For many of us, antique trunks have a special spot in our hearts. As storage devices, trunks have protected our journals, special baby clothes, and other memories. For others a trunk represents a great adventure, or a new life. Many of these trunks (as shown) were owned by soldiers, and many were brought over the Atlantic as war brides moved to be with their North American husbands.
Once trunks had fulfilled their original purpose they were often relegated to basements where they were exposed to mice, insects, and water damage. Rather than having them restored, many owners opted to throw them out which is a shame because most trunks can be salvaged and become useful again.
The picture above shows the condition of a trunk as it was brought to me. One of the most important things to remember when restoring a trunk is to do it in such a way that it still looks like an antique trunk. I have seen the results of over-zealous painting and cleaning and it ruins the value and spirit of the trunk.
Here’s the process I used ( short version) :
- Clean trunk thoroughly using ammonia and soap dissolved in warm water to remove grease and grime. Use a soft brush where necessary but do not keep the trunk wet longer than necessary. Rinse by wiping with water and vinegar and buff dry. Let dry overnight.
- Sand the metal and anything else that requires smoothing but do not sand leather. Wipe off dust.
- Paint metal strips and leather straps (only if they have already been painted otherwise you would use shoe polish in the colour of the leather). Let dry overnight.
- Paint the body of the trunk very carefully using the best brushes for the job. This trunk was originally an “army” green so I matched the colour and used a water-based paint. Let dry overnight.
- I mixed two colours of metallic gold and painted thin, slightly uneven coats of paint on the metal corners, lock and latches. It is important to keep this thin so that it does not easily chip off. I hand-painted all the rivets with the same paint.
- Finally I antiqued the trunk by putting a thin coat of tinted Deft oil over the areas painted with green paint and blotting gently with a cloth using a ragging technique. This helps to seal and soften the look of the newly paint surfaces. Let dry at least 72 hours, longer if there is high humidity.
Although restoring this trunk took a bit of patience, it was not difficult to do. As the owner said “This trunk is bound to out-live me,” and I had to agree.
Other posts you might find useful:
What if your trunk smells? How do you get rid of smells in an old trunk
Other tips on restoring old trunks: More Tips on restoring and buying old trunks