Discover the joy of antique trunk restoration. Learn techniques and tips to bring new life to vintage trunks and add character to your decor.

Can a vintage trunk be restored?

Restoring antique trunks can seem daunting, but it can become a delightful journey into the past with the right guidance. In this post, I’ll walk you through simple yet effective techniques for bringing your vintage trunk back to life.

Whether you’re a seasoned thrifter or new to the antique aesthetic, this step-by-step guide will help you transform these timeless pieces into stunning focal points for your home.

Easily, time-sensitive, and budget-friendly while adding an eclectic touch of history and character to your decor.

Antique Trunk Restored with Flowers on Porch as Table

Yard Sale Antique Trunk

I found this antique trunk at a yard sale last weekend, just around the corner from us. For just $18.

It would be considered a steamer trunk or flat-top trunk based on its size, materials, and flat top.

Its oddly tall size, with wood and patina accents, drew me to it. I thought it would be ideal as an accent table on our back porch.

Antique Trunk Restoration
Back Porch Spring Ideas: Vintage Inspired

You may also enjoy this Vintage Haul for Spring Porch post, where I discovered a fantastic antique trunk, and this Back Porch Spring Ideas: Vintage Inspired post with the trunk displayed on our porch.

What is an antique trunk?

An antique trunk is a vintage storage chest that dates back to the 18th to early 20th centuries. It was often used for travel or storage. These trunks are typically made of wood, covered in materials like leather or canvas, and adorned with metal hardware, reflecting the craftsmanship and style of their era.

Types of Antique Trunks

Antique trunks are more than just storage solutions; they are fascinating relics of the past that tell stories of travel, craftsmanship, and style. From the practical steamer trunks designed for steamship voyages to the luxurious Saratoga trunks used by the elite, each trunk type offers a unique glimpse into history.

Understanding the different varieties—from dome-top and flat-top trunks to specialized wardrobe and hat trunks—allows us to appreciate their specific features and purposes. Here are several different types of antique trunks you may come across in your travels for restoration.

  • Steamer Trunks: Designed for travel by steamship, these trunks are flat-topped for easy stacking. Often made from wood and covered in canvas, leather, or metal, they feature sturdy hardware and sometimes have interior compartments or trays.
  • Dome-Top Trunks: Recognizable by their curved tops, these trunks were popular in the 19th century. The curved design helped prevent other luggage from being stacked on top. They are often elaborately decorated with embossed metal and ornate hardware. My mother had a beautiful collection of dome-top trunks.
  • Flat-Top Trunks: These trunks have flat lids, making them ideal for stacking. They were common from the mid-19th to early centuries and often used for long-distance travel. They come in various sizes and materials, including canvas, leather, and metal coverings.
  • Cabin Trunks: Smaller in size, cabin trunks were intended for use inside a ship’s cabin, holding personal items needed during the voyage. They often feature drawers and compartments for organized storage.
  • Wardrobe Trunks: These large, upright trunks open to reveal hanging space on one side and drawers on the other, effectively serving as portable wardrobes. Travelers used them to keep clothing and personal items organized.
  • Saratoga Trunks: Named after the upscale Saratoga Springs resort, these trunks are known for their high-quality construction and luxurious interiors. They often feature multiple compartments, trays, and sometimes hidden drawers. I would love to discover one of these trunks, as we don’t live that far away from Saratoga.
  • Hat Trunks: Designed to transport hats without damaging them, they are typically round or square and feature special compartments or padding to protect their contents.
  • Military Trunks: Used by soldiers to transport personal belongings, these trunks are rugged and durable, often made from metal or wood. They typically have minimal decoration but are built to withstand harsh conditions.
  • Oak Slat Trunks: These are known for their durability and strength. They are characterized by their wooden slat construction and often feature a distinctive exterior of horizontal or vertical oak slats.
  • Jenny Lind Trunks: Named after the famous Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, these trunks are known for their destructive shape with rounded edges and decorative hardware. They often have an elegant appearance and detailed craftsmanship. You may enjoy this Country Estate Sale: A Vintage Treasure Hunt, which also discusses the charming Jenny Lind beds.

These various types of antique trunks serve practical purposes and reflect their time’s historical and cultural contexts, making them fascinating pieces to restore and incorporate into modern home decor.

What kind of trunk will you be looking to restore?

Military Trunk Repurposed

You may also enjoy this Plant Decor in Living Room Book Nook post to see how I repurposed this free roadside blue military-style trunk.

Roadside freebie blue trunk

Antique Restoration Supplies

At the beginning of this post, I promised to share simple yet effective techniques for restoring an antique trunk, so let’s get to it. Here is what you will need to get started on your antique trunk restoration:

Of course, all antique trunks are different, and the level of restoration that one may want also varies. A quick Google search can help you find antique trunk restoration experts who will also completely restore your old trunks.

Just as a word of caution, though, removing any of the hardware or replacing the leather and metal will diminish the value of your antique trunk.

Antique Trunk Restoration Made Easy

What is antique trunk restoration?

1. Cleaning Antique Trunk

First, it’s important to clean your antique trunk. This old trunk was rather dusty, but overall, it was in very good shape. My plan was to use this antique trunk on our back porch as a table accent piece. It wasn’t going to store any clothing or valuables.

Therefore, I used several Clorox disinfectant wipes to clean the exterior of this antique trunk, both on the wood and metal surfaces. There is no leather on this trunk, but I would also use it to clean it as well.

This removed all the dust and debris, giving it a nice, clean surface for refinishing.

Antique Trunk Restored as Porch Table Accent with Flower Arrangement.

2. Sand the Wood \ Optional

If you have an antique wood trunk, you can sand it to remove any markings and obtain a smooth, clean surface. Or maybe you want to soften the wood’s color?

I decided not to sand this antique trunk because I admired the patina and all the markings in the wood. They make it more charming, and I love its vintage aesthetic.

Antique Trunk Accent Table with Flowers and Plates.

3. Restor-A-Finish

Third, I used my trusty Restor-A-Finish by Howard in Maple-Pine to bring out the vibrance of the trunk’s wood.

What is Restor-A-Finish?

Restor-A-Finish is a remarkable product designed to revive the natural beauty of wood surfaces without the need for stripping or refinishing. Ideal for maple and pine furniture, it effortlessly restores the original luster by blending out scratches, blemishes, and minor abrasions.

The unique formula penetrates faded finishes and enhances the grain, making it ideal for both antique and modern pieces. Whether your maple dresser has lost its shine or your pine dining table is showing signs of wear, Restor-A-Finish provides an easy and effective solution to breathe new life into your wood furnishings, maintaining their charm and elegance for years to come.

Antique Trunk Restoration Supplies on Trunk.

Restor-A-Finish Wood Finish Tones:

I have used Restor-A-Finish for years now. It comes in a variety of finishes, choose your favorite:

You may also enjoy some of these refinishing projects using Restor-A-Finish; it’s the simplest and fastest way to restore furniture. “Restore It – Don’t Strip It!”

Choose the finish that best suits the wood for your antique trunk restoration project. Then, simply follow the instructions on the back of the can. Apply the liquid directly onto a rag (not the trunk directly) and rub it all over the wood on your trunk.

Depending on how dry the trunk’s wood is, apply as many coats as you like until the wood reaches your desired coloration. I usually only apply one coat as the Restor-A-Finish is pretty lustrous.

Antique Trunk Accent Table on Porch with Flowers and Bernese Mountain Dog

4. Feed-N-Wax

Lastly, you’ll want to moisturize the wood on an antique trunk as part of its restoration.

Using the same method, I applied Howard’s Feed-n-Wax to a rag and rubbed it all over the trunk and the patina metal surrounding the wood.

Now, this is where I load it onto my antique furniture pieces. Antique wood furniture tends to be super dry, and this Feed-n-Wax formula absorbs into the wood like butter, leaving your trunk’s finish gorgeous.

Let it sit for about an hour to dry. That’s it!

Wasn’t that antique trunk restoration quick and easy?

Antique trunk restoration into Porch table accent.

Antique Trunk Decorating Ideas

An antique trunk can be a versatile and charming addition to any home decor. Here are several creative ideas for incorporating your newly restored antique trunk into your living spaces:

  • Coffee Table: Use a vintage trunk as a unique coffee table in your living room. Its sturdy structure provides a perfect surface for books, trays, and decor items, while its interior offers hidden storage for blankets and magazines.
  • End-of-Bed Storage: Place an antique trunk restoration at the foot of your bed to add storage and style. It’s ideal for storing extra linens, pillows, or seasonal clothing, and its vintage charm can enhance your bedroom’s aesthetic. You may also find inspiration in this How to Fold and Display Heirloom Quilts post.
  • Entryway Statement Piece: Position a trunk as a statement piece in your entryway. It can serve as a bench for putting on shoes, a storage solution for outerwear accessories, or simply a focal point that sets the tone for your home’s decor.
  • Window Seat: Add a cushion on top to convert the trunk into a cozy window seat. This creates a delightful reading nook with the added benefit of storage space inside the trunk for books, toys, or other items.
  • Bar Cart: Transform the trunk into a stylish bar cart. You can create a portable and sophisticated bar setup by opening the trunk and arranging your favorite spirits, glassware, and bar tools inside. See more in this Vintage Bars: 10 Designs to Copy Now post.
  • Plant Stand: Use your antique trunk restoration as a plant stand in your living room or sunroom. Arrange various plants on top, utilizing the trunk’s surface to display greenery and flowers, adding a touch of nature to your interior as in this Plant Decor in Living Room Book Nook post.
  • Home Office Storage: In a home office, the trunk can be a charming storage solution for documents, office supplies, or even tech gadgets. Its antique look can add character and warmth to a typically functional space. You may also enjoy this Vintage Eclectic Decor Meets Craft Room Design post.
  • Bathroom Storage: A restored antique trunk can be placed in a large bathroom to store towels, toiletries, and bath products. Its vintage appeal can add a touch of elegance and history to your bathroom decor. Find more inspiration in the A Petite Antique Dresser in the Bathroom post.
  • Playroom Organization: In a children’s playroom, the trunk can be a whimsical storage solution for toys and games. Its sturdy build ensures durability, while its vintage charm adds a fun storybook element to the room.
  • Outdoor Patio Accent: Use the trunk as an accent piece on a covered patio. It can serve as a table or storage for outdoor cushions and garden tools, adding a touch of vintage charm to your outdoor living space as we did here today.

Restoring an antique trunk and incorporating it into your home decor adds a unique and functional piece to your space and preserves a piece of history, making your home feel more personal and storied.

You may also find inspiration in the post Quilt Jackets: The Trendy Vintage Fashion.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. I wish you all the best with your next antique trunk restoration.

Happy thrifting!

A Vintage Affair

If you have any thoughts, comments, or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Please share in the comments below. And be sure to share this blog post link with your friends who are also vintage enthusiasts.

Do you have a flair for all things vintage, too? I would love to see and feature you in our Reader’s Showcase Series. A place for you to share and be recognized for your talents and passion for all things thrifting, vintage, and antique decor-related inspired by your time here with Dabbling & Decorating. Email me at annck@dabblinganddecorating.com

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10 Comments

  1. This is a great little trunk, Ann! I love how tall it is. Perfect for a side table! I have been a fan of Restor-a-finish for years!

  2. Great find! Your trunk was in very nice condition when you purchased it, but the Howard’s really made it shine. I’m happy you saw the beauty of the wood and didn’t paint it as so many people are doing now. Beautiful!

  3. Nancy Sharp says:

    I love antique trunks. They are great storage as well as great decor. I have several.

  4. Kathy Munday says:

    Love your newest addition to your porch!! I have several trunks that store table linens, sweaters, and vintage piano rolls. I’m tempted to refinish them now!! They give a warm and cozy feeling to our otherwise “beachy decor” home on Cape Cod. Thank you for the process. I always look forward to your ideas!!!

    1. Thanks so much Kathy, trunks are fabulous at the beach for sure. Enjoy and thanks always for following along!

  5. Hey Ann! Fun post and your chest looks great with all the wood on your porch. We just purchased 2 flat top trunks, one 2 people could fit in! My plan is to have my husband refinish them and use for storage in our to be bought cabin. Ours are going to take some work, but always loved the look and ooohhh the stories they could tell!

  6. Rachel Harper says:

    The trunk turned out great Ann! I’ve used those products with success! What a great find. I’ll share a link on my DRA tomorrow.