Our family doesn’t tend to throw things out, and we’ve somehow managed to collect a tidy assortment of vintage luggage.
Old suitcases and steamer trunks really aren’t practical for traveling any more, but we found it impossible to donate luggage that had our ancestors’ scrawled names across the handle. Rather than relegating them to the attic, we simply found other uses for these old suitcases.
How to make them look new again
Some of our suitcases were in pretty sad shape and unable to be restored. For these, we discovered the easiest way to turn them into an unique piece of art was to cover them with travel stickers. Travel stickers can be found in any souvenir shops; stickers with the states on them or a special attraction are particularly fun. These days, many stationary shops are selling reproduction vintage stickers from the 1930s and 1940s, which look fabulous on old luggage.
For the really battered suitcases, I recovered them with self-adhesive shelf paper in a checked or striped print. Self-adhesive paper is easy to apply; use an exact-o knife to cut around the hinges, locks and handle for a professional look. Instead of paper, you could also try covering your suitcase with daisies, stars, or room decor stickers which are available in the home decor section of your favorite discount department store.
Don’t be afraid to paint your suitcase with a can of spray paint! Be sure to mask off the hinges, locks, and handles with masking tape first, and then apply the paint by following the instructions on the can.
How can I use my restored suitcase?
1. Steamer trunks make fabulous coffee tables! Ask your local paint and glass store to custom cut a piece of glass to fit on top. This not only protects the trunk from beverage spills, but also adds a bit of elegance to a rather inexpensive furniture solution. Ask your glass cutter to smooth the edges of the glass to prevent injury.
2. If you don’t have one of these larger trunks, 3 square sided suitcases can be stacked to create the same effect. Use the top suitcase to store magazines and newspapers. Don’t need a coffee table? Arrange them in a corner, and use them to store your family photographs. Old checkered suitcases also display well in a kitchen, especially when overfilled with a collection of vintage table linens.
3. Trunks and large suitcases can also be placed at the foot of a child’s bed to hold toys or extra blankets.
4. Consider using a smaller suitcase to store your children’s collections of Lego, Robotix sets, or other small construction toys. The handle make it easy for them to tote their suitcases around the house or even bring to a friend’s. A small suitcase tucks neatly under a child’s bed for out-of-the-way toy storage when not in use.
5. Kids love to play dress up and we used to fill the suitcases with old Halloween costumes and props. From thrift stores, we used to find army and western clothes, crazy hats and accessories which provided hours of fun. After Halloween is a great time to go hunting for props and old masks in your favorite discount department store.
6. Small suitcases are ideal for holding art & craft supplies, yarn, and fabric.
7. Old vanity suitcases are wonderful for little girls to store their hair accessories and costume jewelry. One of my sons even turned a vanity case into a case for storing paints and unpainted miniatures. The removable mirror was a perfect platform for painting!
Some stickers or paint, and a little imagination is all it takes to turn your old suitcase into a unique, but practical storage container. Unlike huge tubs, these fit easily inside a closet or under a bed, or can even be left out as conversation pieces. If you don’t have an old suitcase of your own, old 1960s-1970s era suitcases often turn up in thrift stores and second hand stores for generally less than $5. Older cardboard or square fabric backed suitcases can range from $10-$25. Look for ones with clean linings, and air them out in direct sunlight for a few days before using. A little baking soda sprinkled into the lining can help remove traces of mustiness.