Old Fashioned Milk Paint Still Churning 40 Years after Rediscovery of Ancient Paint Formula

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Massachusetts entrepreneur Charles Thibeau recreated a long forgotten, natural paint formula in his basement in 1974. 40 years later his milk paint has gained international acclaim.

powdered milk paint

Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company's SafePaint for Walls

2014 marks the 40-year anniversary of the discovery of the modern recipe for a classic, old fashioned paint- known as milk paint. In 1974, Charles Thibeau, a furniture maker in Groton, Massachusetts, had his “Eureka” moment while trying to replicate an authentic finish for his Colonial furniture reproductions. He was not 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. Thibeau had been involved in Boston's first Earth Day in 1970. His dedication to the environment insured that his milk paint formula kept true to the natural recipes of Colonial America.

Milk paint, an ancient form of paint, is famous for being one of the world’s most durable paints. Milk protein (casein) and crushed limestone form a tough-as-nails coating that hardens over time like concrete, making it nearly impossible to remove. In early America, people made their own homemade versions of this paint with locally found materials including clay, chalk and pigments dug from the earth. Milk paint eventually fell out of favor with the invention of the paint can and modern, latex paint.

Like the milk paint used in days of old, Thibeau’s Old Fashioned Milk Paint will not rub or wash off, and it adheres like no other paint ever devised to bare wood, plaster and other porous surfaces. The deep, rich colors match the classic chalky, velvety, mottled look characteristic of the original milk paint used on walls and furniture in colonial America. In addition, the paint contains none of the harmful ingredients normally associated with modern paint. It can be used safely on children's toys, hospital walls, by pregnant women and many people suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity. It is 100% biodegradable, contains zero VOC’s, and was actually the first paint to be awarded the USDA’s Biobased label. Thibeau developed his formula in a powder form, allowing the user to simply mix water to the powder just before use- as easy as making chocolate milk. The powder formula eliminated the need to add chemical preservatives, and created a more efficient way to ship paint, as opposed to costly, heavy, liquid paint cans.

In the mid 1970’s, Yankee Magazine produced a series of books called “The Forgotten Arts”. They included Charles Thibeau in a chapter on making paint from scratch. When the book came out, Thibeau’s phone rang off the hook with people wanting some of this long forgotten paint. Over the past 40 years, Old Fashioned Milk Paint has gained such popularity it is used by thousands of people throughout the United States and all over the world, from England to Australia. Over the years, others have come out with their own versions of powdered milk paint, but none have ever come quite close to matching the original.

In 2008 The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company introduced a second milk paint formula, called SafePaint. While originally developed as wall paint, it will adhere to almost anything, including metal. Both formulas are best used as interior paints.

In the past few years there has been a resurgence in painted furniture. The soft, chalky look is all the craze, as is the “shabby chic” look of restored wooden furniture. The upcycled furniture trend is seen in many homes of modern do-it-yourselfers. And the most stylish, safest way of achieving these looks is with milk paint.

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Anne Thibeau
The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company
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