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How to Decorate With Antique Milk Cans

Michelle Radcliff
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Antique milk cans make eclectic accents in modern homes or rustic accents in traditional homes -- its all in how you style them.

Antique milk cans are a real treasure to find for home decor. Whether you leave them as is to enjoy their rustic character or embellish them to complement your decor, antique milk cans are chic accents that may be incorporated into almost any decorating style.

Repurposed Planter

It wouldn’t be practical to fill an entire antique milk can with soil since there only is a small opening at the top for the plants. Instead, find a small plastic pot or planter that will fit in the mouth of the can and plant your favorite flowers in that. Place the milk-can planter on the steps of a porch, by the kitchen door or on your patio for rustic charm. Two or three look even better than one.

Although you’ll only have about 6 inches in diameter to work with, you can layer thrillers, fillers and spillers for interesting effect. Plant a tall thriller in the back or center if the milk can is seen from all sides, such as ornamental grasses or Angelface Angelonia. Use medium-size flowers such as petunias for fillers and put spiller plants such as Snow Princess Lobularia along the outer edges.

Upcycled Side Table

Paint the Milk Can

A coat of spray primer with rust protection applied to the can first helps spray paint adhere to the surface. For best result, spray several thin, even coats of paint, allowing each one to dry before adding the next. If you want to personalize the can with letters, words or designs, hand paint them with acrylic paint and stencils, or go freehand if you’re an artist.

Stain and Attach the Top

Stain the wood top with the color of your choice and apply three coats of sealer, lightly sanding between each coat. You need a few tools and some hardware to attach the top.

    Position and Glue

  1. Place the wood top on an old towel or sheet. Flip the milk can upside-down and center it on the wooden top, checking all sides with a tape measure to make sure it is centered. Trace the rim with a pencil. Remove the milk can. Run a bead of adhesive around the rim of the can opening. Turn the can upside-down and center it on the circle drawn. Let the adhesive dry according to the manufacturer's direction.

  2. Attach the Brackets

  3. Use pliers to bend the L-brackets to an angle that works with the lip of the milk can. Space the three brackets evenly around the milk can. Drill a hole through each bracket hole on the wooden top and secure the bracket with a 1-inch screw.

  4. Secure the Can

  5. Drill a hole going through the other bracket hole, just above the lip of the milk can. Drill through the can and down into the wood. Secure the can with 1 1/4-inch screws in each second bracket hole.

  6. Adhere Again

  7. Run another bead of adhesive around the seam between the milk can and wooden top. Allow the adhesive to dry completely before flipping the table right-side up.

Create a rustic side table with an old milk can and a piece of pre-cut circular wood, which is at most home improvement stores. Look for a piece that is 1 inch in thickness and about 17 to 18 inches in diameter. Scrub down the milk can with soap and water to prepare it for a custom finish. Use sandpaper to remove rust or old paint, then rinse away any remaining residue.

More Creative Ideas

Use antique milk cans practically anywhere inside or outside your home as a charming or eclectic decorative accent.

  • Paint the can in a bold, glossy color and fill it with fake peacock or ostrich feathers.
  • Use a lidded milk can as a vintage accent by a claw-foot bathtub, holding a few scented candles or as a quirky stool in a family room.
  • Incorporate old milk cans into seasonal displays as a pedestal for a pumpkin or a rustic container for large spray-painted white branches illuminated with blue or white fairy lights.
  • Lay a milk can on its side in a flowerbed, yard or garden and plant a long, slightly raised mound of white flowers spilling from the mouth of the can as if spilled milk was flowing over the ground.

You also may find antique milk cans for sale that have old metal tractor seats bolted or welded to the top. Paint the stool to infuse some of your own personality or to enhance your decor.