I spend a fair amount of time specifying paint colors for people and last week I was working on a color scheme for the exterior of an older home. The clients warned me that they didn't want anything wild. I took that as a good sign because clearly, they'd seen some of my more adventurous work and they still called me.
So I came up with a scheme that involved three shades of taupe, white trim and a black front door. Ho-hum, but it was pretty refined and as instructed, "not wild." However, this house has wrap-around porches on the first and second floors, after all it's an old, traditional Florida house. I specified Sherwin Williams 7608, Adrift, for the porch ceilings. Adrift is a light, neutral blue. In an effort to sell the idea I referred to the ceiling color as Haint Blue and they were smitten and signed off immediately.
Painting a porch ceiling blue is a very traditional effect, even though it doesn't show up very often anymore. It's a southern thing, but I'm a Yankee's Yankee and I grew up in a house with a blue porch ceiling in Pennsylvania. Ours were blue because that was the color they were painted when my parents bought that house in the '60s and we never changed it. I think that there was some vague story about the color keeping spiders away. Like I said, they were vague stories and really, we never really talked about it very much. But every time we painted the house, those porch ceilings stayed blue.
Well, about a year-and-a-half ago, a great friend of mine moved to New Orleans. Within days of his landing there, he turned into a combination of Marie Laveau and Tennessee Williams. In a matter of hours, he'd absorbed all of the lore of that fable-filled city and was spouting it back like a lifetime resident. I have never seen someone make a geographic transition with that kind of ease and thoroughness. I envy him his sense of place sometimes. Anyhow, when he was telling me about his house on about day two, he mentioned that its front porch had a Haint Blue ceiling.
I'd never heard the term before, but I knew exactly what he meant. Apparently Haint Blue still figures prominently into New Orleans homes. I asked him where it got its name and he said that New Orleanians use that paint color to keep away haints, or or spirits of the dead with bad intentions.
Well, I did a little digging around, and the practice of painting a porch ceiling blue did start in the American south. The expression Haint Blue comes from the Gullah people of the South Carolina and Georgia low country. They painted the entries to their homes light blue to keep the bad spirits away. The blue color represented water, and as everybody knows, haints can't cross water.
If you were an impoverished descendant of slaves in the coastal south in the 1800s, you got paint the same way you built your house --from scratch. Powdered pigments were mixed with lime, white lead and milk. The lime and lead content of those early paints probably had the added benefit of poisoning insects that landed on it. So even though the pigment got all the credit, the credit was actually due to the toxic soup the pigments were suspended in. Any color of those old, home-brewed paints would have poisoned insects, but the Haint Blue got all the glory. This is interesting, because a blue ceiling is credited with repelling insects even now. Paint doesn't have lime or lead in it anymore, so it's not surprising that modern Haint Blue (and all house paint) is completely ineffective as a bug repellent.
All of the woo-woo nonsense not withstanding, painting a porch ceiling blue is an interesting, and depending on where you live, unexpected touch. So even if I don't buy the myth, I appreciate the connection to the past. If you're in the mood for an exterior color change , think about adding some Haint Blue.