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 with one of these.

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. Data-Samtak Susan says:

    Place any musty/dirty luggage in the sunlight for a few days. That is a tried and true method of airing out and sterilizing old things. I also spray Lysol on the surfaces while the fresh air is working it’s magic.

  2. Sani says:

    Vintage Luggage Make over.

  3. Sani says:

    Do you need my full name? and what do you mean for Website?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sani! I don’t need your full name. 🙂 And the portion for “website” in the comment is for people who have their own blogs or websites they’d like to be linked to in their comment. So you don’t need to worry about that. 🙂 ~ karen!

  4. Sani says:

    Went to your site to see how to finish a red cedar tree trunk, didn’t think about putting legs on it, but I could. Want to put it in my cowboy guest room. The wood is beautiful, will not stain it. Then I saw how you restored an old suitcase. I have one that was my mother’s, from 1953,still looks good, but I don’t care for he blue color. I use it in the guest bed room on a stand and guests put their suit case on top. the guest room theme is the beach, and the suitcase is stuffed with shells. Any idea about what color to paint the case?

    • Karen says:

      Well, it depends on what you like and the other colours in the room Sani. But really I would go one of two says. If you like things to be monochromatic and blend, I’d do the suitcase white so it blends with the shells. Or you could go the complete opposite and have contrast with a dark colour. Not black, but maybe a dark, slate grey. Like I said, it’s hard to say when I haven’t seen the room but with a beach theme, either of those natural colours found on a beach would go. ~ karen!

  5. Kelly says:

    omg…this is my life. I found a suitcase, same make as yours, same stuff on the outside and I’ve been using it as a prop at my craft markets. I’ve wanted to put product in it, but it smelled. So it sat with kitty litter in it for like 4 months (waaaaaay longer than they say to…i may have totally forgot about it) It smelled a bit better, but still wasn’t confident in putting product in it. Still used it as a prop though…closed. A few weeks ago I stripped the fabric out of it and started peeling paper/cardboard/some kind of paper stuff. And the glue!!!! I left it outside. Brought it back in, used it as a prop again. This week I opened it back up, the smell still there, I went to work on the glue. Wet it, scrape it, use some Goo Gone. *WTF why isn’t this coming off!!!!* I’ve made it down to the bare wood…on the inside. I may have sanded it, put it outside and left it in the rain for an hour…(I didn’t know it was raining!) Poor suitcase.

    I really liked my outer finish…until I saw yours!!!!!! plus, it still smells so I’m wondering if it’s in the outer lining…I’m at the point of “do I or don’t I?” strip the entire thing.

    This has me curious and hopeful. Yours looks amazing!!!!

  6. Patty R. says:

    My first one I picked was wood on the edges only with heavy cardboard sides…It looked SO MUCH like yours to begin with. I will give it a few months on the back burner before choosing the next to autopsy. Will let you know if I get as lucky as you did! Thanks again!!

  7. Patty R. says:

    I know I am way behind on this post but I am doing a happy dance at 5:38 a.m. because I bought 7 (THATS RIGHT… S E V E N) of these suitcases from our local antique store for a buck a piece, plus a couple more at thrift stores for not much more. I store fabric in them but KNEW they had more potential, just hadn’t peeled back a crack yet, I so am bad about that too. I didn’t want to just paint or cover them. Oh you have SO made my MONTH in “case” you didn’t realize it. Thank you so much for braving that territory & sharing your exploits!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Patty R. You’re welcome, lol! I’m not sure how old the luggage has to be to have the wood interior but here’s hoping you have at least some that are. And with upwards of 10 suitcases or so I’m sure you have a pretty good shot. Mine is currently in my foyer looking really good indeed. I still love it! ~ karen

  8. Lindsey says:

    About a year ago my mom gave me an old fabric sided train case. I have been searching for months for how to redo it, but all I get are sites that tell me how to cover it in fabric. When I came across your post showing the wood, HOLY LIGHTBULB!!!!!!!! I took it outside today and ripped off the nasty fabric. The bottom wood piece came off, but I can replace that! And the top will get replaced, but the body is in great shape when I get it sanded down. I will go buy a razor squeegee tomorrow to get the rest of the paper lining out, and then drive my hubby crazy by calling it that. Thank you so much for showing us this great project. And I will definitely be staining mine and not covering it up.

  9. rusty says:

    I have a sax case looks just like that. The leather strips on the side need to be re-sewn. Is that possible?

  10. Rose says:

    I have 14 vintage suitcases, all different sizes, colors…don’t know what to do with them…

  11. Tony Hoover says:

    Stumbled across this while looking for a bed. I want to use my old suitcase for storage under a bed but want them visible. Was thinking maybe a Shaker Pine but not canopy. I want it simple. I have the same blanket that I throw over the end.
    Nice job by the way. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Going now to see more of your ideas.

  12. bridget says:

    what an awesome find!

  13. Kelly says:

    I am trying this project but the fabric is not coming off easily at all, any suggestions?


    • Karen says:

      Kelly – Just keep pulling and scraping with a razor squeegee thing. But be careful! You can also try heating it up with a hairdryer, but I’m not sure if that will help or not. ~ karen!

  14. Diane McEwen says:

    Brilliant! I love it. You are very clever Karen.. It turned out beautiful. I had some old Samsonite faux leather cases and it broke my heart to get rid of them when we moved into a small apartment. However, I will now keep looking for one or two similar and do just this. All I have to do is move into a house with a guest room!! The house we are in now is also very small.. Most of my lovely stuff is in storage.. One day Diane… One day.. I enjoy your site very much. I have been going through all my different blogs I follow and thought about deleting some because I don’t have time to follow them all.. It is a shame as people have such wonderful ideas and are so talented. You my dear are not on the delete list! You are very diverse and talented. See you again soon.. 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Phew! LOL. ~ karen

      • Diane McEwen says:

        🙂 thanks Karen. I am just reading your beeswax sandwich bags instructions. Gee who knew! I am passing it on to share so my daughter can be impressed not only with you but with me too.. She will know I actually read and try to do the right thing with regard to Mother Nature… but I do love re-using my veggie plastic bags and this will impress you, I re-use cling film (plastic wrap) too if its clean, as I wrap bits up for my dogs or I wrap bones etc. for the freezer until garbage day.. whatever won’t go into the compost. Now that’s pretty on the button me thinks! (Y) Best of luck with your Spring Project too. Sounds like something I would have done many moons ago.. Keep well..

  15. Kelly says:

    Ugh. Sometimes I hate you a little bit because you’re so darn clever! Now I want one of these, and I just know that the next 17 vintage suitcases I pick up from the side of the road will have nothing but ugly sticky plastic underneath!

    Thanks for the inspiration though. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for suitcases and roadkill to turn into nightstands.

    • Karen says:

      Um … Kelly … I don’t think you wanna turn roadkill into a nightstand. Clearly roadkill is much better suited to becoming a lamp. ~ karen

  16. Alixandra Bouchard says:

    Bahahah you are the smartest. I JUST found a suitcase too! But mines not wood I dont think. But still a good idea for it!

  17. It is totally beautiful Karen!! Amazing that you thought to strip it down instead of painting it. What a find. We did something similar with old army trunks. I think they were for hauling music equipment or bombs…not sure.
    Have a great day! Cheers.

  18. sera says:

    Looks beautiful! Ages and ages ago I bought four of these at an antique mall and stacked the up to make a bedside table. I even had them out in my living room for a while, but they are currently being used as storage and are tucked in the back of my closet. All three of mine were leather and weren’t in terrible condition, although they do smell a bit musty inside. I guess that’s the real reason I have fabric softener sheets.

  19. Pam says:

    Wow, I was so surprised to see the suitcase as a nightstand. I love it , also love the rough linen and that cute mirror over the bed

  20. Sara says:

    Gorgeous! Your procrastination paid off.

  21. Barbie says:

    Oh I love this!! I will now be on the hunt for one of those for my daughter who needs a nightstand. Where did you find that cool suitcase stand? With my luck I will find the suitcase that is perfect and then never be able to find that cool stand! It looks antique as well.

  22. Beth H. says:

    That is really beautiful! The next time I see a suitcase like that at a yard sale or estate sale, I hope they don’t mind if I tear a small patch off of the covering to see what’s underneath. I never knew those were made of wood. Great inspiration!

  23. erica says:

    That looks AWESOME! The way you described your transformation process seems so familiar to me!!! Thanks for inspiring us again….

  24. mayr says:

    J’adore your clever brain!

  25. katy oneill says:

    You’re amazing. I’ve been lugging around my grandparents old case just like that one since I was a teenager (I’m 40 something now) each time I’ve moved (a zillion times). I’ve always known I wanted to restore it or repurpose it somehow, but UNTIL TODAY, I never found quite the right project.
    Somewhere I think my mother still has her old Hudson Bay blanket even.
    She also has an old Hudson Bay jacket I keep wondering how to use or repurpose.

  26. stephbo93 says:

    Wood?!? No wonder the things are so damn heavy!! Great job!

  27. Mariella says:

    Hi Karen,
    Beautiful project. Quick question. What stain color did u use? I often wonder if the color of the stain will vary once applied on different thpe of wood.


    • Karen says:

      Hi Mariella – The type of wood is almost as responsible for the finished colour as the stain itself. I used a mixture of a few different stains including Minwax Early American and Puritan Pine. I used each individually, mixed them together and in some cases swiped one over the other on the actual wood, in order to get a more aged look to the wood. When you want to stain something get a few different stain samples to try and test them in a discrete area of the wood. ~ karen!

      • Mariella says:

        Hi Karen,

        Thank you for the advice. I tried the wood stump project u posted a while back, but mine turned down very dark. I stained it because i thought it was too light. It wasn’t until i read it again that you mention that poly would make it dark and then it would light a bit again. I love the honey color that u do on your pieces. Thank you.


  28. Laura M says:

    Gorgeous wide plank flooring in your bedroom. Is it original to the house or did you add it?

  29. Jill says:

    The Book Theif is number 1 on my fav books right now. The writing and characters are so beautiful it will make you cry. I’ve had this idea of making a suitcase nightstand for my guest room for as long as you’ve had that suitcase, but you’ve completely owned that project!Congrats on finishing! Beautiful work. Thanks for inspiring me!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Jill. Wait’ll you see what I have to inspire you with coming up in a few weeks, LOL. Inspire might be the wrong word. Frighten probably works better. 🙂 ~ karen

  30. Laurinda says:


  31. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I have three very old Samsonites that I suspect are wood..luckily they are in great condition and don’t have to be re-done..They are just worn enough to give them character..I wonder how people lugged them around after they were packed full of stuff..You did an awesome job and save it from the trash..I commend you both..Now hand over the HB blanket and nobody gets hurt!

  32. Nancy Carr says:

    Great transformation.

  33. Bonnie G. says:

    Sorry, I typed Erin( daughter’s name) instead of my own.

  34. Erin says:

    Looks great Karen! I have three vintage suitcases in my stash – they’ve been here for more than ten years (OMG, did I just admit that?!!) My plan is to stack them according to size and add bun feet for use as an accent or end table but I need to think about it a while. After all, I wouldn’t want to be too impulsive! Oh and my favorite trunk is covered in houndstooth.
    Enjoy your table!

  35. toekneetoni says:

    *humbling bowing to your genius*

  36. rktrixy says:

    Really, really nice. It has a visual simplicity to it that I really like… my first inclination would have been to leave the old fabric on, put a light cotton batting on and upholster it. Attach little feet. Ta-da – ottoman/storage. But the wood is really really lovely.

  37. Evlayn says:

    I love old luggage – recently bought a steamer trunk in excellant condiditon. I use it for craft storage.

    I only get old suitcases with good linings – that’s my favorite part – I could never have taken the lining out of yours since it looked to be in good condition. I have an old Samsonite with silk lining, cream background with little red palm trees.

  38. mickey says:

    Incredibly awesome!!!

  39. Jrn says:

    Karen- I am so envious! It is absolutely gorgeous. And so perfect in the bedroom. Staining it was the right decision. It looked fine with the bare wood but this is a whole other level.

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