What is the Meaning of Blue Ceilings?

by admin on January 3, 2013


What is the Meaning of Blue Ceilings?

January 3, 2013

We are currently on a project in the Seattle Highlands neighborhood. The house is a contemporary build with a neutral off-white and brown palette…except for the ceiling in the grand dinning room; it is a soft blue. On my first trip to Atlanta’s historic districts in 1987; I noticed these blue ceilings and soffits.  I asked if the previous owners were from the South?

In every culture throughout history, people have assigned symbolism to the colors that make up the visible spectrum. Some of this symbolism comes from nature. It would be difficult to separate brown from the color of the earth or greens from their connection to plant life. Some of it comes from the mood these colors seem to impart. Red is connected with fire and blood, but also with deep feelings of great passion, such as anger and—conversely—love. Then there is blue.

Haint blue is a color often used to paint porch ceilings in the southern United States. The practice of using haint blue paint on porch ceilings dates back to at least the 1800s and possibly even earlier. There are a few different stories about the origin of the tradition, and it’s likely that the true story is a combination of different elements from each of these stories.

One theory is that haint blue paint was used to deter pests, such as mosquitoes and wasps, from building nests on porch ceilings. The color blue is believed to be unappealing to these insects and may have helped to keep them at bay.

Another theory is that haint blue paint was used to ward off evil spirits, or “haints.” In African-American folklore, haints are ghosts or other supernatural beings that can harm the living. It was believed that haint blue paint had the power to protect against these malevolent entities and keep them away from the home.

A third theory is that haint blue paint was used to keep birds from roosting on porch ceilings. The color blue is thought to be unappealing to birds and may have deterred them from building nests on the ceilings of porches.

Regardless of the specific reason for its use, haint blue paint became a popular tradition in the southern United States, particularly in areas with a strong African-American cultural influence. Today, haint blue porch ceilings can be found in many parts of the South, and the tradition has become a beloved and enduring part of southern culture.

The Ocean Deep
Blue is forever associated with two things in nature: the sky and the ocean. Both of these vast canvases invoke feelings of weightlessness, enormity, and calm. But as popular as the color is in today’s designs and fabrics, it was a relative latecomer in terms of being used as a paint. Perhaps owing to the difficulty of creating passable blue dyes in the ancient world, the color went unused for years while reds, blacks, and browns were used in the cave paintings that defined the Upper Paleolithic artistic period. It was not until the ancient Egyptians began using native materials to create their own synthetic dye that it saw widespread use.Tapping Into History
What does all of this have to do with the meaning behind blue ceilings? It means nothing and everything at the same time. One homeowner may choose to paint her bedroom ceiling blue because she associates the color with good feelings. She may be an outdoorsy sort and the blue ceiling gives her the illusion of sleeping in an open meadow. Another homeowner may take all of the color’s rich history into account when choosing to use it as a dominant tone. And while there is no need to involve mysticism and ancient legends in your choice of paint colors, those who choose to do so—even in jest—can tap into yet another level of symbolism.A Mystical Tradition
Commonly associated with Southern porch ceilings, the term “haint blue” may not be one familiar to Northern readers. Indeed, those looking for a specific hue would do well to look elsewhere, as the term invokes not an unmistakable tint, but rather the talismanic properties of the color itself. Built on the superstitions of the Carolina Low Country, the thought is that painting your porch ceiling blue would ward away evil spirits. These myths entered into the American culture by way of African slaves who brought them to the plantations from their homeland and used the color to paint their window frames and door posts, thus keeping “haints” or “haunts” out of the home. Why was blue so effective at keeping the evil spirits at bay? The Gullah slave culture maintained that though evil spirits could cause harm to your family, and travel imperceptibly through walls and air, they would be stopped dead in their tracks by water. The blue paints were mixed and added on to the home as a way of confusing the spirits, preventing them from wreaking all kinds of unwanted mischief in the house. Over time, frames and posts turned into porch ceilings. The Natural Way
Of course, it would be foolish to discount the millions of people who choose to paint their ceilings blue as a direct reference to the sky. Blue skies not only define the world we live in, but are associated with feelings of pleasantness, warm temperatures, and the growth of life. Humans have looked to put a roof of some sort over their heads since time began, but it is only recently (relatively speaking) that our homes have begun isolating us from not only each other, but from the natural world. Perhaps technology and the rise of telecommuting have emphasized this stark line of delineation even more. Many homeowners—whether consciously or not—want something that reminds them that there is a whole world out there, even if they don’t get many chances to see it. Blue ceilings are a key ingredient in making a house feel like a part of nature, rather than a shelter from it. Keeping Critters At Bay
Of course, some see painting a porch ceiling blue as a matter of pure practicality. As urban legend would have it, the color fools spiders, wasps, and other undesirable critters into believing they are looking at the sky. Thus, they won’t attempt to make a home in your eaves. With Americans spending billions of dollars each year in pest control poisons, the temptation to believe such a story is easily understood. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pass muster. There is no reason to believe a wasp would see a blue porch ceiling as any deterrent to building a fine nest. Some have noted that earlier blue paints used a mixture of lime in the ingredients list, which may have acted as a pest repellant, but you won’t find lime in current paints.Choosing Your Blue
Whether you choose to paint your ceiling blue because of the deep meanings and spiritual connotations behind it, because you still believe it may help control your wasp problem, or simply because someone said you could get a better resale value on your home, it’s important to choose the right tone when putting brush to wood. Experts are unanimous when they recommend homeowners choose a tint that matches the rest of the house. The most beautiful shade of blue in the world will look ridiculous when surrounded by colors that don’t match. Consult with a design expert if you don’t have an eye for it yourself. You may not be able to keep evil spirits or wasps out of your home, but you can at least keep your neighbors from scoffing.


Read more and see pictures of Haint Blue on this Houzz idea book
Here is the story about blue ceilings. Paint years ago was made with chemicals much stronger than what we use today, When people transitioned from wood ceilings to painted ceilings they noticed that the bugs no longer nested in the ceilings and they thought it was the sky blue color that was a deterent. Actually it was the chemicals in the fresh paint that the insects could not stand the smell of and some stories say that the chemicals killed the spiders. So it was the paint chemicals that repelled the insects, the ceiling could have een any color and the same thing would have happened. It was not that they don’t like the color blue.
By Amy Wax


Previous post:

Next post: