Chippy furniture finish with milk paint

Curb Giveaway Week is one of my favourite weeks of the year, and last month I managed to get two gorgeous old chairs (and a really cool table that will make an appearance in this column soon, I’m sure).

Some people would have left them as-is, and not messed with their natural finish. But we all know I’m not that girl.

They sat on my porch while I decided what to do with them, and I finally decided I would swap out the white-painted Windsor chairs at the head of our table for these babies — painted, of course.

I sanded them down and went to Onslow Historic Lumber for Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in Luckett’s Green — no, it is not named after Pete Luckett, although it would make sense because wouldn’t his paint colour be a nice, fresh green? We have bits of green throughout our main level — which is heavy on the blue, white, and grey — so it was a safe choice.

Here’s the thing about milk paint: if you use it on raw wood, it will never chip or flake off because it’s almost like a stain. If you use it on finished wood — like these chairs — you need to mix it with a bonding agent so it will adhere. But there’s a special third option that Miss Mustard Seed herself is famous for: the chippy look.

To get the chippy look, you skip the bonding agent and just do a bit of sanding. I sanded like crazy over the areas where I wanted the paint to stick really well, and just sanded lightly on other spots that would naturally show some wear.

Once you mix up the paint (equal parts water and milk paint powder), it’s kind of a fun adventure because you’re still not totally sure where the paint will adhere and where it will chip. As I brushed green paint over the wood and it dried, it stuck nicely in certain areas and started to chip immediately in others.

If the paint chips too much in one area and you don’t like the look, give it a hard sand and try again. I knew I wanted the backs of the chairs to be well-covered so I sanded those areas really well for minimal chipping.

Remember, you need to lightly sand the piece once you’re done painting so that might cause more areas to flake off. There were some areas that didn’t chip at all, so I roughed those up a bit with low-grit sandpaper until I got the look I wanted.

After one light, cautious sand, the chairs were ready to be sealed. Some people would leave them unsealed — or just add a coat of furniture wax — but then the piece might continue to chip over the months and years.

I wanted to freeze my chippy-look in time, so I brushed it with two coats of Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint’s Tough Coat sealer. It goes on milky but dries clear, and there’s even a matte version available now.

Since the original tacked leather were splattered with paint (and not really worth keeping in the first place), I bought two squares of thin foam and sewed a couple of cushion covers.

I’m obsessed with this old-fashioned rose-printed fabric (“Downtown Lace” by Sasha K. Studios, bought at Atlantic Fabrics) even though it’s not something I’d normally choose. It goes with the old style of the chairs and it just makes me want to sit down and have a cup of tea.

I’m sure these chairs had a long, interesting life before they came to live at our house, but I hope they’re happy in their new style!


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