By Carolyn Moore, founder of OldFashionedMilkPaint.co.uk
Have you discovered Milk Paint yet?
In 1974, Charles Thibeau, a furniture maker in Groton, Massachusetts, had a “Eureka” moment while trying to replicate an authentic finish for his Colonial furniture reproductions. He wasn’t trying to revolutionize the paint world, but his discovery changed the concept of what modern paint is and can be. He introduced a whole new generation to a time-tested, back-to-basics formulation in the process.
Over the past 45 years, Old Fashioned Milk Paint has gained such popularity in the United States and all over the world, particularly with artisan furniture makers wanting to recreate the pigment-rich colours found on vintage pieces. And now it has started to gain an even wider following with the resurgence of home furniture upcycling, including here in the UK.
And that’s where I came in!
From the early days, Milk Paint had become a firm favourite with customers who were interested in furniture painting and crafts, but I had also started to build a really strong following among woodworkers and furniture makers, which has continued to grow to this day. Then, when the upcycling craze really took off, I realized I really needed to get this wonderful product to a wider audience.
People were often using chalk paint on their makeovers, which is great, but it was in fact invented in the 80s to mimic the vintage look of original milk paint, so why not use the real thing?! The other advantage of milk paint is its durability, especially on porous surfaces like wood. Unlike chalk paint, which can rub off over time, milk paint sinks deep into the wood like a stain and will never rub off. (It is even believed that cave paintings are made with milk paint, and that was a pretty long time ago!)
So, in 2018 I launched a separate website just for the milk paint and finishing products/accessories, at www.oldfashionedmilkpaint.co.uk. It just took off immediately, and it hasn’t stopped growing, with sales doubling every few months.
I think it’s because, once you’ve tried it, you realise milk paint is quite unlike any other paint. On a porous surface like new wood, plaster or pottery, it gives a beautiful, velvety flat finish, which modern paints cannot compare with, and give milk-painted pieces a rich, authentic appearance. And, on a non-porous surface, it can naturally crackle to give a ‘chippy’ aged appearance, which can be enhanced by using distressing techniques.
Because it really is made from dried milk (along with just lime, clay and earth pigments), it is sold in powder form, as, once water is added, it starts to spoil and needs to be used in a couple of days. But in powder form it lasts indefinitely, so we don’t have to add any nasty chemicals or preservatives, meaning it is completely eco-friendly, non-toxic, odourless, food-safe, and child/pet friendly. Just take as much as you need for your project, add water and paint! It’s very fast drying too.
Three milk paint brands are now available, with more than 60 colourways to choose from. The first collection, Old Fashioned Milk Paint, the original formula milk paint created 45 years ago, has thirty-two beautifully rich colours, twenty of which are historic Shaker-style colours, with twelve more added last year.
Sweet Pickins Milk Paint is the new boutique collection, with another thirty colours including beautiful pastels and neutrals for a more feminine or contemporary look.
And lastly, Farmhouse Finishes Safepaint, for walls and interiors, is still true milk paint with the same natural ingredients but formulated so it can be used on porous surfaces like previously painted walls. It is also easier to mix and gives a more consistent finish over large areas, making it a perfect eco-friendly choice for home interiors. Available in the same thirty-two colours as Old Fashioned Milk Paint, including Barn Red, Pumpkin, Mustard, Tavern Green and Providence, these beautiful and safe colours will give an instant pop of colour.
I opened the Blueberry Store in Saffron Walden in 2002, specialising in New England and Shaker Interiors, and unique imported home accessories from the East Coast USA, including Old Fashioned Milk Paint. We went purely online in 2014, and now operate from a converted stable in what used to be Mole Hall Wildlife Park in Widdington, a tiny village about 10 minutes from Saffron Walden. The privately-owned estate has now been converted into commercial units, but it is a lovely rural setting where I can pack orders, as well as indulge my love of furniture painting. Sadly, most of the animals have gone but we still have a resident peacock and peahens, and some rather free-range sheep!