Blue porch ceilings northward bound

Shades of sky, cerulean and haint show up on verandas outside the South.

07/27/2008 12:00 AM

08/27/2008 7:16 PM

When Rebecca Parlakian and Larry Giammo renovated their suburban 1940s farmhouse five years ago, they added a porch. To make the addition look and feel old, as if it had always been there, 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 (Md.) 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 Cape Cod in suburban Hyattsville, Md. Her choice: 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.

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 Lowcountry (from Georgetown, S.C., through the Georgia Sea Islands), says Leigh Handal, a director at the Historic Charleston Foundation. These people brought many customs and myths 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.”

Customers inquire about blue ceilings “all the time,” says Carl Langhorne, an assistant manager at Strosniders Hardware Store in suburban Bethesda, Md., 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.

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