These Homeowners Are Happy to Have the Blues

A sky view without a skylight: Some homeowners say the blue on their porch ceiling helps promote a calm, cool atmosphere.
A sky view without a skylight: Some homeowners say the blue on their porch ceiling helps promote a calm, cool atmosphere. (CNS Photo From www.carolynbates.com)
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By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 7, 2008

When Rebecca Parlakian and Larry Giammo renovated their 1940s Rockville farmhouse five years ago, they added a porch to the back. They wanted the addition to look and feel old, as if it had always been there, so they installed beadboard on the ceiling. The final touch: painting the beadboard a pale sky blue.

"We got the idea from walking through Rockville's historic district, where there are lots of houses with blue ceilings," Parlakian says. "For older homes, it just seems like part of the dressing now. It's so airy and fresh . . . and so summery."

"When you pull in the driveway, it's very welcoming" says Adina Brosnan-McGee about the blue porch ceiling of her Hyattsville Cape Cod. Her choice of color: Benjamin Moore's Caribbean Breeze, a tropical turquoise.

From the palest of powder blues to varying shades of aqua, teal, cobalt, robin's-egg, periwinkle and gray, blue porch ceilings are popping up all across town. Once just an old Southern tradition, this subtle design detail has made its way North and is being introduced to new generations.

The cerulean color is undeniably pretty, but that's not the only reason people are painting with blues.

Some have heard that the color fools spiders and wasps into thinking the ceiling is the sky and, therefore, not a place where they can hang out or build webs and nests (a theory many homeowners say is untrue). Others believe blue is a harbinger of good luck. And some are convinced that the color actually extends daylight and promotes a calming, cooling and relaxing atmosphere.

Then there are folks from the South who believe blue ceilings scare away evil spirits.

It's an tradition that can be credited to the Gullah/Geechee culture, a mix of African tribes that made up a large part of the slave population once found in the Carolina Low Country (from Georgetown, S.C., through the Georgia Sea Islands), says Leigh Handal, a director at the Historic Charleston Foundation. The people in these communities brought many customs and myths along with them to the United States, including the superstition that the color blue warded off evil spirits ("haints," or haunts). The Gullah people would paint the woodwork around their windows and doorways to ward off the haints, Handal says. This painting practice spilled over onto porch ceilings, and the color came to be known as "haint blue."

But before you call the foundation to find out the exact color, there's something you need to know: "There is no official haint blue color," Handal says. "The Gullahs used whatever pigments of paint they could get their hands on. Haint blue is just blue." (That said, the Historic Charleston Foundation has two licensed paint collections through Duron Paints, featuring a color that represents their interpretation of haint blue, a deep shade of turquoise called "Gullah Blue.")

Yet today's homeowners are fixated on finding the perfect shade.

Customers inquire about blue ceilings "all the time," says Carl Langhorne, an assistant manager at Strosniders Hardware Store in Bethesda, who said that he has noticed an increased interest in the past two years. "Some people are manic about it. They get three, four, five different quarts trying to get the right color. Some people try to mimic the sky. Others don't care as long as they have it and as long as it's blue."

He has heard the Gullah myths but says he thinks most people paint with blue simply because it makes them feel good. "It gives you a nice relaxing, mellow vibe," he says. "I like it. It beats basic white."


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