My mom went to a decorator showhouse last year, and she told me that the decorator had stacked vintage suitcases as a table. Given my fondness for suitcases, mom thought I might like to know.
Sure, you can use suitcases as tables. And dressers. And sewing cases, craft storage, Christmas ornament boxes, and cat beds. I’ve done all of them, because I have a slight collecting problem when it comes to vintage suitcases. When I brought home a bright red, Amelia Earheart 1970s suitcase and matching train case a couple months ago, my sister just sighed and said, “Another one?”
Actually, I gave that set to a friend. The 1970s is too late a period for my tastes. I love the sets of the 1940s through the early 1960s. And my new favorite is the Samsonite Streamlite series.
This luggage line was produced between the late 1930s and early 1960s by Samsonite. It’s a composite of printed paper and acetate over an incredibly sturdy wood frame. The company called it “better than leather,” and it cleans up easily with Windex. Mine is in the natural rawhide finish, a sort of marbled ivory color.
The stuff wears like iron and is about as heavy. It’s definitely from a time when you had porters and bellhops to haul your stuff around, because the large pieces, fully packed, could probably give the average woman a hernia.
The insides are covered in cloth, with shirred pockets and straps and all kinds of niceties. The woman’s wardrobe case (21″ x 18″), even has a hanger and bar contraption to keep your full dresses crease free.
The ladies’ overnight (21″ x 13″) is a smaller version of the wardrobe, without the hanger and bar. The vanity overnight (15″ x 10.5″) is a fabulous size, and loaded with little pockets and whatnot. I’m using mine now as a sewing case.
And then there’s the train case. Why, exactly, did we stop using train cases? They are endlessly useful, attractive, and make a nice footrest on the train or plane. I have one that matches the rawhide set, plus two others in the company’s Hawaiian blue finish. They measure about 13″ x 8″ x 9″. Unlike the fabric-lined suitcases, the train cases have a vinyl finish so you can wipe them clean. They also often come with the distinct smell of vintage face powder.
I’ve used them as sewing kits, makeup boxes, and organizers for gears, knobs, and other Steampunk bits. My most recent acquisition is the rawhide train case, and it still had the plastic organizer tray. I’m moving the tray over to the Hawaiian blue train case I use for makeup.
I was cruising eBay to learn about the different styles, and I was horrified by the prices. All my cases have come from either garage sales or the (angel choir sound) Goodwill Outlet. I don’t think I’ve paid more than $10 for any of them. Besides, if you buy them online, you’re on the hook for shipping. And given the weight, the shipping cost could be higher than the sale price.
Of course, I’ve also been scouting for vintage suitcases before they became cool. So between that early start and the sharp elbows I’ve employed at Goodwill Outlet, I’ve amassed a nice little collection for virtually no money.
Really, the only downside to these cases is that they don’t stack. For reasons clear only to the Samsonite people, the Streamlite series has a shape that thinner at the top than the bottom. Stacking is out of the question, so you have to find other ways to display it. I’m currently hunting for a bookcase (secondhand, of course) I can use to to stack mine in the living room. If I were really ambitious, I’d make a wall like this one from artist Gail Rieke, but let’s be realistic.
Check out my suitcase Pinboard for vintage Samsonite Streamlite ads and inspiration for using old suitcases.