Steamer Trunks

Gently Used, Vintage, and Antique Steamer Trunks

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Steamer Trunks

INVEST IN ESTEEMED VINTAGE STEAMER TRUNKS

Most of us are looking to offload extra baggage. Vintage steamer trunks defy convention; however. Rather than shirk these parcels, most of us wouldn’t mind accumulating a few more. The reasons buyers flip for old steamer trunks vary, but, generally, those who are besotted with them are looking to add them to their homes in unique ways. Whether used as a coffee table, an end-of-the-bed bench, or a pop-up bar, restored steamer trunks are a surefire way to add adventurous style to any home. Considering adding an antique steamer trunk to your home, but not sure exactly how you want to use one yet? To help, we’re spotlighting some of the most genius ways to use vintage steamer trunks, plus giving you tips for the shapes and sizes that work best.

What is a Steamer Trunk?

Traditionally, steamer trunks were used throughout the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries to ship passengers’ belongings across the world. The name “steamer” derives from the ocean liners or steamboats on which these trunks typically made their passage. Steamer trunks are generally constructed of wood (pine is perhaps the most commonly used wood) and are covered in decorative, durable outer layers like hide, canvas, or leather. To up their function, most come equipped with a series of leather handles or straps. These straps allowed the steamer trunk to be easily lifted by shipmates and secured in place as needed once aboard.

Some steamer trunks possess curved lids. Originally, the design's purpose was two-fold. In the most functional sense, the domed top expanded the interior space, allowing the owner to stow a few extra belongings. Once seaborne, these domed steamer trunks offered another benefit: their curved tops meant they could not have other trunks stacked on top of them. Owning one basically mandated that your trunk would be placed atop all of the others.

4 GENIUS WAYS TO USE A VINTAGE STEAMER TRUNK

Given that steamer trunks are no longer used to schlep our most prized possessions across seas, they’re opportune for reinvention. While we applaud radical reinventions like turning an old steamer trunk into a chesterfield chair, we especially love the simplicity of the ideas below. And if you think an old wardrobe steamer trunk might be too specific for your decor, think again. From polished mahogany boxes to the all-revered Louis Vuitton steamer chest, there are an array of options that are the polar opposite of industrialist-looking or machinist.

Use a Steamer Trunk as a Nightstand

While standard-sized cabin trunks may not be best for this role, those with slightly modified dimensions (i.e. a taller height and shorter width) can make arresting (and unexpected) nightstands. For reference: standard nightstands typically measure between 24” and 28” high. If you are able to locate a steamer trunk with the correct width, but not the right height, consider stacking two units together. Alternatively, if you have a low platform bed, searching for an equally low profile steamer trunk can make hunting for a nightstand infinitely easier. If you feel like the set-up lacks oomph, try setting a tall, vertical mirror or painting on top of the trunk. It can provide visual height that a low nightstand and bed are lacking.

Use a Steamer Trunk as a Bar

Wardrobe steamer trunks, often equipped with interior drawers, cubbies, and shelves, have been repurposed as standing bars for decades. Rather than functioning as a closed trunk, these bars are made by turning the wardrobe trunks vertical and propping open the lid to create an open, bi-fold bar. While these makeshift bars are perfect for energizing an underutilized corner in an apartment or dining room, there’s nothing quite like the simplicity of a tall vintage steamer trunk outfitted with a pair of simple iron legs to create a console-like table. Topped with a leaning mirror, the arrangement becomes the perfect perch for your libation library.

Use a Steamer Trunk as a Coffee Table

There’s something wonderfully bon vivant about using an antique steamer trunk as a coffee table. To ensure that a steamer trunk looks like an intentional coffee table, invest in a rug that’s large enough to accommodate your sofa and the trunk. You’ll also want to make sure that your trunk is at least as high as your sofa’s seat. If it’s not, not all is lost. Any gaps in height can be visually remedied with a tall stack of books or vertical sculpture, but it is worth noting that the discrepancy will slightly affect the trunk’s functionality as a table. If the trunk you’re using comes outfitted with straps that make the surface uneven, try topping it with a heavy tray to make the surface more usable.

Use a Steamer Trunk as a Bench

Uses for domed steamer trunks are sparse, so feel free to include them in the running for this reinvention if you like, especially if you’re looking to create a bench “effect” more than an actual seat. Employ a steamer chest as a bench wherever it most suits you, be it at the foot of the bed or in an entry. Keep in mind that lower profile trunks are more likely to read as traditional benches, and a pillow or two never hurts, either! Best of all, using a vintage steamer trunk as a bench allows you easy access to the trunk's interior. Fill it with extra throws, bed pillows, or board games you want at the ready, but don't necessarily want hogging precious closet space.