A family tradition since 1974

Homemade organic milk paint

In 1974, after much experimentation, we recreated an old Milk Paint formula to provide an authentic finish for the 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 milk paint is truly a "green paint" that comes in 20 colours. We have succeeded in finding a safe way to reproduce the old look by making a milk paint the old-fashioned way. When you are using our milk paint, you know it's authentic. Use of our milk paints can also help you obtain credits toward LEED certification. In 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 widespread interest existed among craftsmen for this kind of finish. The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co., Inc. was born. For the expertise demonstrated in his recreations, Charles Thibeau 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. Perry Design, based in Osaka, Japan, is an industrial design studio with a speciality in furniture design. One of their projects was the interior design of Okuma Nursing Home, a long term care facility for senior citizens that are in need of medical supervision, located in Osaka Prefecture. Milk Paint was used extensively on architectural cabinetry, wall panelling and specific pieces of furniture throughout this six-story, 44,000 square foot building. 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 coloured 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, artefacts 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 colours 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. 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 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 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. 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 its 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 colours 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 a 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 were added lead, mildewcides and other 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 many different types of paint recipes. Around 1935, 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.

 

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 were 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. Safe Paint has been developed for one reason, to bring you an environmentally safe paint designed especially for your interior walls. It will give you the same rich velvety finish you expect from our traditional milk paint, but with a consistency of colour, you expect from more traditional wall paints. All-natural paints like Safe Paint and The Old Fashioned Milk Paint have their little idiosyncrasies and quirks but do have inherently beautiful qualities you will not find in chemically based paints. You can paint your bedroom in the afternoon and sleep in the room that night without having to breathe noxious fumes. Since no unnatural extenders or preservatives are used in the milk paint formula, it's best to mix only the amount to be used that day. It will thicken and gel with time, so it's best to use it right away. When opening a stored container of already-mixed milk paint, you may notice a slight odour of ammonia. This is a natural occurrence and dissipates quickly. Fine, hairline cracks may sometimes be visible in a painted surface, depending on the thickness of the mixture, or on how many layers have been applied. This is a natural occurrence of milk paint. Non-organic paints avoid this effect by adding plastic ingredients. 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 colours 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 it's also as safe as drinking whole milk (not that you'd want to, of course).

 

In “The Anarchist’s Design Book” one appendix is devoted to milk paint. There are plenty of milk paint recipes from the 1800s like one in the book from 1836, “The Painter’s, Guilder’s and Varnisher’s Manuel…” by Henry Carey Baird. In 1774, an updated edition of “L’Art du Peinture, Doreur, Vernisseur” by Watin was published. This book took an orderly approach to the painting arts compared to the many ragtag publications that covered trade secrets that ranged from royal cake recipes to how to do your laundry. About 20 years later, Antoine-Alexis Cadet de Vaux, a French chemist (and friend to Ben Franklin), was experimenting with the distemper recipes in Watin’s book. He published his findings in “Feuille de Cultivateur” around 1793. This was followed by “Memoire sur la Peinture au lait” published in 1800. Cadet de Vaux noted that his previous recipe was published at a time of public misfortune (the Revolution) and a time of shortages. Although distemper paint was inexpensive, the cost and shortages of linseed oil led him to use milk instead. In “Memoire” Cadet de Vaux describes the advantages of milk paint compared to distemper: milk paint was better, the recipe was not heated, it dried fast, did not smell of size or oil and when rubbed with a coarse cloth the paint did not come off. The recipe consisted of skimmed milk, fresh slaked lime, oil of caraway, linseed or nut oil and Spanish white. He explains that the “skimmed milk has lost its butyraceous part, but retains its cheesy part.” The cheesy part acts as a kind of glue and gives the mixture an elasticity. Cadet de Vaux also provides a milk paint recipe for exterior work. In 1801, “Memoire” was translated and published in London in “The Repertory of Arts and Manufactures” and there you can read the recipe and the butyraceous remark. Cadet de Vaux’s recipe was repeated in “The Painter’s and Varnisher’s Guide…” by P. F. Tingry (a Swiss chemist) in 1804. Many more editions of painting and varnishing manuals with various titles and translations followed. Cadet de Vaux’s recipe appears to be the standard. Somewhere around 1803 - 1808, milk paint recipes appeared in articles in New York and New England and for the most part were from the English translation of Cadet de Vaux’s “Memoire”.

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