Updating Antiques: The Campaign Chest

December 30, 2019

The idea of “campaign furniture” has been around since at least the time of Julius Caesar, but was largely popularized during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the British army. High ranking officers often signaled their station by carrying lots of their things with them, but on a war campaign, furniture and storage had to be made easily portable. There were many different items of furniture that were made portable for travel, but the most common was usually the campaign chest.

These campaign chests are characterized by brass corners (to protect from damage from bumping around during travel), handles (for easy carrying), and hinges in strange places. Components of certain chests could be separated, folded or removed. All this was done in the pursuit of creating furniture that was easy to move quickly if the war called for it.

Now, campaign furniture and campaign chests in particular have gained quite a following in the interior design world. For ease of packing, campaign chests were very simple, without the ornate molding and overhangs that other furniture of the time had. That makes for super clean, chic lines in a modern bedroom. Being a vintage piece though makes these furniture items super original and can bring a unique touch to any room.

Since these chests were also a sign of wealth and social station, they were generally made to last. Most chests were made out of durable wood like mahogany or teak since they stood up well to hot temperatures or humidity. The quality varies in them depending on how much money an officer spent on the chest, but the high quality means that many chests have stood the test of time and will continue to do so in your home.

One of my favorite trends when it comes to campaign chests is painting them bright colors and giving them a shiny, lacquered finish. Y’all know I’ve been loving the look of lacquered vintage furniture after I put several pieces in Harper’s new surf-themed room. I think it’s just the perfect touch to an antique find. The finish updates the furniture to the modern time without sacrificing the timelessness of the design itself.

The campaign chest trend has led to its replication by several contemporary furniture brands, and you can probably find an imitation campaign chest at one of your local furniture stores. However, nothing compares to scoring an amazing, authentic find at an antique store, then taking the time to personalize the item to your design.

With such a range to the size and style of these chests, they can work for a bunch of different purposes in your home. From bedroom side tables to a chest of drawers to an accent dresser in a bedroom or living room, the options are endless. I particularly love the look of the chests as side tables next to a bed, so much so that I have one in our guest room! The style is just effortlessly timeless yet modern at the same time. Plus, you can match the chest to your own space by painting and lacquering it a custom color. It’s an easy and elegant way to brighten up a room.

If you’re a beginner to the world of finding and restoring antique furniture, it can seem daunting at first! How do you know which piece is worth the money? Will it work in your space? How can you turn it into the perfect statement piece in your home? Luckily, vintage and antique shopping has come back around quite a bit recently. High-quality vintage shops are popping up everywhere and sourcing incredible pieces of furniture. Of course, increased interest means increased competition for finding the best items, but don’t let that scare you away.

My favorite places to find antiques in Charleston include One of a Find Charleston and K.P. Bungalow. They get new stock in pretty frequently and have a diverse range of awesome options. One of a Find is where I found the campaign chest in our guest room!

It’s not uncommon for antique furniture you find right out of the shop to look a little weathered or dinged up. If you love that look, great! If not, there’s plenty you can do to turn the item into a gem in the rough. A little TLC can take wood furniture from dull and distressed to shiny and stunning. One of my favorite ways to update antique furniture is with a good coat of lacquer from Steins Furniture.

Located in Raleigh, Steins Furniture is one of the most well-known names in vintage furniture and lacquering, so I know I can trust them with even my most delicate finds. Lacquering is the process of applying a clear or colored finish to wood. As the finish dries, it hardens and becomes a durable top coat to the furniture. Though you may immediately think of a shiny, glossy finish when you think of lacquering, the lacquer actually comes in a range of finishes from ultra matte to high gloss. My preference is definitely for glossy; the light hits it and makes the color shine even more!

Antique furniture allows you to outfit your home with pieces that have history and quality that’s lasted them this long, and lacquering lets you take the customization process that much further, giving you a perfect item for your style and space. As for campaign chests, they’ve never completely fallen out of fashion, and I don’t expect them to any time soon!

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