Driving down country roads and through historic districts in the South, you may have noticed a characteristic feature: blue porch ceilings. MLM Incorporated loves working on historic renovations, celebrating this type of tradition in southern Louisiana. Painting porch ceilings blue has a surprisingly historical background that has migrated steadily north and west.
Why are porch ceilings painted blue in New Orleans and the South?
Although they are making their way across the U.S., a blue porch ceiling is still most common in New Orleans and across the South. Since this tradition originated in the South, it makes sense that it is still most prevalent there. However, blue porch ceilings can be found in the Northwest and adorning traditional Victorian and Colonial homes on the east coast, well north of the Mason-Dixon line.
So why are porch ceilings painted blue? There are a variety of reasons that range from preference to insect repellant, but it all begins with one of the richest and most vibrant cultures in the South: the Gullah/Geechee.
Gullah, or Geechee, culture
The Gullah/Geechee people are descendants of enslaved Africans, brought to Charleston, South Carolina in the 1500s. Now primarily in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, this rich culture brought with it, traditions from central and west Africa. Many of these traditions have been preserved due to the Gullahs’ relative isolation for long periods of time.
In addition to distinctive foodways, craft, and a rich linguistic and social culture, the Gullah people maintain a strong spiritual tradition that informs their rituals and even their home décor. For the Gullah, a haint is a wandering spirit, a lost soul that might wish evil on the living. According to the Gullah/Geechee, a blue porch ceiling brought good luck to the home and helped to ward away evil spirits as these lost souls are unable to cross water. A haint blue porch ceiling resembles water and prevents haints from harming the people in the house.
The soft blue often used on porch ceiling retains the ghostly name of haint blue, however, haint blue is not a specific color. The Gullah created a variety of blue shades using chalk and whatever other materials they had on hand.
The tradition of painting a blue porch ceiling can be directly traced back to the Gullah people and is one of the many gifts this culture carries with them.
Even for families who do not know the history of haint blue (and a blue porch ceiling in general), tradition is strong in the South.
Many people grew up in houses with a blue porch ceiling and then went on to paint the ceilings of their own porches blue.
Calming and peaceful
Perhaps it’s the practice of wiling away a long, hot afternoon with a cool glass of sweet tea and a slow rocking chair that works to ease a troubled mind, but color theory goes one better with blue.
According to color theory, blue in its resemblance to the sky and water has calming and peaceful effects for people exposed to it. It is also a short wavelength color that promotes relaxation and decreases anxiety.
Blue is also associated with the following characteristics:
Regardless of whether it’s the time spent relaxing or the color on the ceiling, many people can attest to the powerful calming effects of blue.
Whether you are sprucing up your house to sell or just want it to look its best, a blue porch ceiling can help.
That quick flash of color, viewed from the sidewalk, adds interest and curb appeal in any landscape.
Finally, the blue color was also thought to trick wasps, mosquitos, and other insects into thinking the ceiling was the sky. This had the effect (hopefully!) of discouraging them from congregating around seating areas.
Some evidence suggests that wasps are actually fooled by the color blue, but there may be a more logical explanation. Lye was a primary ingredient in the original paints used for blue porch ceilings. This chemical may have been a deterrent for wasps and other insects.
In addition to insects, many believe that a blue porch ceiling prevents birds from nesting in the eaves of the porch. The evidence supporting a blue porch ceiling’s insect and bird-repelling powers is anecdotal, but folks across the South swear it works!
Other homeowners felt that the paint color helped to extend the last light of day, making the porch feel bright even once the sun had begun to set.
Looking up to see a light porch ceiling tricks a person into thinking it is still light out, especially when viewed against a darkening sky.
What’s the best blue for porch ceilings?
When designers are considering incorporating a blue porch ceiling into a historic home preservation, the color should be chosen to coordinate with the rest of the exterior paint. As noted above, the Gullah who started this tradition used a blue created by materials close at hand. The resulting shade of haint blue was usually a soft blue-green.
For homes on the east coast, the predominant shade is a light, wispy sky blue. The Northwest favors more vivid blues. Traditionally, Southern blues range from a soft powdery tone to richer blue-green shades. Consider the following colors to start with:
- Sky blue: Vivid, clear, and energetic
- Turquoise: Resembles a clear sea and is calming
- Pale blue: Brings out white trim without being overwhelming or bright
- Grey-blue: This shade can really change, depending on the light and time of day
- Periwinkle: A playful, lively tone that also changes depending on the light
- Midnight blue: This deep shade can make your porch ceiling seem to disappear
These days, the choice of blue for your porch ceiling is largely a matter of preference. Thankfully, porch ceilings are generally a much smaller surface to paint. If you don’t like the exterior color you choose, it is an easy fix. Take some time to consider the other colors of your home before making your selection, and then go for it!
How to paint a blue porch ceiling
If you are considering painting a blue porch ceiling yourself, here are our tips for doing it right.
1. Choose the best paint (and rollers)
In the South, mildew-resistant paint is crucial. Use a paint-and-primer combo to ensure even coverage. Water-based paint works well for most wood applications, but if you are applying on metal go with oil-based paints. Covering imperfections? Go with a flat or matte finish to conceal cracks and other damage. Finally, make sure your paint and primer are both rated for exterior use!
For water-based paints, choose synthetic rollers (natural rollers work best with oil-based paint). You can use edgers or an angled paintbrush to “cut in” the sides (and around light fixtures or ceiling fans) before rolling the ceiling.
2. Clean and prep the ceiling (and the porch!)
Before starting, clean your ceiling and remove any loose or flaking paint. You may need to sand your surface to allow the primer and paint to adhere better.
Tape off areas that are not being painted, and use drop cloths to protect the porch floor, railings. Move furniture out if possible, or cover them as well.
Apply even coats of paint in the direction of the ceiling wood (or beadboard). Allow each coat of paint to dry completely before applying the next coat. Many thin coats of paint will last longer and look better than one thick coat, especially in the humidity of the South.
These days a blue porch ceiling is popular across much of the country. Some people enjoy the soft colors of nature, while others do it because it reminds them of the houses of their childhoods. Many just enjoy the cheerful, unexpected pop of color. Whatever the reason, a pretty blue porch ceiling is a way to add an extra touch of tradition when undertaking historic home preservation.
Whether you are looking to paint a blue porch ceiling or considering a total overhaul, MLM Incorporated is passionate about preserving the heritage and architectural beauty of historic homes in Louisiana. We specialize in historic renovations and can help you bring your historic house back to life.
Originally posted on August 31, 2017.