Cleaning up an old Trunk

When you see an old trunk at a garage sale for $10, don’t ask questions…. just buy it! You can figure out the next steps (like how the heck to clean it up!) after it’s yours.Refinishing a Brass Steamer Trunk - I know this trunk looks like a total disaster, but I promise I refinished it and now it is as good as new!At least that’s what I thought when I first saw this old, GOLD trunk at a garage sale for $10! No, it’s not actually gold…. I think it’s brass (?)…. but I knew when I laid eyes on it, I had to bring it home (much to Matt’s disapproval). I knew he couldn’t see past the rust, stains, and wear & tear of it, the bright gold finish probably didn’t help either. This is the top of the steamer trunk I refinished - it looks gross now but I promise you will hardly recognize the finished product!The gold steamer trunk before I refinished it. It was in pretty bad shape but I kinda didn't care because I'd never seen anything like it before!To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even care what kind of shape it was in because it was such a unique piece; I really don’t think I’ve ever seen a gold trunk. And for $10?! I needed to at least try to clean this baby up and see what I could do with her. And LITERALLY, the night before I was scouring the internet for a petite coffee table for our office. I couldn’t seem to find the perfect piece and after A LOT of searching, I was almost forced (and willing) to spend a pretty penny to get my hands on something that would work. I’m very glad I didn’t settle because the next morning fate stepped in and delivered me this beauty. (Definitely another lesson in shopping with intention & waiting for the PERFECT piece).

Plus ten bucks was just too good of price not to at least TRYYYYYYY to make it work. Matt rolled his eyes, pulled out his wallet, and cursed under his breath as he hauled this shiny treasure to our car. But who am I kidding? I hardly noticed because I was already scheming……

We got home, unloaded the trunk and brought it straight to the office. It was like this trunk was made for this space. I was SOLD, but Matt still needed some serious convincing. Like the best husband that he is, Matt hauled it back out to the garage and allowed me to get to work… immediately.

I ran out and picked up some Brasso, very fine steel wool, & goo gone (only to remove the sticker that was on it– not necessary if you don’t have anything sticky on the surface). I also have a stock of old T-shirts that I pulled up to use as rags.

As I learned as I buffed this thing out, proceed with EXTRA caution when using the steel wool. Even the finest grade steel wool slightly scratched the surface/dulled the gold sheen. I tried to stay away from using that as much as I could. But to be perfectly honest, I would rather lose the sheen in some of the areas and use the steel wool to remove/lessen some of the heavy rust spots instead of allowing them to stay without using the steel wool. I guess I would just suggest to test ALL products (especially the steel wool) on the bottom of the trunk. This way if it does scratch, discolor or ruin the surface, no one will be able to see the mistakes and you’ll know not to use that combo on the other parts of the trunk.

One trick to refinishing a delicate piece of furniture like this vintage gold steamer trunk is to start the work on the bottom. That way you can see what works and what doesn't before you move to the visible places. That’s exactly what I did. I started on the bottom of the trunk as a “test drive”. Then I moved to the back and sides. By the time I hit the front and top, I knew the “tricks” and what worked best for this project.

Refinishing this brass steamer trunk meant using lots of Brasso! Here's the trunk with a good coating. I rubbed brasso all over the surface and really used some muscle on the nail heads and the locks. Look at the difference some Brasso and a little love made on this steamer trunk! Isn't she gorgeous now? With a clean, old T-shirt, I rubbed clockwise to remove all of the brass. I was left with a shiny (not perfect!) surface that looked much better than when I started. I saw the biggest difference on the locks and nail heads. The top made a pretty dramatic come back as well.

Even though the trunk looks 100% better, it’s definitely NOT perfect but that’s okay with me. I still love it!!

But before I added it to the office permanently (and before Matt saw the inside), I needed to clean out and makeover the inside of the trunk. #eek

The inside of this vintage steamer trunk needed a little TLC too!I mean talk about an amazing storage solution for our small home. I think I plan on putting my winter clothes in here to store throughout the summer and summer clothes in here to store throughout the winter. Still undecided but either way, it definitely needed some TLC before I did that.

I used our favorite marble contact paper to refinish the inside of the vintage trunk. Good as new!I used the marble contact paper we often use for our photos (this paper to be exact — sticky on one side), measured, cut and stuck it the sides & bottom of the trunk.

Easy enough, right?

The final step in refinishing this brass steamer trunk was adding the contact paper to the inside!And finally, my favorite part….I absolutely love the way this vintage gold trunk looks in our office. Isn't it magic with our gray patterned rug and navy couch? You can't even see the imperfections on the top of the trunk with a few well-placed books and accesories!

I placed a few books and a vintage magnifying glass on the trunk to hide the funky spots. You can't even tell it's less than perfect!

Styling our new “coffee table”. Because the top of the table isn’t perfect and because I like this look anyway, I added layers of books, decorative boxes and trinkets to the top of the table. Not only is this solution fashionable, it’s also very functional. Each of these boxes is home to something random (cords, jewelry, office supplies– more storage is always a win in my playbook).Refinishing a Brass Steamer Trunk - Learn how I made this baby beautiful again!

And the BEST part of this entire project– Matt came in the office after the trunk was styled and the room was put together and said these exact words…

“Wow, I hate to say it but that trunk makes this room” <—- {insert me picking my jaw up from the floor}

SAY WHAT?! When I can win over Matt with a $10 shiny gold trunk makeover…. life is good great.


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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