I often travel the length and breadth of the South West of England seeking out perfect furniture finds to refinish or renovate. Last week was no different when I paid a trip to Truro - Cornwall and the UK's most South Westley city, and a place where I’ve had many successful vintage furniture hunts previously and where I just love to return.
There’s something a bit special about Truro. It’s so vibrant and lively but still very Cornish and it’s one of my favourite places to mooch around and marvel at the architecture, history and eclectic mix of galleries, café’s, shops and eateries.
Although Truro is officially classed as a city, it really doesn’t feel like one in many respects. Full of character, independent stores and quirky boutiques tucked away down a myriad of Georgian streets. For me, it offers an intimacy only a thriving market town can.
The sole purpose of my visit this time was to meet up with a potential new client to run through an interior design project, and while I was down there, I couldn’t resist the urge to go into the heart of Truro and soak up some of its energy and atmosphere.
Whilst taking in the sights and generally just enjoying the culture of the area, I stumbled across a really lovely French inspired dresser packed away at the back of an antique market I’ve visited many times in the past and often sourced some wonderful treasures from.
Today was no exception. I pulled the dresser out with the help of an assistant to get a better look and assess her potential. She, the dresser, stood quite tall at about 5 ½ feet and I just couldn’t get over her rustic French / Cornish charm.
I asked the assistant if she knew anything about the furniture’s history. Unfortunately, all she knew was that it belonged to a local carpenter who had made it many years ago for his wife to use in their family farmhouse, but now they no longer had a need for it.
I walked around the dresser, and although she has been put together very simply, I was immediately taken with her elegance and appeal. Without further ado, I paid the store assistant and we both ‘woman handled’ her into my van.
I don’t often get an overwhelming urge to suddenly start work on a piece. This was a little different though somehow. I already had a mental image of how the dresser would look transformed.
Of course I get excited about certain pieces and can’t wait to transform them. It’s fair to say sometimes I start work on projects not knowing quite where it will take me. That’s the great thing about refinishing a piece of furniture – it doesn’t have to be quite so organised as the rest of my work.
I’ve been using a lot of chalk paint recently on furniture refurb projects but being an avid follower of Miss Mustard Seed and her milk paint success, I really wanted to get back to milk paint at some point.
Until fairly recently, it’s been pretty hard work to get hold of MMS milk paint here in the UK, but after a bit of research and having spoken with Marian herself, I managed to source a stockist and place an order.
Marian Parsons (aka Miss Mustard Seed) has been such an inspiring influence over the years and I’ve been keen to try out her own milk paint line. Now I had the perfect piece to do her lovely paints some justice, I couldn’t wait to get started!!
Working with milk paint is quite different from the chalk paint that is so popular in the UK. It comes in powder form and stored in an easy to use re-sealable sachet.
What a lot of people don’t know is milk paint isn’t a new invention, in fact it’s one of the oldest techniques for applying paint. Normally made from all natural, non-toxic, ingredients that contain milk protein, limestone, clay and natural pigments, they are very eco-friendly and Miss Mustard Seed products are no exception.
You basically mix the powered paint with a combination of one-part water and one-part milk paint in a container, and Au Voila! It’s ready to use.
As my dresser had a very light sheen applied already, I decided to add a little bonding agent to my milk paint mixture to ensure it gripped the wood as I needed it to. I wasn’t sure at this stage whether I wanted to distress the piece, so adding bonding agent to your milk paint before you start, enables the paint to adhere to surfaces without prep, paint peeling, bubbling or any natural distressing occurring.
One of the first notable differences you take on-board as a professional furniture painter, is the thinner texture to milk paint compared to that of chalk paint.
This works well for many reasons. The first being that sometimes you only want a slightly paint washed opaque look to a raw wood piece of furniture and milk paint applies this effect effortlessly.
It also requires little or no sanding during layers and the organic distressing element that can take place with milk paint on raw wood that’s had no bonding agent applied, looks natural and very beautiful.
This time round I did want more coverage to the piece, so applied three good coats of MMS milk paint to the dresser (or there about) until I ended up with the finish I was looking for. I wanted to continue the European feel of my dresser through to its colour and opted for Bergere on the outside and Grain Sack on the inside. I was amazed how far my little pot of mixture went and how striking it looked when fully absorbed.
I finished the dresser with some white wax and once dry, applied some light distressing with fine 160 grit sandpaper around her more prominent areas where natural wear and wood reveal might occur.
I found Miss Mustard Seed milk paint very malleable and easy to work with – even to the point of being able to combine it with other milk paint colours for different effect.
Other than making sure the paint is well mixed at the beginning and during the painting process, I found it gripped to my piece well and very subtly enhanced it as I added each layer.
I very much enjoyed my milk experience and it reminded me how much I had missed working with it.
The end result? This very beautiful St Mellion dresser.