September 26, 2007

Blue Porch Ceilings

We received a wonderfully generous grant to paint the outside of the historic house where I work. When it came time to pick the colours, we all agreed on a pale yellow that would look good with the fieldstone of the house. We also liked it because it wouldn't turn grey with age like white would.

The estate manager then asked what colour to paint the porch and its beadboard ceiling. "Blue", I shouted, "Of course, you'd never paint a porch ceiling any other colour than that." A pale sky blue, with the floor a slightly darker shade than the trim.
Apparently, no one had ever heard of painting a porch ceiling blue. Was this just something that I knew but couldn't explain how I knew it? My family is from the South, so maybe that's where I heard about blue porch ceilings. Luckily, I didn't say Haint Blue, which is what I was thinking.

So I did a little investigating. I think that I'd heard that blue ceilings repel bugs, but apparently that was from the lime in old paints, not the colour. Haint Blue milk paint was mixed in the lime mines and used on old houses. For those who might not know, a haint is a ghost or spirit. Slaves in the American South believed that this colour blue kept the spirits away. Haint blue is a pale blue with a hint of periwinkle. FYI, we're using Duron's Bluebell for the ceiling.

Another explanation is that the blue reflects light into the house and makes it brighter. Additionally, it mimics the sky, keeping the daylight longer. Last summer, NPR did an interesting story on blue porch ceilings. Listen to it here.
My girls, Annie & Jura, from the Washington Post's Home Front also weigh in on the porch ceiling colour in a discussion from earlier this year. They say that the watermen on the Chesapeake Bay paint their cabin tops blue to repel bugs, especially mosquitoes. There's a reference at the top of the discussion, and then about half-way down. Do you know about blue porch ceilings?


  1. That's rather surprising that in Baltimore people didn't know what you were talking about. I just thought it was common knowledge :)

  2. It is also a recessive colour - draws the eye in thereby creating depth. White comes toward the viewer.
    I know they do it in the Caribbean as well.

  3. I just listened 'to it here', oh how I wish the world could see this America - rather than the ugly, loud America that is exported.

  4. I'm at work so I can't listen to the NPR piece but I love sky blue beadboard ceilings -- they're classic and I don't think it's only a southern thing. I remember seeing a string of wonderful white frame houses along one of the Finger Lakes all with dark green shutters and and blue porch ceilings. Gorgeous.

  5. I was under the impression that porch ceiling were blue because it kept evil spirits from entering the house. Now, anyone who dislikes being outside as much as I do considers a mosquito an evil spirit, so maybe it's the same thing. It's definitely a southern tradition. One that I adore.

  6. Hmmmmm.... I just received your link request, clicked in here and read about the blue porch ceilings - which is exactly the colour I'm planning to paint mine!

    Guess I'll be linking!

  7. We southern girls are told it keeps the spiders from spinning their webs because they think it is the sky.......

  8. I laughed so hard when I read "Haint Blue". I haven't heard haint in a very long time. It's this way: Chirstmas trees are green, porch ceilings are blue.
    Thanks for the laugh, love the blog!

  9. I referenced your blog in my english paper. i chose to write a short story about the legend of haint blue paint and your blog helped tremendously.


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