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What is 'haint blue'? Here's why Southern porches have blue ceilings

by Embry Roberts / / Source: TODAY

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If you've ever had the pleasure of sipping sweet tea on a sun-drenched wraparound porch down South, you might have looked up to find a colorful surprise.

Porch ceilings in the American South (and parts of the Northeast) are almost always painted blue — whether the rest of the home's exterior is white, yellow, pink or any other color of the rainbow.

It's no coincidence.

Why many Southern porches have blue ceilings.
It's not a trick of the light ... but it is a trick.Kimberly Ciocon

"First, there’s the folklore," explained Ellen O’Neill, the director of strategic design intelligence at Benjamin Moore. "Then, there’s the feel-good factor."

Color us intrigued!

The folklore piece refers to the concept of "haint," a Southern variation on the word "haunt" that refers to a ghost or spirit. "Blue represented water, and apparently spirits can’t traverse water," said O'Neill. "People would paint the ceilings, the window trim, and sometimes the doors (to keep spirits away)."

What started as superstition has since translated into a design trend. "No one would think twice about painting their porch blue, because their grandmother's and their parents' (porches) were blue," O’Neill explained. "It's permeated into porch design."

In fact, the pale blue-green tint is now known in design circles as "haint blue."

Why many Southern porches have blue ceilings.
These are the most popular porch ceiling hues among Benjamin Moore customers.Benjamin Moore

Even if you don't believe in ghosts, a blue ceiling adds plenty of benefits from a design perspective. "A blue sky is an optimistic thing to look at. It reminds us of daybreak; it wards off gloomy weather and delays nightfall," said O'Neill. "Painting a ceiling blue brings in nature and the sky."

Plus, you don't have to worry about it clashing with the house. "Regardless of the rest of the paint colors — we see houses with yellow or pink facades with blue ceilings, and it doesn’t look like paint palette," O'Neill explained. "It looks like 'Oh, of course, that’s the sky.'”

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And there's one more perk: Blue paint is believed to keep bugs and birds from nesting. While some think this is due to the heavy doses of lye that used to be in the paint supply, there's a psychological argument, too.

"If an insect perceives that a ceiling is really the sky, it instinctively wouldn’t nest there," said O'Neill. "It depends how deep you want to go into the brain of an insect ... but it's not unlike how ladybugs will land on a white house. It's a visual trick."

Whatever the reason, it sounds like spending some time under a blue ceiling won't leave us feeling blue!

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