There are a couple things that are certain about summer...
1. There will be at least one day where the draw of the great outdoors will overcome all logic, and I will inevitably grab my crew, gather supplies for a picnic, and force everyone to play hooky.
2. We will end up buying one of those cheapie Styrofoam coolers to keep our supplies cold.
3. The cooler will sit around until someone accidentally knocks it over, steps on it, and pulverizes the lid or one of the side walls...
I’ve lost too many coolers to count!
But this year, I have a plan. Instead of just accepting our cooler’s inevitable demise, I’m going to give it new life... as a treasure chest! We do boatloads of pirate parties, so we can never have too many treasure chests lying around. I also saw an idea in a magazine that would go along perfectly with our Styrofoam chest: the mom in the article took a huge pot of cooked green spinach noodles (the wavy kind), tossed them in oil, added a bunch of fun prizes, mixed them into the noodles in a big bin, and had the kids go “searching through seaweed.” I love this idea for a mermaid or pirate party (sort of a Davey Jones’ locker thing), but I wouldn’t want to use something as boring as a plastic tub, or ruin one of my already existing treasure chests. I realized that the Styrofoam chest would be perfect, since you could easily wipe down the inside after the party.
Now, there are some issues to working with Styrofoam. You can’t spray paint it; the paint literally eats Styrofoam! I discovered this a long time ago when I was making centerpieces for a fashion party, and we tried painting Styrofoam wig heads gold. My first attempt looked like a smallpox victim! Tempura and watercolors just bead off and won’t stick. However, you can safely use acetone-free paint, like latex house paint and acrylic art paints. You could also cover it with duct tape (like this woodgrain patterned tape on Amazon), but that can get pricey.
While looking through my options, I decided that I wanted something that would add a bit more strength to the cooler’s structure, so I opted for a third technique: decoupage. Decoupage is great because it’s cheap (just a mixture of ½ glue and ½ water) and easy. It’s a fantastic afternoon project for kids. You can’t go wrong with decoupage!
Here’s how you can make your own decoupage treasure chest out of a Styrofoam cooler...
- White glue
- Mixing bowl or container
- Paint brushes
- Tissue paper (brown or black if you can find it)
- Tan or gold ribbon (optional)
- Tan, gold, black, red, etc. duct tape (optional)
- Wire brads (optional)
- 2 buckles (optional)
- Hot glue (optional)
- Jewels and other embellishments (optional)
- Pirate stickers (optional)
Make sure to prepare your work space; put down paper or tarps, because this is a messy project (especially if working with kids)!
- Take one cup white glue and one cup warm water and stir until thoroughly mixed.
- Rip tissue paper into rectangles, about 4 by 5 inches, and strips, about 1 by 4 inches. Don’t be concerned about perfection in size and shape, it won’t matter.
- Apply a thin coat of glue mixture to a small area of your cooler (you may want to start with the lid until you get the hang of the technique). Place a piece of tissue paper over the glue mixture. Apply a second thin layer of glue mixture over the tissue paper.
- Continue in this fashion, building layer upon layer. It is best to overlap the tissue paper so that you get multiple layers, and lots of texture. (You can put a bottle of water or a 2 liter of soda inside the cooler while working to keep it from tipping over.)
- When you get to the lip of the cooler, use your smaller pieces to edge the top. I left my inside free of paper because I want to fill it with oiled pasta, but you can continue covering the inside if you like. Maybe cover the inside with red or another color so that it looks like a lining.
- Once dry, you can add two ribbons (or duct tape) as strap hinges. You will want to place the lid on the top, as it would normally sit. Then, starting in the front, glue one strip of ribbon at the lip of the lid, glue up and over the lid, down the back, under the bottom, and back to the front. Repeat with the second strap . This will make a hinge for your lid, so that the lid will pivot open and closed.
- Embellish the straps with wire brads as “rivets” if you like. Carefully use your scissors to
poke holes through the ribbon and the container (be very careful that you don’t cut your fingers with the scissors -- this is definitely an adult task!). Insert the brads through the holes, open the prongs in the back, and secure with a piece of duct tape (this will also keep any fingers from catching when treasure hunting).
- Decorate the chest any way you want, like with jewels, stickers, etc. I made a “lock” by carefully cutting the top part from a water bottle, gluing it in place on the front of the chest, and then gluing the bottle cap onto the back of a strip of gold ribbon. I glued that gold ribbon to the top of the lid, and when I slipped the cap over the topper it served as a lock for the chest.
I love being able to repurpose items that are just going to break in time or get thrown away. Right now I’m ready to boil up some pasta and set sail. Yo-ho-ho!