How to Upcycle an Old Chest into a Whimsical Fairy Garden Display

Susanna Sisson's picture
Old chest (military footlocker) Upcycled into Whimsical Fairy Garden Display

Recently a friend gave me an old chest that just didn’t have much hope. I took it thinking, “What in the world can I do with such a beat up old chest?” It had been her dad’s old military footlocker and even had his name stamped inside the lid, but it had seen much better days. In fact, her cat had decided to use the lid for a litter box. Although it took about a week or so of mulling over what to do with this old chest, I finally decided on a whimsical fairy garden display.


At first I had thought of turning it into a planter but in the condition it was in, it wouldn’t last a couple months before rotting. And it would take a huge amount of dirt to fill it up. I didn’t want to put effort into a project that would just be destroyed in no time by the weather.

I left it on the porch for about a week, until all of a sudden I had a Eureka moment!

The chest no longer had in insert but the wooden pieces were intact and still set sturdily inside the chest, so I decided to cut a piece of plywood the size of the chest to make a shallow display. After cutting and fitting the plywood I wondered if the weather wouldn’t still be an issue.


Then I remembered a friend had given me some pieces of tin. I had a scathingly brilliant idea. I took the insert out of the chest and wrapped a piece of tin large enough to cover most of the plywood around the wood then put it back in the chest. I pushed down enough so the tin slid inside the edges of the chest snuggly. I still had a little area on either side so I just cut two more pieces of tin to cover the exposed area. Voila!

The chest was wooden inside and covered with rusted metal. The hinges were just about gone but still holding. I thought copper metallic paint would be a good color to give the old chest some pizazz and it wouldn’t matter if some of the green bled through because it would add to the patina. As I began painting, the old chest and dilapidated hinges took on a new life.

Whimsical Fairy Garden Display

Before placing my display inside I plan on taking some “liquid nails” under the edges of the tin and using some silicone around the inside edges to make it waterproof. Then I will add preserved florist moss before adding my fairy garden. Once the moss is added just add fairy figurines, frogs, fairy houses, and flowers.

So, if you have an old chest you’re not sure what to do with and don’t want to throw away, this might be the perfect project for upcycling and preserving a family heirloom and turning it into something like an upcycled whimsical fairy garden display.