Vintage cedar chest update- before and after

In our new home, there isn’t really a place to have a mudroom. As it turns out, mudrooms weren’t really a thing in the 1920s. So we decided that we were going to use a corner of the morning room (which is just around the corner from our back door) to create a mud space where we could drop our shoes and coats.

After throwing around several ideas and drafts of large mudroom storage cabinets and lockers, we determined that they would likely be too bulky for the space. We decided instead to have a storage bench with some coat hooks above. 

The vintage cedar chest 'before' photo
The vintage cedar chest ‘before’ photo

The cedar chest

A few days after making this decision, I found this really cool vintage cedar chest at Goodwill. The inside of the chest looked brand new and still smelled of cedar, but the outside was another story. The original finish appeared to have been covered by some sort of grey stain that was worn off in places. There were significant scratches on the top of the piece and some of the decorative accents were broken or missing. 

After determining that it was sturdy enough and an appropriate height to serve as a bench, I decided to bring it home.

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Cedar chest update

The first thing we did was to clean the chest. We used a naptha solution and some elbow grease to remove the initial layer of dirt and finish. Once it was clean, we used a chisel to remove the flourish on the front. It was broken and a bit too ornate for our taste. 

Some of the damage on the chest before the update
Some of the damage on the chest before the update

Next, we used an iron and damp towel to attempt to iron out some of the worst dents and scratches. This is a technique that often helps reduce damage to wood that has been dented or compressed. We then filled any remaining dents with wood filler or wood epoxy putty.

Once the wood filler and epoxy dried, the next step was to sand down the entire piece. We did this using 200 grit sandpaper. After sanding, we wiped away any excess dust to prepare the piece for painting. 

Because we know the piece will suffer a lot of wear and tear, we first used the paint sprayer to cover the chest in primer. You certainly don’t have to use a paint sprayer to paint a piece like this, but it is much faster than painting the piece by hand and it results in a much smoother finish. I also recommend using a good quality primer. It was essential for this piece that the primer not only increased paint adhesion, but also was stain-blocking because of the previous finish that had been applied.

Once the primer had dried, we used the sprayer to paint the chest. Although it is quite expensive, we used the Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel for this piece at the recommendation of a professional painter. We wanted a good quality paint that would be resistant to scratching and fading and that would apply evenly. We have used this paint on several projects and have been very impressed with it so far.

The cedar chest 'after' photo
The cedar chest ‘after’ photo

We decided to use SW 243 Distance which is nice grey-blue color. The other furniture we have purchased for the morning room is very neutral so we thought this would be a good way to bring some color into the room.

Final touches

The next thing we decided to do was to change out the hinges on the chest. The original hinges, although they were a beautiful copper color, allowed the lid to close very quickly. I am not a fan of smashing my fingers, so Brian changed them out for some less attractive but more functional soft-close hinges. He also had to add a piano hinge to give the soft-close hinges some stability.

Finally, Brian cut out inserts for the cedar chest out of ⅛ inch plywood to organize our shoes. We intentionally made some of the inserts larger for larger shoes.

The inside of the cedar chest with inserts
The inside of the cedar chest with inserts

After all pieces were coated in lacquer and dried, the piece was finished! I am very happy with how it turned and and can’t wait to see it in the morning room once that space is ready.

Tools used

The tools we used for this project are listed below:

  1. Naptha for cleaning the piece
  2. Chisel to remove broken accent pieces
  3. Iron to minimized dents and scratches
  4. Thin towel which was dampened with water to put between the iron and the furniture
  5. Wood filler and/or wood epoxy putty
  6. 200 grit sandpaper
  7. Paint sprayer
  8. Primer
  9. Paint – we used Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel
  10. Soft-close hinges
  11. Piano hinge
  12. ⅛ inch plywood

I look forward to using this piece and love that it is one-of-a-kind. What do you think? What creative mudroom solutions have you come up with?

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