incorporated some Victorian features like copper ceiling tiles, school house lamps, beautiful woods. The owner of the building was leasing it out to a coffee shop who told me her "theme" for the space was Neo-Victorian. I had no idea what that was either, but I later learned that it was Steampunk, so our design fit into her concept for the space. I still think it's a little weird, but the space turned out to be amazing!

  • Megan says:

    Ha! ha! ha! I blogged about Steampunk 1/1/09 – so I am feeling smugly superior and avante-garde and I am not even a designer person.

    Love Steampunk – Restoration Hardware has picked up on it as a major theme apparently.

    Love your blog – long time listener – first time caller!

  • Kim@Chattafabulous says:

    It looks like another interpretation of the beauty being in the mix. High/low, rustic/modern, rough/slick. The term steampunk is new to me, though!

  • VictoriaArt says:

    I have seen designs like that before, without having a name other then neo – victorian for it. It's interesting, romantic and fits with almost everything. I like it, off the beaten path is good with me!
    Long live the individual design!

    Happy weekend, Maria!

  • Rebecca Sherman says:

    Maria, you'll love this blog if you haven't seen it yet. It's called Hollister Hovey. It's devoted to living that industrial romantic steampunk style you describe. It's by two sisters Hollister and Porter Hovey (don't you love their names?) The things they post are so oddly wonderful and beautifully ugly. It's a whole way of looking at the world.

  • Caroline says:

    Haha!! Megan's comment squared. (forgot can't superscript the 2 on these comment things). I am a longtime admirer of steampunk. Sometimes i think of it as a style for Goths who fell out of love with black all black. It's a richly romantic and poetic sort of style with a huge dose of making out in the dark with elegant mechanical charm. (ie. beautifully crafted pieces of brass and as a time collector (clockparts).

  • Caroline says:

    I'm writing in a rush. So I hope my comment make sense. Although it's not just a style for home it's a fashion as well. There's some really neat steampunk jewelry out there and don't even get me started on the clothes 😉 I'd never be able to wear it because I'd look like a dork. But if I could afford to i'd run around the house with the stuff on. Haha.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Megan and Caroline – Too funny! You can totally feel smug, it's funny I even asked her to spell it to make sure I was hearing it right it sounded so foreign to me. . . fascinating that it's been around for a few years and I've never come across it in blogland.
    Thanks for your comments!!

  • FrenchGardenHouse says:

    I have heard it described as Neo Victorian, which is right up my alley. I bought (and sell) some gorgeous Steampunk Jewelry, and they are a fun, fun mix of antique watch parts used in a whole different way. I might be a little old for the clothes, but the jewelry is gorgeous!

  • Aurora Vanderbosch says:

    Not only have I heard of it…but my home/portrait studio is decorated in a blend of eclectic Victorian collector (think "Old Curiosity Shop" mixed with Steampunk decor…although I was doing it long before I'd heard the term "Steampunk". 😉

    I actually specialize in doing fine art wall portraits of people (particularly women) that look as if they're old, old paintings,–as in this portrait, of a working artist, in her favorite era: –something that's a bit of a nod to Steampunk–if more on the Victorian Steampunk side (as opposed to any of the other Steampunk genre! ;))

    And yes, decorating in a Steampunk style IS a pain to dust. Which is, perhaps, why we do the fussy, dusty, Miss Havisham thing–then the dust is a feature, not a bug. 😉

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    I want to say Steampunk at least 10 times. So fun. I loved the style in The Golden Compass and the Lemony Snicket movies. Now I've learned a new word and can sound so knowledgeable saying "steampunk style" while referring to some of my favorite kids movies.

  • NK says:

    A theater costume designer friend of mine likes the Steampunk look a lot; here's her blog if you're interested.

    Steampunk is just the highest-profile of the punkpunk styles. There are many more, including Cyberpunk, Stonepunk, and Dieselpunk. Each is linked to its own subculture, mostly originating from fiction with that sort of setting (as others have also pointed out above). A more comprehensive list can be found here, with explanations, as they relate to fiction (from the excellent wiki TV Tropes).

  • Lazy Gardens says:

    Steampunk … very popular in Science Fiction fandom.

    Steampunk Comic: Girl Genius (you will curse me for this)

    And in Second Life, where things don't have to work and the laws of physics don't apply, there are colonies of Steam Punk fans having wars all day, with a break for tea.

  • Lauren says:

    Never heard of the name but have seen the bits & pieces around… ever putting it all together!

    so interesting & i like it in terms of having fun with interiors.


  • Dagny @ Scandinavian Chic says:

    Sounds fabulous, but not so sure if I'm digging the whole look…

    Interesting though! 🙂

    Have a great weekend!!


  • Twenty Two Flamboyant Street says:

    Thanks Maria for enlightening me. It all makes sense now; the Sherlock Homes movie, etc. I love the sound of the jewellery, so need to hop off to some of those links now 😉

  • Añil says:

    Hi Maria, im following u for two or three months now but this is the first time i write a comment.

    I have heared about steampunk for long ago…well, not the name itself but the style as a part of the gothic style. It has common points with gothic style, as the victorian dresses, but their main colours are not black white and silver, nor as gothicpunk wich has black and red (or pink) as main colours. Steampunk has another pallete: muddy greens and dusty purples, browns and patinated gold or rusty copper.
    Steampunk also uses a lot of gears and machinery, clocks with the inside out and that kind of oddy gatgets.
    U can see a lot of references in the movies as Hellboy, The league of extraordinary gentlemen or Wild Wild West. A lot of steampunk gadgets also appears in the serie Warehouse 13 (not the wole look of the serie, only the gadgets).
    Many people can confuse all the diferences between "goth" styles, u can find a good example about how to diference them in this blog:
    (don't be afraid it's a Spanish blog, the text describing the styles in the pictures is in English)

    Definitely its a cool look and very visual (bold and theatrical) but its not for all tastes if we talk about home decor. It provides a luxurius and decadent style but as others said, it could be a pain if u like clean spaces.

    U can find some accents as this wall decos to achieve the look.

    PS: Sorry for my english, it's not my native language!

  • fabricfan says:

    Hi Maria,
    On the sewing sites I visit, there are quite a few references to Steampunk, only a few do the day to day look. I have been enjoying your posts.

  • Gwen says:

    I have a lot of Steampunk jewelry pieces that I love, but have never really had the courage to go all out with it in decorating.

  • Dana Lynn says:

    I love steampunk. I first started noticing it on etsy, as well as some others that commented. I understand now though that it has been around almost as long as the goth look has.

    We are planning on our first child and I plan on doing the nursery in steampunk, lots of fun flying machines, blimps and hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling. And what a great way to utilize antique Victorian furniture in a fun updated way. And of course framed shadow boxes with strange contraptions, made of bits of watches.

    If you are familiar with Cake central they are having a steampunk cake contest right now.

    I love your blog! It has really opened up my color world. I've stepped out of neutral land for the first time in my life 🙂

  • Iris says:

    As someone who is younger than 18, and follows foreign design trends a lot, steampunk has been incredibly prevalent in overseas cultures like Japan. There is this one remarkable anime movie called Steamboy, and there's gorgeous interior designs, along with countless over anime series. Do some more research, you'd be surprised by how many different variations of 'steampunk' there is.

    I found this blog through YouLookFab, by the way 😀

  • Alice Media // Alice Magazine says:

    We do a lot of steampunk articles on Alice Magazine and also busy building our second life steampunk brand. There are a lot of references out there!

  • Rebecca C says:

    Pretty sure that typewriter keyboard hybrid was made and featured on a show called “Dirty Money” about flea market vendors, two brothers, that create those types of amazing things from junk mostly. I just watched it a week or two ago, pretty identical to what they made and sold on the show.

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