Vintage Trunk Coffee Table and a Color Wash Tutorial

Vintage trunk coffee table

Happy Spring! I started writing this post last Sunday evening and am just now getting around to finishing it. Just one of those weeks. I know everyone says that weekends are too short, but oh my goodness. I can’t tell you how true that statement feels for me lately. There are so many ideas bouncing around in my head and just not enough time to do them all. Some people spend the weekends Netflix bingeing and adventure seeking and party going. I just try to squeeze in as many projects as I can in 48 hours. I go, go, go, and then suddenly Sunday night arrives and I realize that it’s back to real life in the morning for five more days.

I spent this past week working on a few different things, but none of them are ready to share yet. But! I did finally get around to taking some photos of this blue beauty! Just look at her!

Probably almost a year ago, I purchased this vintage trunk from a thrift store for $40. I don’t even know if that’s a good price because this store tends to be pretty pricey, but I had been looking for a trunk for a lonnnnggggg time and needed to seize the opportunity.

It was in pretty rough shape. It was dirty, the handles were falling off (actually just kind of disintegrating), and the inside was lined with dirty, old, smelly paper. Here it is in the store before I took it home.

Vintage trunk coffee table

It did have a couple of old tags inside, though, which was pretty cool. I couldn’t find a year or anything but it looked like it was used at some point to transport someone’s belongings. I just love finding old stuff like this and imagining the story that a piece of furniture could tell. Like when I found mail in the drawer of my most recent thrift store dresser makeover and realized that it had belonged to a woman I knew! So cool.

After bringing this trunk home, I cleaned the outside (I’m not gonna lie, I still haven’t completely tackled the inside) and it sat as is for the summer. I couldn’t decide what to do with it. Then, in the fall, I decided one day to paint it light blue. It was getting somewhere, but I still wasn’t totally happy with it, so it continued to sit unloved and unfinished.

Then, this winter I started feeling feisty. After picking up a new shade of blue chalk paint at Joann’s one weekend, I decided to experiment. I did a color wash (keep reading for the full step-by-step) and this is how it turned out. Blue, beachy, vintage-y, kinda French-y, and maybe even a little pirate-y. Basically me in trunk form.

Vintage trunk coffee table

To get this look I used a color washing technique. This is one of my favorite things to do with chalk paint. You simply water down a color (or white if you want to whitewash) and paint it on, and then wipe it back to give it a nice, sort of streaky look.

Isn’t this lovely lady beautiful, in all her imperfect glory? One day, when I finally get around to cleaning the inside (must. find. the strength.) this will be a perfect place to store blankets and extra throw pillows. But for now, she’ll do just fine as is.


How to do a color wash technique using chalk paint.


  • Drop cloth and a clean work area
  • Chalk paint (I used a combination of three shades of Folk Art Home Decor Chalk Paint – Nantucket Blue, Glacier, and Cascade)
  • Container for mixing
  • Water
  • Two inch angled Purdy brush (this is my go-to)
  • Paper towel or clean, lint-free rags
  • Valspar Sealing Wax from their chalk finish line
  • Wax brush or two inch paint brush

Here’s how to do this color wash:

Clean your piece. I usually just use vinegar water and a clean rag or paper towel. Just make sure there is no dust or debris.

Apply a base coat to the entire piece and let dry completely. As I mentioned, I actually did my base coat (in Glacier, a very light blue) months before the rest, so it had plenty of time to dry 😉

Now it’s time for the color wash. For this project, I used a custom color for the top coat. I mixed three shades until I found a color that I thought looked pretty. I can’t tell you the ratio I used. I just kept adding and mixing until it looked good. Helpful, right?!

Chalk paint color wash


Once you’ve got your paint color ready, you’ll need to water it down to make your wash. Slowly add water to your container, while mixing, until you get a pretty thin consistency, almost like an egg wash. You kind of just need to eyeball it. The more water you add, the less opaque your color will show up. If you want a darker, more solid color, use less water. If you want more streaky and light, use more water. I recommend starting with less water and adding more until you find the right consistency, because you can always add more water, rather than adding more paint (especially if you’re using a custom mix)

Note that when mixing a custom color and/or creating a wash, you’ll either want to write down exact ratios or (as I did) make more than you need. The last thing you want is to run out of paint when you’re 3/4 of the way through your project and then not be able to recreate the exact color!

Now you’re ready to apply the wash! Dip your paint brush into the wash and let some of the excess drip off. Remember, it’s going to be really watered down, so it will drip. Make sure you’re working on top of a drop cloth! And try not to drip your wash onto any part of the piece that you aren’t painting.

You’re going to want to work in smallish sections, and make sure you have a plan before attacking. I started on the back side of this trunk since I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like.

Apply the wash with your paint brush, just as your normally would, to a small section. Then, set your brush down and pick up your rag, and wipe the paint you just applied using even strokes. Essentially, you’re doing a few things at once: spreading out the wash, wiping it back to expose the base color, and making the top coat nice and thin for that streaky, “whitewashed” effect. Always wipe your rag in the direction that you want the streaks to appear (for me this was left to right). Once you’re ready, move on to the next section. Paint it on, and then when you wipe it back, make your sections overlap so that it all blends together and you don’t end up with lines. Continue to do this until your piece is fully painted. On my trunk, I pretty much divided each long side plus the top in half, and did each of the short sides as one section.

The most important thing to remember is that this is an art, not a science. Feel free to experiment with different consistencies, different colors, and different wiping techniques. If you end up hating it (or even if it’s just meh) you can always start over! That’s the beauty of DIY! It might be frustrating to have to redo something you’ve already done, but in the end, you’ll be happy with the result.

Time to wax. Once your piece is finished, let it dry completely*, then apply your wax. For this piece, I chose to use the Valspar Sealing Wax from their line of chalk finish products (I waxed this piece at the same time as my vintage French arm chair). I wanted a liquidy wax that I could apply with a brush, as opposed to the Minwax Paste Finishing Wax I often use on pieces (like my painted kitchen chairs or this little farmhouse side table).

*For me, when it comes to projects, I’m both really impatient and also really lazy. I usually don’t wait long enough to let the paint dry (and that’s usually just fine), or else I move on to the next thing and forget about it and come back days, weeks, or (ahem…) months later. In this case, I let my piece sit for multiple days I mean, I allowed several days for the paint to cure, and then came back to wax it. In all seriousness though, you should probably at least wait overnight for the paint to cure before applying wax. I haven’t had any problems, but I’ve read about people applying the wax too soon after painting and it removing the paint or making it streaky or discolored.

To apply the wax, I use an old two inch paint brush. You could also use a brush specifically designed for wax, but I’ve never used one and an old paint brush seems to work just fine.

Dip your brush into the wax to get a small amount on the tips of the bristles and then apply to your piece. The way I would describe applying the wax would be to use a “pushing” motion rather than a “wiping” motion, meaning you’re pushing the wax into the paint, rather than painting it on. Make sense? You want the wax to fuse with the paint, not sit on top. This is why I use an old paint brush, so I can really beat it up. Working in sections, apply the wax, and then use a clean rag to wipe off any excess. For this piece, I worked one side at a time to allow the wax a minute or two to sit before wiping it back. I would apply the wax to one whole side, and then go back and wipe off the excess. 

Once you’ve applied your wax to the full piece, let it dry completely. Depending on the traffic your piece will get, you may want to do multiple coats. For this, I only did one coat, but I’m starting to think I should have done two or three. If applying multiple coats, wait a few hours in between.

For this piece, I did not buff it out, but if you want to, you can buff using a clean, lint-free cloth after allowing the wax to completely cure. I’d wait a full 24 hours before buffing.

For the final touches on this trunk, I repaired the disintegrating handles with superglue, and then painted them dark gray. I won’t ever actually use the handles to lift this trunk, and I didn’t want to deal with replacing them (remember, impatient!), so this is just a cosmetic fix.

And there you have it! I had a really hard time photographing this because I’m trying to hide the rest of our living room, including our hideous gray couch that’s currently covered in a makeshift slipcover (and by makeshift slipcover, I mean a drop cloth that I’ve thrown over the top and tucked in all over). It looks way better in real life than it does in photos, I promise! Our house is work in progress, and I’m really self-conscious about my decorating abilities because I feel like I’m still learning, so it’s kind of intimidating to put it all out there. But what I do feel confident and excited about are my DIY projects, and I’m not going to let my fear of decorating or my ugly couch get in the way of sharing them with the world!

Happy DIYing!

Vintage trunk coffee table

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