About Milk Paint

How it all began – our idea of the perfect mixture of milk paint & store

Oh man, its tough writing about yourself!! I’ve always been a DIY kinda girl. My parents did everything themselves and never hired anything out – so they definitely instilled in me the “i can do it myself” gene! I learned a lot of stuff on my own by just trying, and failing! Never be afraid to mess up otherwise you wont learn a thing! Luckily for me, my Dad is always a phone call/short drive away and gives me tons of great tips, I’ve learned so much from him over the years, hes one smart dude. And my Mom is the one i call when i need some advice – she comes over and gives me her opinion on tons of my projects – now i may not always take her advice, but its good to see another persons perspective.

Ive always loved a good before & after when it comes to furniture, the power of paint is amazing!! A couple of years ago, i had a little bug and started refinishing furniture and then posting it for sale. Things sold quick! So i started collecting furniture while my husband was deployed in Iraq for the army. By the time he came home, i had a garage full of furniture – and i mean full!! We couldnt park in there for at least a year!! I slowly started painting when i got off work and on the weekends. I got lots of repeat clients and the orders were coming in!! It was awesome.

At the same time my little hobby was going strong, i was working a full time job as a court clerk. While i liked my job and the benefits of working for the government, i became more and more anxious everyday. I knew that if i could work on my furniture full time, i could do great and make a living from it. I struggled with this for about a year. It was a hard decision giving up a good stable job to “live my dream”, how many people really get to do that?! Its just something you talk about and never really do.

Finally, i just had to quit. It was the hardest thing ever, but as soon as it was done i felt the biggest relief, I knew we would be fine. And fine we are!! I started out in my garage, we built a paint booth and shop area and had a storage unit full of furniture to work on. Eventually i moved out of my garage and into my own “working” shop and i seriously couldn’t be happier. Next up – my own retail store, one day!!

Anyways, all of this couldn’t happen without the support of my husband Santi and my 2 kids, Kdin (13) and Zailee (7). Santi puts up with all my crazy ideas for the house and my never ending projects! My brain is always “on” thinking of all the stuff that can be done to change up our house. Hey, i put up with all his craziness too – its a good balance :) Plus, he likes a good project himself, especially one that is done on the cheap!

So that’s the jist of whats up with me! Its not always easy, but its my life and i wouldn’t change it for anything.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MILK PAINT

In 1974, after much experimentation, we recreated an old Milk Paint formula to provide an authentic finish for our primary business of building reproduction furniture. Since then we have sold our paint to professionals who are either restoring original Colonial or Shaker furniture, making reproductions, or striving for an interior design look that is both authentic and beautiful. Milk Paint is now gaining an even wider usage because it contains only ingredients that are all-natural and will not harm the environment. Our authentic real milk paint is truely a “green paint” that comes in 20 colors.

IN THE BEGINNING

Paint has been used by mankind since before recorded history, first as decoration, and much later as a protective coating. The oldest painted surfaces on earth were colored with a form of milk paint. Cave drawings and paintings made 8,000 years ago, even as old as 20,000 years ago, were made with a simple composition of milk, lime, and earth pigments. When King Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1924, artifacts including models of boats, people, and furniture found inside the burial chamber had been painted with milk paint.

Because the original formula for milk paint was so simple to make and use, it was for thousands of years a major form of decoration throughout the world. Over time, and in various places, different recipes, including milk protein(casein), lime, and pigments were tried, producing varying results in durability. Many of these coatings also provided weatherproofing, while others disintegrated, leaving only a permanent stain on the painted surface. The variations included adding substances such as olive oil, linseed oil, eggs, animal glue, or waxes. Over the centuries, better recipes were found that could produce a durable coating, which could last indefinitely. The colors on the walls painted at Dendaras, even though exposed to the open air for centuries, are as vivid today as they must have been 2000 years ago.

RENAISSANCE

The first revolution in the make-up of paint came with the Flemish artists in the fifteenth century. The Greeks and Romans had some earlier success with adding olive oil to their paint mixture, but had difficulty with it drying properly. The first use of a good oil- based paint has been accredited to the Flemish artist, Jan van Eyck, around 1410. While not the first to use oil paint, he was believed to be the first to establish a stable varnish as a pigment binder. His innovations produced an art that set the standard for a long time to come.

Jan van Eyck’s varnish was improved upon later in the fifteenth century by such Italian masters as Leonardo da Vinci, Tintoretto, and Antonello da Messina. In the early seventeenth century, the recipe was improved again by Rubens while studying in Italy. He used warm walnut oil and also copied da Messina in using lead oxide in his pigments.

COMMERCIAL PAINT

Over the next 200 to 300 years, the old water-based milk paint, as well as the newer oil paint remained relatively unchanged. Artists mixed their own paints, as did house painters and furniture makers. Recipes for oil paints were closely guarded secrets. Milk paint continued to be made the way it had been for thousands of years before.

In Colonial America, as earlier in Europe, itinerant painters roamed the countryside, carrying pigments with them, which could be mixed with a farmer’s or householder’s own milk and lime. Often, the itinerant painter would be a tinker or farrier, or have some trade in addition to his knowledge of paint. Practically every household had their own cow or goat, and each community had its own lime pit. Even though there exist many examples of early American furniture that was painted with some form of oil paint, the look associated most widely with the country homes and furniture of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries is that of the soft velvety, rich colors of milk paint.

This scene doesn’t change much until after the Civil War. In 1868, the first patent was given for the metal paint can with its tightly fitting top. With this development came the commercial oil paint industry. For the first time, paint could be manufactured in great mass, packaged in the new patented cans and shipped to stores throughout the country.

But this kind of operation does not lend itself to the use of milk paint. Made from natural milk protein, it will spoil just like whole milk. Therefore, from the very beginning of the commercial oil paint industry, up until 1935, the only paint sold commercially was oil-based paint, to which was added lead, mildewcides, and other poisonous additives. Other types of casein paints were developed that could not be considered milk paint. Casein was mixed with formaldehyde, or with ammonia, or with borax, to create much different types of paint recipes. Around 1935, a new water-based casein(milk protein) paint was developed with the use of synthetic rubber and styrene. This was called Kem-Tone, the first latex paint, which met with great commercial success.

THE GREEN REVOLUTION

After World War II, chemists working for major paint manufacturers began developing new formulas for paints. Along with these developments came a burgeoning awareness among American consumers that many of these developments posed a growing health problem. The lead and mercury in the paint was highly toxic, as were the many solvents(now called VOCs and HAPs), mildewcides, germicides, and numerous other additives.

The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. This date more than any other established the determination by a consuming public to execute a change in American products that were harmful to their users. Since that time, the use of lead and mercury have been outlawed in paint, as have many of the solvents(VOCs) traditionally used.

The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company was established in 1974. We have made every effort to produce a paint that not only gives the look of Colonial America, with many historic-based colors, but is also completely biodegradable, with no VOCS, HAPs or EPA-exempt solvents added. We’ve found a safe way to reproduce the old look and make a milk paint the old-fashioned way. Yes, it will spoil, just like whole milk, but its also as safe as drinking whole milk. (Not that you’d want to, of course.)

Charles Thibeau

CHARLES THIBEAUIn 1974, Charles Thibeau, the founder of The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company, also founded The Country Bed Shop to make exact reproductions of early American Colonial furniture as can be seen in such places as Winterthur, Shaker Villages, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Old Sturbridge Village and The Shelburne Museum.

In order to get the authentic look of some early pencil-post beds, six-board chests, and Windsor chairs, he began to experiment with different formulas in an attempt to recreate the milk paint used extensively to paint furniture, walls and toys in early America. In 1974, he was interviewed for Yankee Magazine’s series of books on “forgotten arts”. This interview brought home the realization that a widespread interest existed among craftsman for this kind of finish and, “Voila”. The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co., Inc. was born.

For the expertise demonstrated in his recreations, he was elected in 1981 to the membership in the Guild of Master Craftsmen in London.

Along with an abiding interest in craftsmanship, Thibeau always had a deep-seated concern for the environment. In 1970, he founded the N.F.E.C. (National Foundation for Environmental Control, Inc.), and was involved in the first Earth Day in Boston.

He knew that the early Americans, and the Europeans before them, made their paint with only natural materials. This fact and the ongoing concern for a healthy environment has always directed his search for just the right mix of ingredients for milk paint and other safe finishing materials.

We are sad to say that Charles passed away in the spring of 2012 at the age of 84. He was an inspiration to those who knew him, and will be greatly missed. We are very proud of his legacy and his vision to re-introduce milk paint back into the modern world in an easy to use, powder form.

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