Old Cedar Chest Makeover

I got this chest for $20 off of Craigslist about a year ago. I was looking for a cedar chest in which to store dress-up clothes and costumes. While this one didn’t have as much storage as we were looking for, the price was right, and I saw some fun potential in it.

It was in pretty rough condition, though. It took most of the year to convince my husband that it is ever OK to paint wood. He had plans for this piece, but refinishing it would have been tons of work, so it remained the eyesore it has been for the last year.
Just a couple of weeks ago, my husband found a nicer, bigger cedar chest–in much better condition, at a garage sale down the street for $35. It took over the purpose of the old one (no painting required…at this time), so I felt at liberty to do with this one as I saw fit. And I saw fit to sand it a bit (although I let my husband do that) to even out the surface, and paint it a pale blue to go in the nursery/guest room. My husband had to replace some missing hardware to get the lid to function properly. I think I will use it to store blankets, or more likely all the clothes my child is growing out of every week!
QUESTION: Does anyone know what can be done to the inside of a cedar chest to freshen it up and release it’s wonderful fragrance? Cleaning, sanding?
Here is the after:
I thought I might distress it a bit (it has a lot of it’s own natural distressing), but don’t think it is right with the style of this piece. I could be way off, but I’m guessing it is from the early 1960’s? At any rate, it is kind of a vintage contemporary piece (is there such a thing), and I think the contemporary lines would look a little out of place if they were overly distressed. That being said, the top still shows signs of abuse, despite the sanding and painting. If anyone has any great ideas about how to disguise that better, or distress in an appropriate style, I’d love to hear them.

A close-up before:

and after:
I love how the trim and details stand out when painted!
I was going to cheat and throw in a picture of my adorable baby on top of his new quilt, on top of the chest, but he hasn’t been my most cooperative photo subject, so I’ll just leave you with this sneak peek at what his nursery will look like, if I ever get it put together!

I don’t have time to tell you about my adventures as I took 5 (yes, 5!) children–including my newborn–into Home Depot, by myself to buy the paint and roller for this project. By the time we left, everyone in an orange apron was just shaking their heads, and laughing at me. The things we do for DIY and blogging!
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  1. Ann Marie @ Twice Lovely says:

    Yay! Back to the furniture re-dos!! Fantastic job! What great details in that piece!

  2. Kasey Hunt says:

    Way to go, it looks beautiful!!

  3. Donna @ Party Wishes says:

    Lightly sanding the cedar will freshen it up. Great makeover!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Wow, this is an awesome transformation!

  5. Miss Mustard Seed says:

    It looks great painted! I'm no sure I would distress this piece, but it's totally up to you. 🙂 I think if you sand the cedar, it will freshen up.

  6. The Pennington Point says:

    What an amazing difference! I agree totally with Miss Mustard Seed. I'd sand the inside. Lisa~

  7. {Bellamere Cottage} says:

    So crisp and cheery now!

    Warm blessings,

  8. It's so fresh and lovely now! Love the little details.


  9. I love the details on this piece (I agree about the distress, however, if you really wanted to do it, changing out the legs would give this piece a whole different feel.) Lol, at taking 5 kids shopping, I've been in your shoes :). Oops, forgot to say very nice job!

  10. I love the details on this piece (I agree about the distress, however, if you really wanted to do it, changing out the legs would give this piece a whole different feel.) Lol, at taking 5 kids shopping, I've been in your shoes :). Oops, forgot to say very nice job!

  11. What a great find! Don't think I would distress it. It looks so beautiful!

  12. Lisa @ Fern Creek Cottage says:

    Years ago I heard the saying "just because it's wood, doesn't mean it's good!" Your chest looks wonderful painted white!!

  13. Sarah @ Hennessey House says:

    what a gorgeous piece 🙂 you really brought it back to life!

  14. What if you made the top of the chest into a cushion to sit on. It's not that hard and it would hid all the old marks and such on the top.

  15. Oh by the way I love it! It has such amazing lines and the paint job added so much to it.

  16. gail@myrepurposedlife.net says:

    I like the new look. It is so fresh looking!
    great job

  17. It does look great painted! Men have a wood obsession! Drives me nuts, Ha!
    I love the trim detail on the bottom. The color is so such a soft blue, really pretty.

  18. Rebecca@This Present Life says:

    That is such a unique chest. And I really like how it looks painted! I agree that it doesn't look like it should be distressed. I say leave it as is. It looks great! Saw you at Tatertots and Jello.

  19. looks great that color, I don't think it needs any distressing, the details show really well as it is

  20. Jen @ tatertotsandjello.com says:

    That is the coolest chest Kendra! I just love it. It has such great details! I love the white color!


  21. Hey there. New here, following from Tatertots&Jello. My husband is the same way with wood, I understand. I love the chest but I agree it needs a little bit more polish or pizazz to really pop. I like the idea of making a cushion for the top, but I also think that if you used a brownish tan wood glaze to "stain" it by taking a q-tip dipped in glaze and running it over the detail areas/in the grooves it would look awesome! Or you could do both! Good luck!

  22. Laura Ingalls Gunn says:

    Now this is fabulous~ Well done!

  23. Natalie Catherine says:

    i LOVE how it turned out!! what a great piece. i can't imagine the craziness in home depot with all your little ones…there is something about the open path that makes my sophia want to run wild!! hehe. and i'm the random pregnant lady chasing her down. gotta love it.

  24. Stephanie Cameron says:

    What a unique piece. Perhaps instead of distressing it, you could paint the routed out areas a contrasting color.

  25. To freshen up the interior of the chest, one could apply cedar oil. It's the aromatic oil that is naturally found in the cedar, but you purchase it in a bottle and apply it with a rag.

    Regarding distressing the piece, don't. Instead, apply a darker colored glaze the the piece. You can buy a clear glazing compound, and mix it in 1:1 to 1:4 proportions with dark brown latex paint. The glaze will stick in the cracks, crevises and joints, and make the piece look older and more interesting.

    Good luck.

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