The Family Tradition Since 1974

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.

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 is authentic. Use of our milk paints can also help you obtain credits toward LEED certification (LEED - NC IEQ Credit 4.2- low emitting materials- paints & coatings).

For over 41 years, The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company has been faithfully producing a genuine Milk Paint as close as possible to the old primitive, home-made paint made on the back porch with skim milk or buttermilk, crushed limestone and pigments found around clay pits, or chimney soot and mineral colors crushed and powdered. This original paint goes back about 6000 and more years as evidence by early cave paintings.

This original paint varied quite a bit in color, texture and permanence as no recipe was widely disseminated world wide. Slight variations in the results were quite usual, as evidenced by artifacts found with (a) a fairly heavy film thickness in spite of great age, or, (b) just a thin stain of earth pigment color that penetrated the wood pottery.

During our early experiments, we easily reproduced the latter (b) results although we were working to get a good film with strong adhesion as mentioned in (a) above. These experiments resulted in our being able to produce a genuine milk paint as made long ago, with one variation. We found that when using regular liquid milk, the paint would start to gel in a matter of hours. Keeping it in the refrigerator would increase the life of the liquid paint, but not for more than a few days.

This was all right for our own use but we were already receiving requests from some of our customers who had purchased a four-poster bed or a Windsor chair that we had made and painted, and wanted some of our unusual paint. Our main business was the making of museum replicas of the 17th & 18th century furniture, and some of the original country pieces had been milk-painted.

Naturally, for authenticity, we had to stick with the original ingredients. We were able to make one concession to ship our paint anywhere. We used all dry ingredients, still faithful to the history and "that's the end of the story".

Our milk paint colors were developed to match the furniture and buildings shown at several restored villages including Old Sturbridge Village, plus museum displays in such places as Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Winterthur, Colonial Williamsburg, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum, etc. The original Colonial pieces we copied were painted with home-made milk paint, with vivid colors and a most beautiful look of velvet.

Genuine milk paint is technically a calcium-caseinate. That means simply that it is made from milk protein (also known as casein), and lime (also known as calcium), plus the earth or mineral pigments. There are casein paints of many varieties as well as casein glues and adhesive coatings. About a hundred years ago in Germany a casein paint was made using formaldehyde instead of lime. Another formula used borax instead of lime. Still another used additives like synthetic plastics such as acrylics, vinyls or acetates, and the list goes on and on. Many of these formulations are good paints, as are oil and latex. But they are not milk paints.

    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.



    To get the authentic look of some old 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 realisation 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 Thibeau 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.

    Our organic paint is safe not only for people, but also for the environment. The natural ingredients in the base paint are used in the food and pharmaceutical industries, and are all completely biodegradable.

    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 early 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.

    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 correctly. The first use of a suitable 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.

    Perry Design, based in Osaka, Japan, is an industrial design studio with a specialty 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 medial supervision, located in Osaka Prefecture. Milk Paint was used extensively on architectural cabinetry, wall paneling and specifiic pieces of furniture throughout this six story, 44,000 square foot building.

    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 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 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 cow or goat, and each community had its 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, vibrant 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 high mass, packaged in the newly 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. Different 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 significant 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, disinfectants, 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 the paint, as have many of the solvents (VOCs) traditionally used.

    All-natural paints like SafePaint 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 paint formula, it is best to mix only the amount to be used that day. It will thicken and gel with time, so it is best to use it right away. When opening a stored container of already-mixed milk paint, you may notice a slight odor 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.

    SafePaint, our newest product, 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 color you expect from more traditional wall paints.

    The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company was established in 1974. We have made every effort to produce a paint that not only looks like 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.

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