I have always loved those pictures of vintage suitcases stacked one on top of the other. There’s just something about the look that makes me think of a life well-traveled and filled with adventure. They evoke memories of faraway places and conquering the unknown, like these beauties from Overstock.com. Aren’t they gorgeous?
I wanted my own stack of suitcases sooo badly. But they’ve become horribly expensive and it’s quite a challenge finding a set that looks good together. We do, however have a very boring pine chest of drawers, or bureau as it’s called in America, that desperately needed a makeover. We’ve had the chest of drawers for about 20 years now and her bones were still good. The drawers slide nicely and there’s tons of storage space for all our t-shirts and jerseys. But she needed a face lift, kinda like her owner 😉 And the only face lift I wanted to give her involved these really battered suitcases that we found at the local hospice. .
There was even a tatty old handbag thrown into the mix.
I think I paid R40 for everything, which included two briefcases, the handbag, 4 floppy suitcases and one of those old cardbaord school suitcases. That’s not even $5, but they were really badly damaged.
The hardware was still okay though, so we removed everything that was worth saving. The handles, locks, buckles, straps, bits of leather even the tags if they were pretty enough 😉
Once the suitcases had been totally destroyed we had everything we needed to turn that boring dresser into our own version of a vintage stack of suitcases. We removed all the drawers and took the little wooden knobs off.
Using lots of elbow grease and a sander we stripped the varnish and then gave the frame of the dresser a deep lustrous coat of Rustoleum’s American Walnut stain and sealer. to match the decor in our bedroom
Then it was time to start playing around. Both the hubby and I work full time as IT geeks for large banks so the only time we have to DIY is normally over a weekend. Fortunately for us most banks in South Africa have an IT freeze during December, which means we can’t work. And that gave us more than enough time to tackle the drawers.
I really wanted them all to be different but still form a harmonious whole. So I needed to limit myself to colors from the same temperature family or find one or two colors and then use variations of those colors. Because the dresser had been stained in a rich brown, we decided to stick with the warmer tones. The first drawer we made over was this one.
We sprayed the whole drawer with a metallic copper which seemed like a good idea, but as soon as we put the drawer next to the walnut stained dresser it looked too cold and, well metallic!! Bling, bling definitely didn’t fit the whole vintage feel we were going for. To tone her down we used a piece of hessian as a stencil before applying a coat of brown acrylic paint over the metallic paint.
One of the other things I really wanted to do was retain that tactile feeling of a real suitcase. So we used contact adhesive to glue some of the leather we’d salvaged from the damaged suitcases to cover the drawers. The drawers are quite wide, so the leather had to be joined. The salvaged suitcase buckles were perfect to hide the small gap where the leather came together. We just glued them over the join.
And no suitcase is complete without a stamp or sticker to show where you’ve been, right? The Graphics Fairy was my go to place to get a few of those. As luck would have it, one of her labels were for Sinclair’s conditioning powder. Can you guess what the hubby’s surname is?
I have to be honest. The dresser face lift took us way longer that I thought, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. Every drawer is unique and besides the time, it only cost us about R150 for the whole makeover. That’s about $10 😀
What do you think? Was it worth the time? I really wanted to write a post about how we changed each drawer, but looking through all the photos I forgot to take a whole bunch. So the best I can do is share some tips if you’d like to do something similar.
Tips on converting a bureau or chest of drawers into a stack of suitcases
- Before painting or staining the dresser or bureau pick a color palette that matches or compliments your existing decor. We have terracotta tiles throughout the house so we tend to stick with warmer colors.
- Choose a muted, neutral color for the frame of the dresser to anchor the piece. The walnut stain we used creates a beautiful backdrop to showcase each drawer.
- Broken and damaged suitcases, briefcases and even handbags are perfect for a makeover like this. There are so many bits and pieces that can be salvaged.
- Don’t worry too much if the suitcases don’t match. Everything can be painted. We used a wash of acrylic paint to “warm up” the leather that we stuck on the drawer second from the bottom.
- Add interesting touches and don’t be scared to mix and match the salvaged bits. Look at pictures of actual suitcases and try and mimic the look. We used bits of leather on the corner of some the drawers and stuck then on with glue and thumb tacks.
- Treat each drawer as an individual work of art. Take your time. We tackled one drawer a day and experimented with all the bits and pieces until we were happy before sticking or screwing everything down.
- A few labels or stamps add to the vintage feel. The Graphics Fairy has a whole bunch that you can download for free. She’s the best.
Every time I look at the suitcase bureau I feel like a modern day Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, dreaming of a world of travel. I’m ready to pack up and go at a moment’s notice 😉
What about you? Do you love vintage suitcases as much as I do?
Sending love and hugs as always
P.S. We still had some faux leather left over and we used those pieces to repurpose DVD cases and make an awesome vertical garden.