Thursday, February 17, 2022

DIY Vintage Suitcase Coffee Table

DIY vintage suitcase coffee table
Vintage Suitcase Coffee Table

I have loved old chests and trunks since my childhood.  Now that I qualify as vintage myself, I take an even greater delight in finding, and transforming, items that have a story older than my own.  Perhaps it is nostalgia.  Whatever it is, I am always on the lookout for something with an interesting history.

This DIY project actually began in the aisles of my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (a nonprofit I enthusiastically support).  As a rescuer at heart, I couldn't let a battered metal traveling case sit there abandoned and unwanted.  There was no doubt in my mind that an item with plenty of mileage on it had interesting stories to tell, that it had more than proven its worth, and that it should be given the chance to be useful once more.  I laid down my five dollars and started imagining what that chest could become.

old suitcase
These metal trunks were in use during the 1940s and 1950s.

Any search on Pinterest will show you that DIYers are pretty gung-ho about converting antique trunks, chests, and suitcases into all kinds of cool furniture pieces.  You can also find a number of these reclaimed treasures being sold on Etsy.  This is a popular trend with staying power.  I can't imagine these vintage pieces ever going out of vogue.

scratched up top of an old suitcase
Top of Trunk - Mostly Surface Scratches in the Paint

suitcase bottom in bad condition
Bottom of Trunk Had Seen Better Days

interior of an old suitcase
Inside of Case - Paper Lining - Perfume Spills

You can see from the "before" pics that I had my work cut out for me.  As is common with these old metal cases, there was a good deal of rust to contend with, and the inside paper lining was spotted in places (smelling, thankfully, of perfume).  The first order of business was to remove the surface rust with abrasive pads.  I didn't want to lose the character and patina of age, so I was careful to remove only the top layer of corrosion.  A person can ruin a good antique by doing too much restoration.

power drill with sander pad
Removing Rust - Power Drill Abrasive Pad

dremel abrasive buff
Dremel Abrasive Buff - Perfect in Tight Spots

The rust had created a distressed metal effect that artisans work hard to achieve.

paint primed suitcase interior
Trunk Lid Primed With Spray Paint

To deal with the minor stains inside the trunk, I painted over the paper lining.  I could have attempted to strip out the paper, but the likelihood of getting all of it removed without creating a bigger mess was too great.  I knew the primer would not only cover the stains, but would make the trunk smell clean and fresh.  Once the paint coats were dry, I sprayed a clear matte acrylic sealer over them.  

tissue lining
New Liner - Tissue Paper Decoupage

In determining a decorative finish for the interior, I considered several options: stenciling a design, applying a decoupage treatment, lining with fabric, using decorative stick-on tiles, or inserting a thin cork liner. I decided to go with a lovely tissue paper decoupage (using a matte Mod Podge finish).

Towards the end of the project, I changed my mind about the exterior finish. Originally, my intent was to simply sand the finish and leave it with a wire brushed finish. That would have worked for my rustic cabin decor. However, once I decided to sell this piece, I felt a freshly painted finish would be more appealing to potential buyers. I used Rust-Oleum Chalked Spray Paint (in a neutral linen white) and then gave the trim a light distressing with fine grit sand paper.

completed DIY vintage suitcase coffee table
After Pic - Suitcase Coffee Table Transformation

I could see the finish line in sight as I attached four hairpin legs to the bottom of the trunk.  Because the metal skin on the case is very thin, I reinforced the bottom interior of the trunk (essentially creating a false bottom).  This provided the added stability and thickness needed to bolt the legs securely to the case.

Would I tackle a project like this again?  Absolutely!  It's not easy to walk away from a vintage item needing some TLC.  Besides, these chests are iconic and incredibly versatile.  Not only will someone gain a unique conversational piece, but this suitcase is a great place to store things like remote controls, or dreams of future travel.

This coffee table and I now share our own unique story.  Sometimes, in quiet moments, I feel transported as I imagine where it has previously been, what it carried, and who might have packed and unpacked it time and time again.  I find myself composing little vignettes about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Case.  Pretty good entertainment for the price of a five-dollar admission. 

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. Ah, Diana. Once again you have rescued an old forgotten piece and restored it's beauty and given it new life. I'm sure it's past adventures are every bit as fascinating as the transformation you have given it from a worn-out suitcase to a beautiful reborn suitcase coffee table. Well done!

    1. Thank you! Isn't it what we would want if we found ourselves discarded and a little bit shabby? Beauty is everywhere (just waiting for a beholder's eyes and tools).

  2. Wow Diana, how lovely that all turned out. You are amazing in your vision and imagination about where this piece was and where it will be going. It really is a story that can have all kinds of outcomes. One thing is sure, the love you put into it will make it a "special" piece for whoever acquires this lovely new trunk/table! It is wonderful!

    1. I appreciate how you see me and my stories of transformation. Many thanks!

  3. Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful. I love how you look at vintage things and start planning a new DIY project. I appreciate how you give vintage pieces new life. So many things were made so much better in decades past and really can last several lifetimes with loving care, which you are willing to give them. Thank you for sharing your inspiration and skill with all of us. I wouldn't have thought to refinish the inside with paint and lovely tissue paper decoupage. Very cool indeed!

    1. It's my favorite thing... seeing what lies beneath the surface and imagining a rebirth. Always a privilege to be a part of any renaissance. Thank you for your thoughtful presence here. Always appreciated... you and your insights.

  4. Diana, as I’ve said many times, I adore and admire the lens through which you choose to look at the world, to see the innate beauty in everyone and everything that others miss because the wear and tear of time and experiences have given those people and objects a “life-worn” patina. I love your ability to envision them in ways that don’t just restore them to their original beauty but, instead, honor their life experience and embrace and enhance the beauty in who or what they have become, giving them a “hand up” to help them embody their full potential at this moment.

    Few other people would have given this well-worn and neglected vintage metal trunk a second glance, much less have invested time, energy, materials and love into giving it a new lease on life, bringing joy, beauty satisfaction and appreciation not only to yourself but also to its new owner and everyone else he or she chooses to share it with. Brava and hugs!

  5. Every comment you leave is an immense gift. You have such a keen sense of what fuels the creative heart and spirit. The humanity in your every choice of insight and affirmation energizes the humanity in the one you embrace with your reflective artistry. I am changed for the better, and restored, by how you speak life.

  6. Wow, what a beautiful job you did on this old chest. You sure do have a unique eye, and talent for turning nothing into something. I often think the same thing with something old, who owned this? Where has it been? Once again, great job!!

  7. Diana, that is a fantastic job. You are so right, trunks as pieces of furniture are very popular, and your gorgeous DIY as an end-table is one of the most popular uses. I admire DIYers like you - you're so creative. I'm not a DIY person, except for art and painting etc, but to build things and turn something into a unique piece of furniture is something I'm not sure I'd have the patience to do - well done!

    1. Thanks! Yes... people love these end tables. It's good that we can each have our own unique creative voice. I need projects like this to stretch me. The hardest part of the transformation was deciding what I wanted to do in terms of the exterior finish and interior design. I knew from the beginning it would be a table with hairpin legs.

  8. love, love it! Have always wanted one :) - the hairpin legs are perfect!


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