19 Nov 2012

Milk Paint Dressing Table

I think I need to start giving my furniture names.  This little dressing table has some serious personality now so I feel that it deserves a name.  How about Gertrude?  She's a little bit old fashioned, but still has some spunk, especially when she goes by Trudi (plus I love Trudi on Mad Men and all her spunk).  She's traditional, and it takes a little effort to reveal her layers.  (Any Gertrudes out there who fit this description???).

If you follow me on Facebook you've seen this gal take a journey.  I found her on Kijiji a few weeks ago and jumped on it so fast that the poor lady selling it didn't know what had happened.  Before the end of the day Mr. Swell had  picked her up (such a great guy....he drives all over town to pick up my finds) and she was sitting in our living room.

She was pretty good to start with, but there were a few places that needed some help, so I figured this was the perfect piece to finally try milk paint.  My original plan was to sand down the top and drawers and restain them, then paint the rest of the piece.  

I did all the sanding and staining, but it just wasn't looking good.  The first problem was that it was really cold out, and I was doing the staining in the garage.  I don't like to expose Fin to any sort of fumes, so I try and do as much as I can in the garage.  As much as I had the heater on, I still don't think the stain dried correctly and I had some weird cloudiness happening.  After doing 3 coats of stain it was still blotchy and wasn't up to my standards.  So, on to plan B.  Gertrude was going to get painted from head to toe.

Milk paint is different than latex paint in that it comes as a powder.

I chose to go with Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint in Ironstone, which is a slightly creamy white.  I mixed up the powder with some warm water in a plastic cup.  I was expecting it to mix well, but it really didn't.  It was lumpy and still sort of separated even after 5 minutes of stirring (summoning the patience to stir for 5 straight minutes was a challenge!).  I decided to just sort of go with it.  Not much to loose.  I figured if it didn't work I would just sand it off.  

Milk paint doesn't require any prepping, which is awesome.  No sanding or priming is required.  Just wipe of the dust and get painting.  Here's the thing though....milk paint has a personality all its own.  You can choose to add a bonding agent, but if you don't then it will chip and peel all on its own.  You have no idea when you start if your piece is going to completely cover, or if it's all going to all chip off.  Talk about a challenge for this Type A girl.  A lesson in going with the flow for sure!  I decided not to use the bonding agent and just see how things went (while holding my breath the whole time!!).

I propped Gertrude up on some paint cans in our front entry and got painting (this paint is non-toxic, so it's fine to paint inside).  The milk paint was actually very milk like.  It had the consistently of milk (i.e. very drippy), and I quickly learned that not having much paint on the brush was the way to go.  Here is how she looked after 1 coat.

I have to be honest, at this pont I was a little worried.  It looked very streaky.

Some areas started peeling right away.  

I carefully brushed off any really loose chips before I brushed on the second coat.  

I ended up doing 3 coats to get the coverage that I wanted.  Thankfully the paint completely dries in about an hour, so I was able to finish all of the coats over the course of one evening.  Here's how it looked after the 3 coats.

The places that you can see are chipped did so all on their own - no encouraging except to remove the peeling paint. 

After I did 2 coats on the middle drawer, I noticed after about an hour that it was bubbling like crazy. 

After I brushed away all the paint chips I hardly had any painted surface left.  I used a sanding block to scuff it up and painted it with another coat.  Thankfully that coat stuck.  It actually provided a really unique look of layer upon layer.

The next morning I used a sanding block and lightly went over the whole table.  More paint chipped off.  Strangely enough, the top of the table had absolutely no chipping.  I am guessing that is probably because it was fresh stain and I had sanded it a bit before painting.  To give it a bit of a weathered look I used the sanding block to scuff it up.  One thing that nobody told me is that the milk paint dust actually smells like sour milk.  It was a very odd smell to have wafting through the house, and made me not want to drink milk for a while! Non-toxic at least.  So consider yourself warned....if you you don't like milk, then milk paint might not be for you.

Once everything was sanded and then wiped down again I waxed it all using Minwax Finishing Paste Wax. 

The hardware was my next challenge.  I had filled the holes in the drawers and had fully intended to find some nice new knobs.  After all of the painting though, you could still see where I had filled the holes.  Because the milk paint isn't totally opaque, it covered different over the wood filler than over the veneer.  So, knobs were out because you would have still been able to see the filled holes.  I decided to work with the handles that came with it.  The lady we bought it from told me they were brand new. 

I sprayed them with a couple coats of Painter's Touch Apple Red, and then used a sanding block again to distress them just enough so some gold showed through.

Ready to see Gertrude now?

I really love how she turned out.  The way the paint chipped just makes her look so authentically old.  See the two bottom panels on each side.  They are identical, but on one side it chipped a tonne, and on the other side there is hardly any chipping.  Talk about milk paint having a personality all it's own.

How about a few more chippy photos?

I should mention that the finishing wax made the whole thing completely smooth.  So although it looks like it's rough and will continue to chip, it's actually completely smooth and just slightly glossy.

As per usual, I am tempted to keep Trudi.  If only we had a bigger house!  She's up for sale now.  If you are in or around Edmonton and are interested in having Gertrude in your life please drop me a line.

I have promised Mr. Swell that this is my last furniture project before Christmas.  Our weekends for the next little while are jam packed, so I am going to try really hard to stick to my promise.  I might have to block Kijiji from my computer for a while.


  1. I think that looks great! Ive never heard of Milk Paint before, its pretty cool!

    1. It is some pretty good stuff! Now I just need someone else to think its cool too so that itll sell :)

  2. I think it came out amazing! I was too nervous to try the milk paint out on such a large piece.

    1. Thank you. If it had been an expensive piece I would have been really nervous, but since it wasnt I didnt have much to lose. Thanks for the comment!

  3. WOW - what a beautiful piece, youve done an amazing job. And I love the red handles against the white, they really give it some character!

  4. that is awesome!!! the red pulls are the icing on the cake!

  5. Love the chippiness! The red pulls really make it! I told my husband I was going to do anything more before Christmas, either, but I just picked up another desk, too. I think I should block kijij from my computer, too!

  6. I love the distressed treatment on this waterfall piece.

  7. I love how this turned out. I actually painted a bench today with Old Fashioned Milkd Paint. I like it so far.... I need to finish it up tomorrow. Your vanity came out great and youre right about the authenic aged look.
    Christms needs to come and go because I need to see some more of your stuff.

    Would it be okay if I shared your blog and fb page on my Picked & Painted facebook "fan" page. You really do great stuff and I think more people need to see it.

  8. I do like how you fixed the problem of the hardware by painting them.. silver or gold they would have just looked like they were to modern.. and out of place..the color you chose is great and distressing them to show the gold coming through is great.. I love gold right now! I found a little vanity just like this but mine hast the mirror and I cant decide for many months now what color to do it in .. i make my own chalk paint.. and i will sell after done..so pink for a kid or teenager or a soft sagey green for an adult.. not sure yet..

    1. ditto on the facebook thing.. I can share you on my site as well facebook.com/vintagerescues.. I love your blog...

    2. Thanks for your lovely comment Mary! I would have loved if mine came with a mirror, so jealous that yours did! I think either pink or grey/green would be great colours. If yous is small like mine then pink may be the way to go, as it really cant be used for an adult...its just too squishy.
      Thank you for stopping by!


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