July 30, 2021 - In my younger days I occasionally hung wallpaper and painted in a few of the very old homes around East Texas. Two things I noted about these old homes: one, they always had large porches, some completely surrounding the home; and two, the porch ceilings were usually painted a light blue. As we know, porches have just about disappeared on the new homes built today, or else a front porch is like an afterthought. Why is that?
Before the advent of the television and home computer, people usually needed something to do after supper, so they retreated to their front porch, sat in a swing or rocking chair, and enjoyed the cool air and visits with neighbors. Now days you seldom see anyone outside after supper because they are watching a movie on television, or working on their computer.
Back to the porches. As I mentioned, it appears that the trend was to paint the porch ceilings a light blue color. It still persists to this day. Why is this? Some research discloses several interesting reasons:
One reason is the Gullah/Geechee Culture. So what is that, you ask. Well, the Gullah/Geechee are descendants of enslaved Africans, brought to Charleston, South Carolina in the 1500s. This rich culture brought with it traditions from central and west Africa. Many of these traditions have been preserved due to the Gullah's relative isolation for long periods of time.
The Gullah people maintain a strong spiritual tradition that informs their rituals, and even their home decor. For the Gullah, a “haint” is a wandering spirit, a lost soul that might wish evil on the living. According to them, 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 blue porch ceiling resembles water, and prevents “haints” from harassing the people in the house. So, 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.
Another reason some people use blue paint on the porch ceiling is that it is calming and peaceful. Perhaps it's the practice of whiling away a long, hot afternoon with a cool glass of sweet tea and a slow rocking chair that works to ease a troubled mind.
Some say that the sky blue color acts as an insect repellent. The blue color was thought to trick wasps, mosquitoes, and other insects into thinking the blue ceiling was the sky. This had the effect of discouraging them from congregating around seating areas. Some evidence suggests that wasps are actually fooled by the blue color. Lye was a primary ingredient in the original paints used for blue porch ceilings. This chemical probably was a deterrent for wasps, dirt daubers, and other insects.
Extending daylight may have been a factor. Many 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.
Some people say that a light blue porch ceiling color actually helps the house's curb appeal. 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 to any landscape.
Another reason for the blue porch ceiling paint is tradition. 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.
So there you have it, the main reasons for painting the porch ceilings a light blue color. Perhaps some day soon, the modern generation will get back to building new houses with large porches in front. They will need to keep in mind “haint blue” as the color to paint their porch ceilings for all the reasons mentioned above.