So you know how you sometimes start a project, thinking it’ll take an afternoon, and you end up spending a month on it? No? Just me? Well, regardless, this trunk makeover turned into a way bigger project than I ever anticipated. Since we finally had a weekend without any plans, and it’s been a bit cold and gross outside, I was able to devote most of the weekend to finishing this trunk makeover – and I absolutely LOVE the result!
The story of this trunk goes back a few weeks to a Sunday afternoon drive with Steve (you can read more about some of our Sunday adventures here). We were driving back towards home, and came across a tiny antique shop labeled only with a sign saying “Old Stuff.” Enough said! Steve actually agreed to stop, and I was shocked and excited to find that all the antiques at this shop were so affordable! I found an old painted steamer trunk for only $20, and instantly bought it with the intention to use it as a coffee table.
The trunk itself wasn’t anything special. It was in fine condition, but had been covered top-to-bottom in a thick coat of brown paint. I, personally, love the personality of antiques and the different colors and features in old trunks, so I was curious to see what was underneath all that paint! I figured I would strip the paint off, and then either re-paint it or stain it, depending on the condition of the trunk.
I’ve never used paint stripper before, and let me tell you, this stuff scares me. If it’s strong enough to take layers of paint and stain off of anything, that’s generally something you don’t want touching your skin! But I found a “safer” paint stripper at the store and decided to take the leap. Here’s where I made my first mistake. I bought the spray version of the stripper, thinking that the application would be much quicker and easier. Which is true – the spray was easy to apply and worked super quickly. What I didn’t think about, though, was how many little pieces of the trunk would get the orange stripper in them, and need to be carefully and tediously cleaned out. This definitely took extra time. Since I haven’t tried stripping paint off a trunk using the paint-on stripper, though, it’s hard to say if that would have been any faster. Either way, it did the job.
So after spending awhile out on my deck scrubbing away at the trunk and scraping off layer after layer of paint, I came to the base of the trunk, finally. And I was a little disappointed. The wooden strips going around the trunk came out to a beautiful (if a little worn out) wood finish, but I was bummed to see that the rest of the trunk was covered in canvas. Mucky green canvas, to be precise. The metal parts of the trunk were pretty grungy and rusty, so I knew there was some work to be done there as well.
This is where I took a break on my project. I couldn’t decide my best course of action – should I repaint the canvas parts, and stain the wood? Paint all of it again? Try to take the canvas off and see what was underneath, even though I had no idea of the condition? Well, if you know me, you know I don’t do anything halfway. And I couldn’t just give up on my dreams of a stained wooden trunk. So out came the X-Acto knife and off came the canvas. After clearing off as much of the canvas as possible, there was a thick layer of glue-muck left, so I sanded the whole trunk probably 3-4 times before I was fully satisfied that most of the fabric residue was gone. I then took a wire brush to all the metal parts of the trunk to get rid of as much rust and leftover paint as possible, and gave the whole exterior a good cleaning to get rid of the dirt and dust that was left there.
Since the top of the trunk was a little bit warped, and it’s not a flat enough surface to be a coffee table anyways, I planned to add a top of some kind to the trunk. I considered glass, but ultimately settled on a wood top instead to maintain the more rustic charm. Since I knew the top would be covered, I was able to use the top of the trunk as my “test” space for a few different stains/treatments to see which I liked best and to help me decide what to do with the sides. I eventually decided to try using coconut oil on the darker wood strips to moisturize and enhance the color, a trick I’ve seen on Pinterest – and I was not disappointed!
The wood looked so much better after a quick rub with coconut oil. The lighter wood still had a bit of a green tinge to it, so I knew I would need to stain it. I eventually decided on Weathered Oak Wood Finish by Minwax – it kept the trunk’s antique vibe while freshening the color a little bit.
I ended up using two coats of the stain in order to get the color I wanted – beware, it does darken even after a few hours, so wait awhile between coats to make sure you’re getting the color you want! While my stain was drying, I went to work polishing up the metal hardware on the trunk. I also discovered what may be my new favorite craft product: Rub n’ Buff.
You simply put a little bit on a rag or your finger (I found that a finger works better) and rub it onto your surface, and then continue rubbing/buffing until it gets nice and shiny!
Seriously, this stuff is amazing. It freshened up the look of the whole trunk, and I’m already brainstorming other uses for it in other projects!
Ok, so we’re getting there now. At this point, I had a nicely freshened up trunk (with a warped top). I bought some plain wooden boards from Menards, cut them down to size (with a hand saw, because I still have only a super basic collection of tools), and started to put together a tabletop for the coffee table.
I decided to take my chances with strong wood glue, and I glued the boards together to form the tabletop. Since the top of the trunk had raised wooden planks running across it, I designed the tabletop to fit into the spaces and lay flat, by nailing three boards to the bottom of the tabletop that would fit the grooves. I then stained the edges of the top that I knew would hang over the trunk, using Minwax English Chestnut, which closely matched the darker wood on the trunk.
Once the stain and glue were dry, I attached the tabletop to the top of the trunk, and finished staining the rest of the wooden piece. I decided to seal the tabletop with a couple coats of polyurethane, since as a coffee table it will need to be pretty durable.
And there you have it! My upcycled steamer trunk coffee table!
Cyder feels the need to model for all of my photos!
I don’t think I’m done working on this trunk yet – it’s become a real labor of love for me. At some point, I may tackle the still pretty beat up areas of the exterior, or, if I’m feeling really ambitious, try to redo the interior so that it’s fit to be used as storage! As of now, let’s just say the inside of the trunk is in desperate need of a clean-up and facelift. But for now, I’m super happy to add this trunk to our living room, which is slowly but surely coming together! Stay tuned for a reveal of our living room before/afters coming soon (also featuring homemade curtains and a DIY gallery wall, which I’m working on tutorials for!)
I’m loving having some time and space this fall to really explore my creativity and try out new ideas to share with you all! It’s truly the best stress relief for me and my favorite way to spend a weekend (while drinking coffee/wine and re-watching Gilmore Girls in anticipation of the revival, obviously). I hope you’re all enjoying this Halloween weekend!
Until next time,