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cazzie's avatar

Does anyone have experience refurbishing/reusing/reclaiming a wardrobe trunk?

Asked by cazzie (24516points) January 30th, 2012

We have inherited this beautiful old wardrobe trunk that looks very much like this one:
but it has a few more dings and paper peeling problems as well as a musty mouldy smell. I want to use it for storing linens and silverware in the kitchen. After reading about restoration online, I am thinking that peeling off the fabric lining, giving it a wash and a sand and then a non-sealant coating of a wood-loving wax might be the best and most attractive way to go.

Anyone have any tips, tricks or advice they want to share?

We aren’t keeping it in original condition for value sake. We want to make it into a piece of furniture we use.

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15 Answers

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snowberry's avatar

Your link didn’t work for me.

I know you want to turn it into a piece of usable furniture, but, depending on the history and condition, it may be worth far more as it is. Before you start altering it, consider getting it appraised, and find out! Some of these are worth A LOT of money!

My mother in law had an old steamer trunk with all the old stickers (1800’s) from all the ships it had traveled on. She “refurbished” it before I came into the family, and painted it with a blue wash.

The second time she sanded all the stickers off, and gave it to us as a present. I was heartbroken. I’d have rather had it with the blue wash, because perhaps I could have taken it to a professional and had the blue crap taken off of it, and kept it as a conversation piece, or even sold it for a small fortune..

Barring that, a good furniture restoration place would be a start. If you want to have a go at it on your own, try removing the inside lining, sanding it all down, including the corners. I’d then like to see it covered with a good coat of oil based varnish or killz, which should kill the musty odor. From then, you could cover it with fabric, or whatever.

cazzie's avatar

@snowberry We would never sell it. It is part of our family history and was just recently ‘refound’ where a family friend was storing it. I have been doing loads of reading on keeping the integrity of the piece. I am not going to paint the outside or inside. The only stickers it has on it, I have absolutely no plans on altering because it shows the passage my son´s great great grandfather made over the Atlantic.

As I wrote: “After reading about restoration online, I am thinking that peeling off the fabric lining, giving it a wash and a sand and then a non-sealant coating of a wood-loving wax might be the best and most attractive way to go.”

I do not want to use a varnish on the wood because it might warp. Wood needs to expand and contract and breathe, especially in our climate, so I am happy with a high quality wax. The smell isn’t that bad at all, and once I get the faded, ripped lining out I am pretty confident the smell will go completely. If it doesn’t, I will close it up with some kitty litter to help absorb any remaining smell.

I plan on being very gentle and polite with any work I do on it.

wilma's avatar

Sounds like you have done your homework @cazzie . I hope that you can enjoy it for years to come.

cazzie's avatar

I guess I am just a bit scared to start ripping into it and am looking for some reassurance. I’m a bit of a whimp.

wilma's avatar

It’s good to be cautious @cazzie . Usually you cannot un-do something. Are you sure that the fabric must go? Can it be cleaned, mended and freshened? If not then you are probably right to take it out. Could you replace it with reproduction fabric?

Response moderated
cazzie's avatar

@wilma the replacement fabric would be very hard to get where I am (the maker was in Boston and I´m on the other side of the Atlantic) and I really wouldn´t want to do a crappy job with the fabric. It just seems safer to take it out and leave the wood. If I find a refurbisher I can afford later on, perhaps I will do that, but leaving it seems the better option. If the wood looks like crap, I might invest in some leather or a nice canvas material to put just on the drawer fronts.

Another option someone suggested for the inside was to attach a nice lining fabric to cardboard and just set it in, rather than use glue or other harmful products. Also, getting some cedar boards to line just the very bottom of both sides to help with mould and bugs and give the linen a nice smell.

There are great dings and scraps on the front where that expandable closer has hit the surface. The hardware isn´t very fancy. Simple tin pulls on the drawers. (The man was not wealthy, he was a preacher.) It looks like tin and not brass on all the corners. The exterior is not leather or stamped metal. All the hangers are in the case. Much of the interior metal is rusted. Some can be cleaned up with steel wool, but some on the inside just has to be removed. I had a closer look and I don´t think I am going to start until I buy a particular tool for removing the rusted nails holding in some of the ties. If I try to remove them with a claw hammer, I will end up breaking the drawer. I just have to work out what that tool is called (aha, it is a tacklifter), then work out what it is called in Norwegian. lol. Tung oil, as well. No idea what that is in Norwegian or if I will be able to find pure tung oil. Linseed oil is probably my better bet.

Is that a better idea of the project? I feel a bit over my head and start quaking when I look at it, but the more I write my plan down and think about it, I think it might just work.

wilma's avatar

I would go slow, when in doub’t don’t.
Sounds like you have a good plan.

cazzie's avatar

You have convinced me to leave what lining is in tact and just try to clean it, but some of the drawers just have to have the ripped, wrinkled, mouldy lining removed.

Skylight's avatar

I obtained an old trunk that looks exactly the same style as yours except the top doesn’t raise up. What I did, was wash it down, then painted the drawers and the inside decoratively with Acrylics and oiled the outside, since the outside was in great shape and retained some stickers from travels. I put it in my bedroom propped open, and use it for gloves, tights, legwarmers, small purses etc. I really love it. I have a vase of ostrich feathers and a couple of small Egyptian statues on the top. Although I didn’t have the mold and torn lining to contend with. I like your idea of peeling off the old fabric lining and disinfecting it, possibly with bleach (?), then putting a sealant on it. After that, the sky’s the limit. You could paint it, stain it, put wallpaper on the inside or apply appliques. Since you want to use it for your kitchen, which is a cool idea, you have the option of using colors or designs that would enhance your decor. You could always keep it open and place a long runner over the top, then you would have that space to work with as well. Best of luck with your project. I know it will turn out beautifully, whatever you do.

snowberry's avatar

Before you do much to it, get that appraisal, and find out how much, if any, of the historical value of the trunk would be lost by your upgrade.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I was given an old Singer seweing machine in its original (lined) box, and I wanted so badly to keep the lining intact. However, that moldy smell just would not go, and it was just too hard to bear. I ended up giving the whole thing away again. I wish I’d had the guts to replace the lining so that the machine could have been made useful. I would advise doing whatever you need to do to breathe life back into the trunk, and give it purpose again.

cazzie's avatar

@snowberry it couldn’t be of any more value to us. I am sure the antique people will suggest a specialist down in Oslo to fix it up and it would cost a mint, then they would try to talk us out of it buy offering to buy it. We don’t care what other’s value it at. We are not selling it. What they think is of absolutely no consequence. I am fixing it up to use. It is not a museum artefact. It is part of a collection of historical family pieces that we will be keeping and handing down.

People here don’t just ‘get appraisals’ we have to pay for them and I am not interested.

I have read and written back and forth to a specialist in the US. He told me what the rules were to keep its basic value and I will adhere to those.

snowberry's avatar

@Cazzie OK, Gotcha.

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