From Drab to Fab: The Vintage Trunk Makeover

The completely refurbished vintage trunk!

My mother-in-law gifted us a vintage trunk that she found. It was painted a dingy, cream color and the hardware had been painted gray. The interior was covered with a peeling, yellowing wall paper. This thing had definitely seen better days.

I loved it as soon as I saw it and knew that with a little TLC, this trunk could be fabulous.

The girls loved it, regardless of what shape it was in. They piled their dress-up clothes in it as soon as we got it home.

And that’s how it stayed….for 3 years!

During this quarantine, I finally made the time to refurbish this vintage trunk and I LOVE how it turned out!

Here is how we took our old steamer trunk from drab to fab!

Step 1: Remove Old Handles

The first step in refurbishing the dress-up box was to remove the old handles.

At one point, this vintage trunk had leather handles attached to the sides by metal pieces. The leather straps had long rotted away before we got the trunk, so we just had to remove the ornate metal plates that attached the straps to the trunk.

Removing the handles might sound easy, but it was so much harder than we anticipated. After a lot of unsuccessful prying, my husband finally removed them by using a punch and a hammer. He essentially hammered the trunk nails out backwards (from the inside of the trunk).

These were the remnants of the handles that we had to remove from the steamer trunk.
(The remnants of the handles that we had to remove from the trunk.)

Step 2: Sand It!

The next step of refurbishing this vintage trunk was sanding.

Using an orbital sander, I went over the whole trunk. In addition to sanding the flat wood pieces, I sanded the metal hardware too.

I didn’t sand it down completely, just enough to make the surface rough enough to hold paint.

(The back of the trunk after sanding.)

Step 3: Coat it with Primer

After sanding, there were several dark spots on the trunk. Apparently, the trunk was originally black.

It took 2 thin coats of primer before it was ready for paint.

I used Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Interior/Exterior Primer. I use this on almost all of my projects and it works great!

Step 3 of refurbishing our vintage trunk was to add 2 coats of primer.
(After 2 light coats of primer.)

Step 4: Paint the Wood

The next step was to paint the wood portions of the chest.

I am in a ton of home improvement Facebook groups (not that I can do anything in the rental we live in, but a girl can dream). Someone posted their light blue kitchen cabinets and I fell in love! It was such a pretty color blue and I knew instantly that it was going to be the trunk’s new color!

(The color is Waterscape by Sherwin Williams, if you’re interested!)

Using a 2-inch paint brush, I painted the wood portion of the trunk. I tried not to get paint on the metal hardware, but if I touched it a little it was okay – the hardware paint would cover it with no problem.

We let the paint dry overnight before moving on to tape.

After painting the wooden portions of the steamer trunk.
(After painting the flat, wooden portions of the trunk.)

Step 5: Tape It!

Hands down, this step was the most tedious and time-consuming part of this project.

In a perfect world, I would remove all of the hardware to paint the trunk and hardware separately. However, this is not a perfect world and there was no way to remove all of the metal and hardware from this trunk without wrecking it. Trying to pull the metal strips off would have bent and possibly cracked them, not to mention the corner pieces and clasps.

So, I was stuck taping around all of the metal pieces on the trunk. It was extremely time-consuming and took 2 rolls of tape.

Using a box cutter with a sharp, new razor blade, I was able to cut the tape around the rou

Instead of taping off the entire wood portions and using even more tape, I used to leftover Christmas wrapping paper to cover the middle of each section. It looks crazy, but it worked and saved money – that’s a win in my book!

Taping off the trunk's hardware was the most time-consuming part of the whole project!
(Taping off the metal hardware was the most time-consuming part of the whole project.)

Step 6: Paint the Hardware

FINALLY….after hours and hours of taping, we were ready to spray paint the trunk’s metal hardware.

I knew I wanted a darker metal (but not black) and something that would hold up to our kids playing. Since, this was one of our ‘Rona projects’, I sent my husband to the store instead of dragging the kids through there.

He came back with a hammered bronze spray paint that was the perfect complement to the light blue of the trunk.

I sprayed it on the hardware in 2 light coats and then removed the tape while the paint was still wet. If you leave tape on until the paint dries, it could peel the paint off of your hardware.

The trunk after we painted the hardware.
(In my hurry to get the tape off while the paint was still wet, I didn’t get a picture of the painted hardware with the tape still on, but this shot was taken right after removing the tape.)

Step 7: Apply Paper to Interior

The final step was to address the ugly interior of the trunk.

The before picture of the interior of the trunk.

Inside the trunk was covered with a yellowing and deteriorating old printed paper. We chose to recover it with a floral peel and stick wallpaper that we found on Amazon.

This paper is the same kind we used inside our vintage hardware cabinet and it works great! It is truly a removable wallpaper, as we had to pull it up and reposition it SEVERAL times to get it right.

I won’t give a tutorial for applying this wallpaper because it was truly a trial and error process for us. It was hard and aggravating and we cussed through most of the ordeal, but it was SO worth it!

The finished trunk!
(The finished and fully refurbished steamer trunk!)

We are planning to put new handles on the trunk. However, we are waiting for the ‘Stay at Home Order’ to lift so that we can pick them out in person.

Refurbishing this vintage trunk was a long, tedious process, but I am obsessed with how beautifully it turned out!

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