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How To Distress A Painted Trunk

In this post I teach you how to distress a painted trunk to showcase all the beautiful details. Distressing paint adds depth and character to any piece of furniture

embossed antique trunk
embossed antique trunk

I bought this cedar chest many years ago and kept it as is for a while. I moved it from room to room when re-decorating or changing decor for the seasons. Well, after a while I decided to paint it. Have you ever painted something and just weren’t happy with the outcome? Sometimes I paint things more than once……or twice. It’s okay to do that.

painted antique trunk

I didn’t like how the paint makeover for the trunk turned out.  I gave it a kind-of an overall white wash and I didn’t do a good job of it. I freely admit that. But at the time I didn’t want to repaint it. The trunk set in the master bedroom until a few months ago and was a clothes catch-all.

I found a really cool cedar chest a while ago and decided to replace the yucky looking trunk with the cedar chest. It set in the workshop for a few months until one day I was looking for something to paint and it caught my eye…..


Some of you probably will not like the fact that I painted this trunk in the first place. It was a mess to start with. The tin was torn and pulled away in places and the wood was a bit buckled. It wasn’t really a candidate for refinishing. So for the paint finish I decided to go with white or I should say an off-white. I’m not really a fan of stark white.

antique trunk painted white

I mixed two Behr paints together to get an off-white. Still trying to use up all that paint on the shelves. The paint doesn’t look off-white until you hold something white against it and then the difference is obvious. I applied two coats of paint. (my favorite white chalk finish paint on Amazon here)

how to distress white paint

After the paint dried overnight I began the distressing process. I grabbed flexible 3M sandpaper 220 grit and started distressing the paint by hand.  I find I can get a better grip on the sandpaper if I fold it double.  The paint was coming off but not very much and not very fast. I changed to flexible sandpaper 100 grit. It was a bit better but I was still working too hard with little to show for it. (flexible sandpaper on Amazon here)

I changed to regular sandpaper (not flexible) 80 grit and that did the trick. It still took a bit of time and work to distress the paint on the whole trunk. I would step back, look at my distressing results, and say “not enough”. I finally quit. That is the thing with distressed paint. You can distress lightly, medium, or go for the heavily distressed paint look.

embossed tin trunk painted white and distressed
embossed tin trunk painted white and distressed

The embossed tin looks so pretty distressed. I noticed when distressing the trunk that a bit of the stain or something was coming through the paint in areas. That was okay because it gave the paint a bit of an aged look.

paint a trunk

The trunk really does look better now…..and different. The top of the trunk is slightly rounded which means it’s not a candidate for a coffee table or side table. That’s one reason I’m letting it go.

how to paint and distress and antique trunk

The trunk latches don’t want to snap closed very easily either. I just leave them open.

Antique Embossed Tin Trunk Painted White

I staged the photo with a vintage handmade quilt from my collection and a pretty turquoise straw bag I picked up at Michael’s on clearance for $4. A steal.

In this post I teach you how to distress a painted antique trunk to showcase all the beautiful details. It's okay to paint antique furniture and distressing the paint adds character.

Do you like the trunk painted or no? Won’t hurt my feelings either way just be nice in your comments. Please leave a comment before heading off to see the other projects. Time to see what my favorite furniture painters have for us today. Just click those pink links below……

Repurposed Footstool Makeover – Girl In The Garage
Vintage Chest Nightstands – Prodigal Pieces
Television Cabinet Makeover – Confessions Of A Serial Diyer
Best Paint Sprayer For Furniture – Just The Woods
Duncan Phyfe Coffee Table Makeover – The Interior Frugalista
Antique Trunk Makeover – Petticoat Junktion (you are here)

As always thanks for being here and have a great day, Kathy

Author: Kathy Owen
Kathy Owen is the founder of the home decor blog Petticoat Junktion where she shares tutorials on painting furniture and upcycling thrifty finds into unique home décor. Her DIY projects have been featured on the Home Depot Blog, Plaid Crafts, Behr Designer Series, and in numerous magazines. Kathy’s newest website is HappyHomeDIY.com

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  1. This is a great idea. I have a trunk and have not been able to decide just what I wanted to do to it. You are an inspiration. Thanks!!!!

  2. I’m not sure I understand your question Donna? Do you mean the trunk or are you talking about a cedar chest I painted in the past?

  3. The trunk looks so much better! Now a question. What did you do to the cedar chest? I need to redo my cedar chest that my hubby gave me when we got married (1957). Looking for ideas! ?

  4. Haha, I think I remember this makeover the first time you shared it! (Good old TFMD.. we’ve come a long way, LOL) It looks absolutely gorgeous now, like the white and distressing were meant to be. I didn’t even notice the embossed tin before!

  5. I knew I’d seen this trunk before! Yes love the new look so much better! White just fixes everything doesn’t it?? XO

  6. Oh Kathy, those lovely details just pop now. So much prettier painted white! I’d have a hard time parting with this one. I’m sure it’ll be gone in no time for you 🙂

  7. I think we’ve all been there at one point or another and fun to see our paint journey. I love the new look!

  8. The final result is stunning. Glad you like to paint because that was a very time consuming project!