Dieselpunk Living

by Kiko Matsing

My reading chair and vinyl record listening station. More Chicago than LA (near where I’m currently based). After a decade living here in the US, I finally got myself some decent furniture. I could not have been more excited to have discovered the Aviator line at Restoration Hardware. It amazes me an upscale furniture store would take steam- and dieselpunk aesthetic seriously. I could furnish an entire loft with this shit if I had the money. The chair was designed by Timothy Oulton, inspired by the F-14 Tomcat cockpit seating and the riveted aluminum panelling of WWII-era Supermarine Spitfire. The design oozes with Streamline Moderne from the Golden Age of Aviation at the height of the Art Deco period (1909-1939).

The shelving is a hack I found online of an Ikea bookcase. It’s basically a 2×4 Expedit unit turned on its side and placed on 3 pairs of 4″ Capita legs. The height of the shelf fits vinyl records perfectly as if Ikea had this in mind all along. Cowhide rug was also from Ikea. The associate at the check-out counter gave a lengthy apology about how the materials were recovered from animals killed for food, etc., etc. It didn’t matter to the animal at that point why it’s dead, but thanks Ikea for making customers feel good about it. A pat on the back for our ethical consumerism.

I found the record player at Warbler Records, a used vinyl record store in downtown Santa Barbara. It is a Technics SL-5 direct drive, linear tracking player from the early 80’s. Fully automatic operation. No need to worry about dropping that tone arm and scratching the grooves–even women and children can handle it. It’s cousin the SL-10 is actually in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Also used are the KEF C series speakers, as well as the Sansui 2000 amplifier from the late 60’s (FET Solid State technology!). Solid piece of work. The manual even has the complete circuit diagram and bill of materials for the hobbyist’s tinkering pleasure.

Cowhide patchwork pillow from Pier 1 Imports; alpaca low-gauge cable knit throw from Restoration Hardware. I found that neat brass submarine paperweight from an antique shop in old town Goleta. The book is from the same shop: a 1930’s edition of H.A.L. Fisher’s A History of Europe. I found these awesome black-and-white record covers of Frank Sinatra and 50’s lounge music in the dollar bin, and framed them in Ikea’s Gladsax. Sinatra relaxing in a cardigan on his club chair gives this nook just that touch of Mad Men vibe.


More dieselpunk details: The hefty headsets are vTrue Studio Headphones from Velodyne. Got them a while back while looking for a sturdy set with real leather trimmings. I was tired of vinyl-made ones falling apart on me after a couple of years’ use. The aluminum and leather of the headset inspired the look and color palette of this nook. I thus got the Aviator chair to come in what is called “antiqued whiskey” leather. It is the warm brown tones of bomber jackets worn by Royal Air Force pilots from WWII.

In the background is a copy of Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine, prototypical Krautrock album from the 70’s. The cover, however, is straight out of constructivist posters from the 30’s. In the foreground is Helmut Newton’s Illustrated, the 4-issue magazine of the photographer’s best work between 1985 to 1995. Newton sublimated in his work the decadent sexuality of 30’s Weimar Berlin.


This is a bottle of Blanton’s Kentucky Bourbon. It’s what Ben Affleck was drinking when Rosamund Pike went missing in Gone Girl. The book is by photographer André Kertész, who was active in Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s. The banner of this blog–a man lost in a book in the middle of a bustling street–is from his photo Fourth Avenue, New York City, June 4, 1959. The tripod photographer’s floor lamp is from Pottery Barn; the side table is a Simon X table from Pier 1 Imports. On it are various items from antique shops, thrift stores, and my travels: Two-volume set of Alex de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, four-volume Random House set on philosophy, brass naval telescope and compass, a postcard between sweethearts sent in 1911, a tillandsia plant, Everyman’s Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography (currently finishing Herodotus), brass magnifying lens with wooden faux-tusk handle, bulul rice divinity from the Philippine Cordilliera Mountains, Arabia ashtray from Finland.



The era celebrated by dieselpunk was also a Golden Age of Travel when the rich went gallivanting to exotic destinations in luxurious accommodations on trains, automobiles, and steam ships. I thus wanted a proper steamer trunk to tie the look of the room together, and found this awesome leather piece on craigslist while on a road trip to San Francisco. It was owned by a milliner who used it to store her head forms. I had to let it air it out a bit when I got back, and also re-condition the leather. It’s perfect as a coffee table, as well as storing some of my books. That’s On Growth and Form beside the nautilus shell and underneath the tillandsia. It’s by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson a pioneer of mathematical biology. He was a biologist, mathematician, and classical scholar (Wikipedia)–a very 19th century education which I aspire to. I came to it when I was reviewing the literature on tissue engineering with stem cells during a former life. No one writes scientific treatises anymore in such comprehensive, magisterial style. Nor are there scientists as dieselpunk glamorous as Tamara de Lempicka’s Dr. Boucard.


Portrait of Doctor Boucard, 1928

UPDATE (12/5/2015):

I replaced the Pier 1 Simon X end table with a more functional steamer trunk from Pottery Barn. The whale bookends are also from Pottery Barn, but bought used at Ebay. I found this nice celestial map from a bookstore on Haight Street in San Francisco. It makes for a nice table cover for the antique leather trunk which I turned into a minibar. Got the awesome rocket ship Martini shaker from a local shop called Still that sells retro bar accoutrements. It is complemented by a craft gin bottle picked up at the Portland airport with a distinctively Art Deco design, and appropriately called Aviation Gin. Not a big gin drinker myself, but I could not pass this up!



That brightly colored Japanese print is actually a framed rice paper and bamboo kite, which I got at an antique store in Old Town Goleta. I think the color palette is very Art Deco as well, whose graphic design is itself inspired by a taste for the Oriental. The wall shelvings are the versatile Lack model from Ikea, and holds the stack of Vintage paperback Philip K. Dick novels. And yes, that’s a Russian gas mask (without the canister) that I got at an Army surplus store in Illinois, when I was living there. It completes the WWI period references, whose combustion engine technology combined with Art Deco modernism defines the Dieselpunk aesthetic.


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