TB and I stumbled across today’s little gem at the Restore in Asbury Park. Once I laid eyes on this old wardrobe trunk I knew I wanted to bring it home. I had wanted an old truck as a coffee table for years but never could find a cool one and not just a crappy one from Target. There was some trepidation though because although there was no major damage it still wasn’t exactly in the best shape. Usually that wouldn’t stop me because with wood I can bring it home, strip it and refinish it but that wouldn’t work here. After we wandered through the store and came back for a second look we were in.
Here is what it looked like when I got it home.
I knew nothing about old trunks so I took to The Google for some help in where to start. These trunks were the suitcases of their day and were meant to carry everything you needed on trips. For the most part they are made of a wood frame with a canvas outside cover, many times painted, with leather and metal trim to protect the edges from wear and tear. There are many different sizes and shapes depending on their original purpose. Ours is a wardrobe trunk. It is meant to stand up on end and be opened like a book.
Here is a shot of the inside and it’s parts. One side had drawers (the tall one in the middle has a hat stand) while the other side had a bar for hanging clothes. When you got to your destination you just opened the trunk up and you had your closet all ready to go.
While the purple floral fabric is lovely, we weren’t going to be using the inside for anything so I left it be. The outside was our concern. I wanted to keep some of the character while not looking cruddy in my living room but wasn’t sure what to clean the canvas with. What I found on The Google was this was a trunk sold by RH Macy’s in the 1920-1930s and after making it this long I didn’t want to ruin it.
My first choice for gentle cleaning is glycerin soap (Dover Saddlery has it here). I used it all my life to clean my horse saddle and its hard to mess up. The object is to use a damp sponge you have wrung out very well and rub it over the soap bar. If there is any kind of lather you have to much water for leather cleaning although here I used a bit more water since it was canvas. Once I tested a small spot and saw this wasn’t going to harm anything, I set to work. A soft toothbrush worked much better than a sponge and you could gently loosen dirt in the fabric. The bonus is that it also cleans all the leather trim very nicely. Glycerin soap also kind of moisturized everything and gives a lovely finish with the bonus that it doesn’t need to be rinsed off. Here is a picture of one of the sides half done.
It’s a dramatic difference but it did take awhile! That big white patch is a sticker a previous owner applied that doesn’t want to come off. I cleaned it the best I could with this soap and there is still some glue residue. I could have used a stronger cleaner but I worried it would get damaged so I left it and call it character. My goal was just to clean it up not restore since I like the worn look.
Here is the after pic. We tried it for awhile as our coffee table but it was so high it was uncomfortable to put your feet up. It now is the place for our TV. Opie likes the change since he can now see all the food on the lower table and knows if wants to beg for it or not. (Like he is choosy!)
We like to pretend that the “C.G.” painted on the side was for “Cary Grant” but the purple floral fabric inside suggests we may be wrong. But it’s not like our guests are going to see inside so I may just continue telling that story.