The other day I went to borrow some tools from my brother, who lives 8 doors down, he was working on a little DIY project that I thought some people might like. About 2 month ago, he spotted a set of 6 hairpin-style bentwood chairs at Captain’s Treasures in Leslieville, for $175 CAD. A steal considering a single “Vienna Side Chair” from Create & Barrel is $119 USD.
While they resemble the popular bent-wood chairs designed by Michael Thonet, these ones have a sticker with the maker’s name on it – J&J Kohn. In the mid-1800's, J&J Kohn was a separate competing company to Thonet’s, but J&J Kohn eventually merged with Mundus, which incorporated into the Gebruder Thonet Company in 1922. So we know they're at least 88 years old.
The chairs needed some re-gluing in a few spots, but remained quite solid overall. The finish however was past the point of “patina” and bordering on “distressed”. I suggested that he try a milk paint finish. It leaves a beautiful gunk-free finish unlike anything achievable by using latex or even oil, and the product is about as eco-friendly and easy to clean up as you can get. It's completely odorless and cleans up with just plain water. It doesn’t chip, scratch or peel, instead it gradually wears away over many years, in the spots that receive the most contact, allowing it to age gracefully.
So he went to Homestead House Paint Co. and picked up a small batch of milk paint powder in Coal Black, a bottle of primer and a bottle of hemp oil. After carefully following the instructions, he mixed up a batch and painted the first coat onto the chairs, followed by a second coat a few hours later. The paint dries to a very even matte finish. The next day he applied a coat of the hemp oil, which dries to a nice, mellow, warm, satiny luster.
After first coat:
After second coat:
After hemp oil:
Don’t the chairs look incredible, now?
His total cost for the chairs, glue and paint was about $260. I was so impressed, that I asked him to paint our end table, since he still had some left-over paint mixed up.
End table before. The mahogany has definitely seen better days:
End table after:
1. Milk paint is best applied directly over unfinished wood, but with the primer it can go over other finishes.
2. To get a good solid coverage, be sure to stir the paint often as you apply it. Or else the solids settle out, and the coverage gets thinner.
3. Once you get good at it, you can use it to create aged effects. Such as painting a solid colour, and then washing another thin layer of another colour on top.
4. While the finish is really warm and quite gorgeous, i would resist the urge to paint every piece of furniture in a room with milk paint, unless you want the look of a Canadiana furniture store or of an early settler museum vignette.
5. If i ever do another kitchen renovation, i will seriously consider a milk paint finish on the cabinetry. Kitchens take a lot of abuse. I love the idea of the finish wearing down, rather than chipping and scratching like lacquer does.