History Restored | Summer 2015 Out Here Magazine
Steamer trunks find new life and renewed purpose
Photography by Mark Zaleski
Kerry White restored his first travel trunk when he was just 19. It wasn’t anything he had set out to do, but when he stopped at a yard sale before heading off to Tennessee Technological University to study agriculture business, a used and abused small steamer inspired him to buy.
“I refinished it and actually used it when I went to college to store stuff in,” he says. “Then I was living in Kentucky after college and bought another trunk at a flea market. I finished and restored that one, and it turned out to be just an exceptionally nice trunk and I made pretty good money on it.”
That was the beginning of what has now become a thriving side business for the full-time landscaper, and three decades later White has done well over 600 trunk restorations at his Whites Creek, Tenn., home. Working with wood is ingrained in White, whose grandfather was the lumber grader for Nashville’s Davis Cabinet Company, best known for making Lillian Russell furniture.
“He was well-versed in lumber and always had stacks of it laying around,” White says. “When I was about 10 years old I refinished a little cabinet he brought home from work that was just laying around. That was the first thing I ever refinished, and I still have it. It was just second nature to me. I never studied it; I just kind of figured it out as I went along.”