“Welcome to a world
unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
This empty house is going to become
a living, breathing reflection of pure imagination.”
Produced by Kimberly and John Ehrhard of Pink Sneakers, along with Jennifer J. Duncan, GSN, the Game Show Network, is broadcasting the first steampunk show of its kind to the broader mainstream audience.
Steampunk, the aesthetic which exemplifies and evokes the style and design of the 1800s, has been growing and expanding far beyond its original literary roots of the last hundred years. It can now can be found in multiple and varied expressions in the forms of art, music, fashion, and design.
For people new to steampunk, that visual design motif may be first recognized in the 1954 Walt Disney film version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, starring James Mason as Captain Nemo, and both the television and film versions of Wild, Wild West, starring Robert Conrad and Will Smith, respectively. In all those examples, future technology happened early while retaining the artistic flourish of the nineteenth century – high tech built from low materials, decorative form is as important as mechanical function.
There have generally been two approaches to visual steampunk design in the last decade or so – imagining what something would look like in an alternate technologically advanced 1800s often with a modern twist, and that of using the items and ideas from that century in wholly new and modern ways.
For the former, popular examples would include the keyboards and computers from the late Richard “Doc” Nagy and Jake Von Slatt, and artwork by James Ng and Aimee Stewart. For the latter, there are ever increasing examples as home, business, and commercial spaces use classic designs and materials in new and unexpected ways.
It is these design ideas and approaches that the ten contestants of Steampunk’d will use and create in each episode, competing against each other for a grand prize of $100,000.
SPOILERS AHEAD! Stop reading now if you don’t want to know the winners, losers, or design elements of this first episode.
After Jeannie’s introduction, the contestants entered their new home for eight episodes, a large work space and stage filled with inspirational steampunk artifacts.
First in are Niki “Lady Hawk” Philips, costumer from Talahassee, Florida, and Tobias McCurry, prop maker from Seattle, Washington; followed by Morgan Olsen, steampunk stylist from Los Angeles, California; Tayliss Forge, corset maker from Lake Forest, California; and Ed “Steampunk Eddie” Thayer, steampunk builder from Jackson, Michigan.
The second half of the contestants arrived – Ave Rose, sculptor from Culver City, California; J.W. Kinsey, carpenter from Silverton, Oregon; Karianne Gottschalk, who does leather work in Madison Heights, Michigan; Charles Mason, maker from Hillsboro, Oregon; and James Neathery, watchmaker from Hermitage, Tennessee.
After introductions, Jeannie explained the format for the competition – two teams, which changed composition in each episode, would compete to build a winning steampunk’d designed room to be placed in a life sized doll house. After the weekly challenge, the two best makers would become team captains for the following week, and the weakest maker would be sent home in a blast of steam.
Ground rules in place, Jeannie introduced the three judges who would be assessing each team’s work on originality, creativity, and design – Matt King, writer, producer, and creator of the web series, World of Steam; Kato, model and fashion entrepreneur; and Thomas Willeford, maker, artist, and author.
Leaping right into the first challenge, Jeannie led the contestants to the heart of every home, the kitchen. While there are many individual expressions of steampunk, she made it clear that this week’s vision should be retro-futuristic, and include a character and a Rube Goldberg-type device to serve breakfast. The judges let everyone know upfront what they wanted to see – Matt was looking at how they’d repurpose everything in the existing kitchen, Kato would be reviewing their character’s fashion, and Thomas wanted to see their devices.
Jeannie split the group into two predetermined teams and sent them on their way. The first team was Morgan, J.W., Charles, Tobias, and Lady Hawk. The second team was Ave, Eddie, Tayliss, Karianne, and James.
With just three days to complete their task, the teams ran off to the workshop to choose their captains, and then discuss a theme, make a plan, and get out to the ‘Punkyard” for supplies, not necessarily in that order. Clearly, everyone had their own perspective on how to run a project and how to execute a vision and not everyone was on the same page. J.W. claimed captainship of his team, citing two decades of contractor experience, and sent everyone out to find one item that inspired them in some way before returning to brainstorm some design ideas. Morgan had completely opposite thoughts how to go about doing things, but yielded to J.W.
Ave and Eddie both volunteered as captain for their team, and after brief discussions, Eddie was chosen by everyone, also for his building experience. Eddie’s plan seemed to be for everyone to just get to work, but without giving direction to anyone regarding their specific tasks or an overall design concept.
Both J.W. and Eddie are used to working alone, and the effects of that quickly became drawbacks in working with their teams. Projects of any kind need a leader with a vision, and when working with a group, concepts and delegated tasks need to be communicated clearly and consistently. With any team, it’s important to get status and hear about concerns before they become actual problems.
Team J.W. proposed his idea for a strong color palette, Victorian-theme, and built in futuristic machinery. He took on the woodwork, Morgan the costuming, Charles the appliances, Lady Hawk the fabrics, and Tobias the Rube Goldberg device.
Team Eddie had a rough time delegating tasks, having no clear design or story idea. Ave tried to propose ideas but Eddie shut her down while still having no concept of his own to offer. In the end, Eddie took on the Rube Goldberg device, Tayliss the costume, James the cabinets, Karianne the costume mask, and Ave the sculptures.
The first day ends with Team J.W. way ahead with construction well underway, and Team Eddie in the midst of a mostly demolished set. One captain is confident, the other is ready to charge forward for a good second day. Team members, however, don’t seem as sure about next steps.
Day two starts much on the same notes – one team has assigned tasks, the other is going to wing it. The stress is mounting as the clock counts down, and hard feelings get verbalized as Ave tries to work through her increasing frustrations with Eddie’s lack of leadership and direction. “He might be a good builder but that doesn’t make him a good captain,” she says.
As the day continues, project status flip-flops as Team J.W. stumbles over priorities and Team Eddie seems like just maybe their separate ideas will coalesce into a cohesive theme. Maybe.
As the clock counts down the final minutes, Jeannie and the judges arrive while both teams scramble to complete their work. The last pieces are put in place, the floors cleaned, and all hands raised as their time is up.
Team J.W. is up first to explain their concept and execution in trying to steer away from clichéd steampunk colors and memes. Boldly colorful as it was, the judges were not impressed with the breakfast device, which was a meat grinder and waffle maker, and Tomas was clearly disappointed when J.W. remarked that the device really wasn’t a project priority. As Matt remarks later, it’s not a good thing in a competition to leave one third of the requirements off the table.
Team Eddie was up next, explaining their concept of their kitchen as a reminder of days gone by. With a color scheme of black, grey, copper, and silver, the room was filled with accents that each member was keen to talk about. Everyone had a chance to share their work and how they worked together to bring everything together. Judges liked those elements individually, but expressed uncertainty about a cohesive theme.
After the review, the judge’s deliberations began and they didn’t cut corners in noting what they didn’t like in each design. J.W. is a great craftsman but Thomas felt the end result looked like a country kitchen. Matt thought that Eddie’s kitchen had too many unfinished pieces in it. Points for design were awarded to J.W, while retro-futurism, functionality, and creativity went to Eddie. The multiple individual gadgets really made Eddie’s kitchen more steampunk but contributed to the lack of a unifying theme, while the robot was deemed the only real steampunk element in J.W’s wonderfully handcrafted kitchen.
Discussions complete, the makers lined up against the backdrop of Nightflight by Aimee Stuart and waited to hear that the winner was …
Jeannie announced the two best makers who would be captains for the following week’s challenge – Ave, for her influence and impact on every major piece in her team’s design, and Morgan, citing her work on the robot costume and how it really brought the steampunk element into the finished kitchen.
Captains and safe contestants departed, leaving behind the two weakest makers– J.W. and Tobias. Only one could remain, and the judges determined that it would be J.W. who would get a second chance. Will he learn any lessons from this first challenge before he claims captain-ship again?
Before Tobias left through a blast of steam, the judges shared some encouragement for his enthusiasm and wished him well.
With the first room in the dollhouse complete and installed, viewers were teased with upcoming snippets – emotional stress takes its toll, designs are brought to life, and each week, some makers get closer to the grand prize. Ambulances, yelling, and plotting versus creativity, cooperative competition, and amazing design work – how is this going to play out?
What did you think of this episode? Did the best design win? Was the weakest maker released? What would you have done differently? Who was the maker that you would like to see more of in the coming weeks?
Leave your thoughts below in the moderated comment section.
Tune in next week for episode two. Which room will it be?