Vintage Luggage Makeover.


Last spring I got an email from an Art of Doing Stuff reader who lives in my general area.  She said she had spotted a vintage suitcase out for garbage pickup while she was out for her morning walk.  She lugged it home, emailed me and asked if I’d like it.


Old Suitcase 7


Um … YES.  Garbage finds are my favourite finds and I didn’t even have to go root through garbage for it.  I didn’t know what I was going to do with the suitcase but I knew I could think of something.

The suitcase was in relatively good condition, but definitely couldn’t be used “as is”. I’d have to fix it up, clean it up, paint it up … something.
Old Suitcase 1


One year ago the title of this post was going to be  “How to Paint a Suitcase!”.  By spring it was going to be, “How to Turn a Suitcase into a Gardening Shed!”.   Around July I decided the title would definitely be  “Put Wheels on a Suitcase for Easy Underbed Storage!.  Then fall arrived and the title became “Shove that old suitcase in your basement.  It’s ugly and a pain in the ass!”

But then I made a discovery.  I decided to peel off the travel stickers that were on the suitcase.


Old Suitcase 2
One of the stickers was covering up a hole in the outside fabric of the suitcase. It looked like wood underneath.


Old Suitcase 3


I figured if I just peeled a little more of the fabric back I’d be able to see if the whole suitcase was wood. Just a little. Just enough so I could see if it was wood. If I was careful about it, I could always just glue the fabric back down.


Old Suitcase 4
Hmm. Not sure. Might need to peel a tiny bit more back.
Old Suitcase 5


Yup. That’s wood alright.
Old Suitcase 6


Down to the basement to set up for suitcase surgery. I’d get everything ready and then come down in the morning to start working on it.


Old Suitcase 8


And I stuck to my plan. As long as you call 2:00 a.m. morning.

It was like an addiction this suitcase. I couldn’t stop until I knew exactly what was underneath. Then once I knew what was underneath, I was satisfied and promptly walked away leaving it sitting on my workbench for the next 4 months. It runs in my family this sort of behavior. Rip something apart until you know what it’s made of or what’s going on and then walk away because your curiosity has been quenched.


Stripping Old Suitcase
Last month I got back to work on it.

To strip the suitcase I:

1. Ripped  the fabric off with my hands.

2. Scraped off some of the glue residue.

3. Sanded the rest of the glue off with a palm sander.


Old Suitcase Stripped Of Fabric
Now that the suitcase is stripped you have 3 options:


1.  Leave it as is with no finish or sealant.

2.  Seal it with a coat of Varathane.  

3.  Stain it and then Varathane it.

Old Wood Suitcase
Even though I loved the clean look of the pale wood, I wanted it to have a bit more age and character so after MUCH debating I went with stain then Varathane to seal and protect the suitcase.
Staining Suitcase
Are you wondering what this suitcase ultimately became? Is it underbed storage? A mini gardening shed? Nope, nope.
And yes. That is Rough Linen bedding. Smooth linen sheets and an Orkney duvet cover.
Suitcase Bedside Table 2

Suitcase Bedside Table 6

Suitcase Bedside Table 7

Suitcase Bedside Table 3


By putting the suitcase on an actual suitcase stand it instantly becomes the perfect height for a bedside table. Although it would look good on antique casters. Or on the porch with gardening tools. The one place it won’t be going is the basement.


  1. Mary Kay says:

    Karen – I would never of guessed there was wood under there – it came out fabulous!!

  2. Gina says:


  3. Jules says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE..huge fan of decorating my house with trash..

  4. Emily says:

    That is awesome! I am also a big fan of shopping at the “curb store.” My current coffee table was picked up off the curb.

  5. Reg says:

    Really nice project. Garage sale season is coming up if garbage day doesn’t yield any treasures. Sure free is better, but garage sales aren’t expensive if you have something in mind.
    My best garbage find was about 10 ft. of wrought iron fencing in two 5 ft. sections, a couple of years ago. It’s still stored in the shed, but one day I’ll figure out what to do with it.

  6. It’s gorgeous! Who’d have thought something so tattered could turn out to be a beautiful piece of furniture?! Fantastic work! xo wendy

  7. Suanne Jefferies says:

    I love your “how to” posts the very best. I think we need another round of Dollar Store make overs though….it’s been awhile. The suitcase looks so awesome!

  8. Jamieson says:


  9. Laura Bee says:

    Lovely! Wow! I’d love this look, but I have too much stuff on my bedside table.

  10. Bonnie says:

    Wow! I love this!
    Another amazing creation from an amazingly creative person.

    Karen, you rock!

  11. Nancy Eileen says:

    Love it!

  12. Tricia Rose says:

    That is so clever – I love the way it goes with the wood of your (fancy!) bed. I’m going to Pin this one…

  13. Abby says:

    I love this! I’m going to rummage through my grandma’s attic next time I visit-there has to be an old suitcase up there!

  14. Lori says:


  15. mimiindublin says:

    It’s fab! Brilliant idea to use it as bedside table. My friend uses one as hat storage.
    Omg, that trait runs in my family too…rip things apart to see how they work, then abandon them! Are we related Karen?

  16. Rhonda "SmartyPants" says:

    Adorable — and I jumped to the conclusion that the storage aspect was nil because of the top being covered by book, lamp, vase, etc. and then you ‘trumped’ my thought with an “Aha!” and stored some items that would not be used that often but would be necessary to have close by in case the evening turned chilly, etc. Good job, Karen. I am intrigued once again and will now be looking at roadside offerings, thrift store bottom-of-the-bins or the Sunday afternoon end-of-garage-sale giveaways with a new eye. I only wish I could be present when my three kids and their S.O.’s go rummaging through my ‘finds’ after I am long gone and wonder why their mother had a stash of old suitcases, aquariums, porcelain birds, candles and candle holders w/mirror squares so I could tell them, “Blame it on that blogger Karen from The Art of Doing Stuff. It’s her fault for making such pretty stuff from thrown away vintage luggage, capturing and hatching Monarch butterflies, turning $ Store crap into IKEA-like crap, and inspiring me to have 20 or so hostess gifts on hand even though I am too busy making ‘stuff’ to be invited anywhere I might need to take a hostess gift.” (There – thanks for giving me the time to say that as I had no idea it was building up quite like it did – whew, I feel so much better!) :) Love ya.

  17. jane says:

    Beautiful. And your Hudson’s Bay blanket is too. Mine are that winey red.
    One word of caution: Bedbugs love the interior of old luggage. Check carefully….

    • Karen says:

      Jane – Thanks. But there’s literally no interior left! I ripped everything out of it. However, yes … bedbugs are definitely something to be cautious of when pulling things out of the garbage. Always check seams and such. ~ karen

  18. Jen says:

    The garbage in my area sucks! :(

    So jealous. It’s gorgeous.

  19. Kat says:

    I’ve seen alot of suitcase redo’s but never one stripped to the bone. Brilliant!!! I love the Hudson Bay blanket (well it looks like a H B blanket)

  20. Pixieskulls says:

    Wow! you ARE fancy! That came out great!

  21. Amie Mason says:

    Wow! Gorgeous styling. I love and adore your style! I feel inspired to go an finish the piles of started projects laying around my back yard…. maybe…hmmm

  22. gloria says:

    Loved The Book Thief.

    • Patti says:

      The book thief is currently sitting on my bedside table, as well, but I just haven’t been able to bite into it as much as usual. Makes me sad.

      On the flip side – Karen! You’re a genius! I LOVE it! Such a great idea! You’re so full of them!

    • Phedra says:

      Me too! It was a great read.

  23. Raymonde says:

    I never would have guessed those suitcases were made out of wood! It looks great and now, I want one!
    P.S: Why did you remove the inside lining? Was it gross? Did it smell bad? What did you replace it with? Inquiring (nosy) minds want to know!

    • Karen says:

      Raymonde – I honestly can’t remember why I removed the lining. It *was* a bit musty. I think it was getting in the way of me removing the fabric on the outside. I replaced it with white Mac Tac. Which was a big pain. ~ karen!

      • cheryl seals says:

        I feel a new project coming on ! What is MAC TAC ? A tutoral on how you put inside back in would be great! We know you can do it! thx

      • Karen says:

        Hi Cheryl – Mac Tac is stick down shelf paper. And as much as I’d love to do the tutorial, my suitcase is done. And after half a year of himming and hawing about doing it, I’m not about to revisit it, LOL. Basically you just cut the shelf paper to size and stick it down. That’s it! ~ karen

      • cheryl seals says:

        Karen, I wasnt thinking about the fact that your suitcase was already done, can’t do tutorial when it’s finished! (I DOPEy )hehe Thanks for telling me what MacTac is..I think a project is in the making, along with the bizzilion others I have going on.. I used a very very sad beatup suitcase as a planter a few years ago..Nailed it to an equally sad wood stool with the lid open,lined it with a black trash bag (not the it really mattered) and made it into the cutest flower garden! I leaned it against the wall on porch, so lid would stay upright, tied some rusty garden tools an one lone holey glove to handle, really was cute…My friend liked it so well the next year after she had surgery it was sitting on her front porch all newly planted when she arrived home… thx cheryl

      • Karen says:

        Cheryl – I love the garden suitcase idea! ~ karen

  24. Marti says:

    That looks wonderful, Karen! Makes me wonder what you’d do with roadkill? ;)

    Seriously, congrats on a gorgeous and useful project! I now want to shop my neighbors garbage a lot more closely!

    • Karen says:

      Now you have *me* thinking of what I could do with roadkill. Soup? ~ karen

      • Marti says:

        Where’s THAT recipe?

        Made your B-Black Bean soup last week for friends. They loved it because it had so much flavor but didn’t rely on pepper, which is so typical.

      • Mick Nugent says:

        I’m a great believer in preserving wildlife – I always pickle Road Kill !

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