Turn a vintage rotary phone into a doorbell

I’m just feeling all kind of jolly. Three stories in one day. This invention: Kind of genius. I have a doorbell already, otherwise, I’d be all over it. Want one? Check out Brett Pipitone’s Kickstarter campaign here — he’ll reach his goal any minute now.

doorbell into phoneThe news release:

It’s a Vintage Rotary Phone! It’s a Doorbell! It’s Both!

Robomotive Laboratories’ Doorbell Phone brings analog charm to digital world

Long before smart phones, dumb phones, or even touch-tone phones there were rotary phones. These devices weren’t defined by their features or software but by their beauty. Rotary phones were meant to be displayed as central fixtures in homes and businesses, and one needs only to search the term “rotary phone” in Etsy to see just how stunning these designs could be. Fortunately we’ve found a way to make these wonderful devices useful again with the Robomotive Laboratories Doorbell Phone, now on Kickstarter.

doorbell phoneThe Doorbell Phone converts any analog wired phone into a wireless doorbell. The phone is plugged into the Doorbell Module, the module is plugged into the wall, and the wireless doorbell button will ring the phone. No modification is required to the phone.  The Doorbell Phone Basic Package contains a wireless doorbell button, the Doorbell Module, and the power adaptor. The complete package adds a brand new vintage style rotary phone, available in black, red, pink or ivory.

Both packages have Multi-Button variants, which include a second doorbell button. One button will ring the phone with a standard US ring, while the other rings a standard UK ring. The multi-button packages are not only perfect for homes, but small businesses and shared office spaces as well.  Mounting the doorbell button is a breeze.  Both double sided tape and screws are provided, and either will work to mount the button.

Another great feature is the Off-Hook Mute function. If you take the phone off the hook it won’t ring and you won’t be interrupted. It’s great for parents with small kids or by-appointment businesses.

Robomotive Laboratories says that Doorbell Phone prototypes are running with all the production electronics, but on a prototype circuit board. The Kickstarter funding will be used to order production boards and enclosures. The Doorbell Phone starts at $75 on Kickstarter, and Robomotive Laboratories plans to start shipping in January.

The Kickstarter campaign ends December 20, so there is still plenty of time to back the project and be the first to get the Doorbell Phone.  You can back the project here.


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  1. Steve H says

    This is exactly what I need! Our hardwired doorbell stopped working and cannot be fixed without running all new wire. I would love to have one hooked up to a princess phone or one of those early 70’s “donut” phones. I’m so excited! This absolutley made my day!

  2. says

    This is a great idea but I actually use my rotary phones. I don’t have a touch tone phone in the house so I would be forever confusing the door bell for the phone ringing. Good idea for those who use cell phones as their home phones or live in a small apartment. If you really, truly embrace retro style like I do, then you would only have rotary phones and thus, it’s not a good idea. I have 5 phones in my house because if I am away from the kitchen, I can’t hear the phone ringing. So I suspect the ring tone wouldn’t be loud enough even at full blast to hear the door bell throughout your house. Just a thought. Door bells ringers especially old ones will wake the dead.

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      This is a great idea, and I wish them well in their campaign. I’m with Dave, though. We have one rotary phone in our kitchen, and it is hard wired into the phone service. We call it the “hot line,” because it is red and because it is our emergency communication device during storms and power outages. That’s important here in hurricane/blizzard country. Our cordless phones, which are throughout the house, are very convenient, but when the power is out, they stop working. Our cell phones do all right until the local cell tower runs out of battery (about 12 hours) and they no longer work either.

      Maybe I’m prejudiced because my DH is a phone company retiree, but I think everyone who has a land line should have at least one wall or desk phone that is not a cordless phone. It could be a rotary or a touch tone. And you can get very pretty ones on Etsy or eBay in all kinds of retro colors. I recommend, however the American made ones if you are actually going to use it.

      The grandchildren still have not figured out how to dial the rotary phone, though. 🙂

        • Mary Elizabeth says

          Dave, I couldn’t remember, so I looked it up. Commissioner Gordon of Gotham City had a red phone–a rotary phone style, but without the dial and numbers–which he picked up to connect directly to Batman. The one Alfred answered was white.

          I’ll remember that I have a direct line to Batman next time I have an emergency during a power outage. 🙂

    • Steve H says

      Dave & Mary Elizabeth, if you take another look you will see that it can be set to ring with a UK ring which is quite distinct from a standard US ring. I think you would be able to tell the difference from your phone.

      • says

        I think the issue is the loudness of the ringer, not that the ring tone is different. Old fashioned door bells are so loud that they startle you, a phone by comparison does not have a loud ringer, much lower decibels. Let’s put it this way. If you only had one phone in your house, could it be heard throughout your house? Definitely not. I’m not hearing impaired but if a phone is ringing downstairs I can’t hear it at all. Again this is a good idea for apartments or small condos. But not good for a 3 story house like I have.

        • Kathleen says

          We can definitely hear one phone in my house, but I live in a normal sized 1950s home. We have 4 vintage phones but only one is hooked up. The ringer is loud and not adjustable.

  3. Dave says

    Maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to put the issue of Phone vs. Door Bell to rest. As stated previously, I only have rotary phones. I have an 1800 sq. ft. Cape Cod style house which I think is average sized. I ran a test, I unplugged every phone in the house except one. The only phone I left on is the pay phone that is in the kitchen. It is centrally located right beneath the door bell ringer. It has the loudest ringer of all 5 phones because it has a hearing impaired ringer attachment which is turned up to full volume. Could I hear this phone throughout the entire house with no TV’s on, no appliances running, no talking, just dead cold silence. I called the house phone from my cell phone. I heard it ringing throughout the first floor, no problem. I heard it in the basement too, even with the door closed. But on the 2nd floor I only heard it in the stairway, not in any of the bedrooms. Then I introduced common household noise, like kids screaming, a radio on, a washing machine and a using a leaf blower outside and you really can’t hear the phone beyond two rooms. That is why we have multiple phones in the house. But I heard my old fashioned door bell through every room of the house and through all sorts of noise. It’s twice as loud as the phone. So the choice is yours get a real retro hard wired door bell available at any hardware store, with a transformer, chime and two buttons for about $35. Or spend $230. for a telephone based door bell package that is under powered and somewhat vintage, that’s a no brainer. Spend wisely…home remodels are expensive only if you let them get expensive.

    • pam kueber says

      Okay. But many of your readers have relatively small, one-story houses. And apartments. So, this may be a jim-dandy solution for them!

    • says

      Hi Dave, I’m the project creator. Thanks for the comment, it’s incredibly useful to hear these kinds of criticisms. In a situation like yours you could attach multiple Doorbell Modules to multiple phones. Currently I have two phones in my house that both ring with the front door button. Of course, there’s no way we’ll ever be able to meet the price of a doorbell that makes millions of copies a year, but if you have the means it’s a great way to be sure you can hear the doorbell throughout the house without ever touching your home wiring. Due to the nature of Kickstarter it wasn’t practical to offer this sort of option, but once we’re in full production it’s something to consider.

      Brett Pipitone

    • pam kueber says

      Toni – it’s my understanding you CAN retrofit your existing rotary phone. That’s the main point. Here’s the “basic package” per his site:

      Basic Package Features (Doorbell Module, you provide the phone)

      Long range battery powered button
      Adhesive or screw button mounting
      High voltage for loud ring
      Receiver off hook mute function
      Plug and play, no modification required
      Small and discrete module

    • says

      Hi Toni, I’m the project creator. Pam’s got it right, you don’t have to do a thing to your existing phone except plug it in and it will ring with the doorbell.

      Brett Pipitone

  4. Rachael says

    Amazing! Thanks for posting this – we picked up one of those old rotary phones that is actually attached to a table at a yard sale a few years ago, not realizing it doesn’t work with our digital voice package, but I haven’t been able to part with it either! Fantastic idea – totally backed it and so excited!

  5. Pickles says

    Great idea! BUT … I live in an apt. bldg. that’s old and the old land line phone wires were declared defunct and were replaced with digital phones for those who wanted land lines. Mine is connected to a cable box. I have two old phones I’d love to use for your doorbell ring contraption, but don’t know if they’d work.

    When you say you “plug it in” do you mean you plug it into a regular outlet? Or do you mean a phone jack?


    • says

      The phone plugs into a phone jack on the doorbell module, not the phone jack on your wall. The module then plugs into a standard electrical outlet. The Doorbell Phone is not meant to have any contact with phone company wiring, so there shouldn’t be any issue in your building.


  6. Jim says

    In our 1952 house there is an independant phone bell mounted in the basement. The previous owner and architect of our home was hard of hearing and installed this so he could hear the phone ring. There is just a phone wire going to it. I think it would be relatively easy to run a wire from the phone to one of these and you could hear the phone ring/doorbell anywhere. I have a picture but can’t seem to post it to this forum.

    This is an excellent idea and I just wish I would have thought of it. Kudos to Brett!

  7. says

    I said that I was done commenting about the door bell and then I got an e-mail from Brett, the man who invented it. I’ll have my wife Karen answer this e-mail. She never goes on RetroRenovation.com I told her about this door bell. I said I was on the fence about buying it. Take it away Karen:

    You want to get a new door bell? David, have you lost your @#%$& mind? The only people who ring our door bell are from some nutty religious group that wants to convert us, your father, who is the only person in America who doesn’t have a cell phone yet and salesmen like your door bell friend. By the way did Dave share with you the time he came home with a wringer washing machine? Did he really think I would @#$%& use it. And he refused to buy a new refrigerator for years until our old Philco refrigerator broke down. Now we save $35. a month on our electric bill with a new energy efficient model. No! No! No! We don’t need a new @#$%& doorbell, nobody uses our old one! Door Bell my @$#, they’ve gone the way of the VCR and the wringer washer!!!!

    She just left the house for work. That was just a little bit harsh. She’s in a bad mood this morning. Let me explain something about the wringer washing machine. I only paid $12. for it and I fill it with ice and use it as a cooler for beer and soda at BBQ’s. I never intended for it to be used as a washer but it still works. Yes I did have a 50’s era refrigerator with rounded sides since before we were married. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That old Philco lasted until last year, they don’t make them like they used to. But she is right about the electric bill, we are saving $35. a month now and I don’t have to spend hours chopping ice out the freezer.

    Now to the door bell, the reason for this post in the first place. I guess Karen is right. Only my elderly father uses a door bell and a few select people in the sales or religion industry. I never thought of it but we are the only people I know who still have a working door bell. When we go to someone else’s house we call them on their cell phone to let them know we’re there. Our kids have never used a door bell, they always use cell phones. I guess door bells are obsolete now too. But one thing a door bell can do, it alerts you when an unwanted guest is at the door because anyone else would call you on their cell phone like all of our neighbors and friends do. So if the door bell rings, just hide in the basement until the person leaves.

    I love Karen really I do, because she’s always right. I’ll have to make it up to her tonight, any retro suggestions from anybody?

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