Wardrobe Trunk

I spent a good many weekends in 2014 refitting an old wardrobe trunk I bought at Chiswick Car Boot Market for £90. This wonderful piece of furniture and now it takes pride of place as a working wardrobe in the Oak Bedroom.

[German Wardrobe Trunk]
I bought an old German wardrobe trunk in 2014 to restore for Colondannes.
It was in reasonably good shape when I acquired it save for the damaged lining and a few serious dents and knocks. The exterior leather handles had perished and the entirety looked a bit tired, faded and worn. Nevertheless this was clearly a magnificent example of a lost manufacturing art.

The trunk is of unknown German manufacture but sported travel billets from Hungary and Italy which appeared to be from the 1930s-50s. It clearly belonged to R.B. The centre panel had a billet from the Grand Hotel Molveno, on the shores of the lake of the same name near Trento in northern Italy. This hotel opened in 1906 for wealthy alpinists.

[German Wardrobe Trunk belonging to R.B.]
German Wardrobe Trunk once belonging to R.B.
With the aid of a Dremel and assorted other tools I set about cleaning and polishing the exterior.

[Cleaning the Exterior]
Cleaning the brass fittings on the exterior
What I had at first thought to be leather pinned bindings turned out to be ersatz! Had they been leather they probably would have been in very poor condition. Instead they proved to be made of more durable Preßstoff, a German invention comprising layers of densely compressed and layered paper pulp. It responded well to shoe creams and brown boot polish.

[Presstoff Binding]
Presstoff could be used in almost every application normally filled by leather.
I had initially thought to reline the trunk with fresh fabric, the existing material having ripped and moulded. However, this proved a little beyond my skill-set and I hit upon an altogether better idea. I love maps! Always have, always will. What if I were to découpage the entire insides with old French maps? I set about acquiring some.

Now old maps don’t come too cheap it turns out. I dread to think how much I spent in the getting of them – probably at least £30. But the ultimate effect was well-worth the outlay. In fact, découpage didn’t really work for me at all. Déchirage was le vrai truc in the end.

I opted for tearing over cutting so this is, more properly, déchirage.
Cutting did not give a natural shape to the map fragments whereas tearing did. I didn’t want the thing to look like the Middle East.

Indeed, the old leather handles were coming to bits and the surface of the trunk was very dry.

[Old Handles]
Had to find replacements for these old handles.
But ultimately, with a bit of online assistance we were able to handle it!

[New handles]
Totally handled….
Even the little rusty pins holding the Preßstoff in place needed some love. So we gave it to them….

[Rusty Pins]
Of all the tools at my disposal, my Dremel clone is the most versatile. Here we clean the rust from the heads of the  Preßstoff pins.
Cleaning an waxing was done with fine sandpaper and neutral or light tan polish.

A plain french wax cream gives the Preßstoff a much-needed drink after 80 years!
Many hours of weekend were spent tearing and gluing, tearing and gluing….

[Déchirage in action]
There’s a lot of tearing and gluing of many maps going on here. Whole new countries are coming into being…
The drawers were also done, inside and out….

[Map Drawers]
Mapped, glued and drying before varnish is applied.
Finally, after several coats of varnish the wardrobe trunk is transformed into a unique piece of French furniture!

[We are finished!]
All six drawers have been covered and varnished as has the interior.