If you have ever driven through the rural countryside of America and Canada, you have seen the ubiquitous red barns that have long been a part of the North American landscape. Once they could be found on the outskirts of every community. Sadly, many have been left to decay silently as agriculture production has moved from small family farms to the large corporate farms. Did you ever wonder why so many barns were painted red? I did. I often get asked how to mix a ‘barn red’ from our palette. It was that question posed to me recently that spurred me into finding out what color “barn red” truly is and why barns were painted that color. Google to the rescue!
Barns in America were originally built with ‘cured’ wood from previous projects. (See? Upcycling isn’t a new, trendy thing!) Because the wood was cured, there was no need for a finish to be put on. However, it wasn’t long before the barns being built became much larger than their European-inspired predecessors. Now, instead of using wood that was sitting around, new pieces were being used. Artificial curing was necessary and that preservation method was easily achieved with paint. But, the question remains, why red?
The first red barns started appearing in the late 1700’s around the Virginia Commonwealth. Prior to that, barns had been left unpainted. The red barns moved out of Virginia and into Pennsylvania and beyond fairly quickly. Like so many things then (and even now) it was a matter of economics. It was the least expensive color to make.
Most of the barns built in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s were painted with paint made at the farm, as ready-made pain
t was not available. Originally paint was made from a mixture of skimmed milk and lime. This homemade paint produced a hard coating that often lasted for years. Occasionally, it turned too hard, did not adhere well to the barns, and would peel off in sheets. The farmers discovered that adding linseed oil to the mixture made the paint soak into the wood and last for years.
The easiest way to color paint was to use something readily available. Animal blood was used to tint the mixture, but that paint did not hold up well to the elements. Iron (ferrous) oxide, also known as rust, turns paint red and was plentiful, usually found on the farm it self. Rust was known to kill many fungi, including mold and moss, which often was found growing on barns. By mixing iron oxide into paint, it not only protected the wood, but also gave it its deep dark red coloring. In addition to protecting the wo
od of the barn, the red paint had other benefits. It absorbed the heat from the sun better in the winter and that kept the animals warmer during the cold days. Thus, you have barn red.
Similar to Haint Blue, Barn Red is not ‘one color.’ The farmers all had their own mix, and it would vary from farm to farm. Traditionally, it is not so much of a primary red but more of a rusty brown red. If you have ever looked closely at primitive, painted furniture, it is not unusual to see a coat of the barn red as one of the layers of paint that had protected the piece over the years.
To make Albemarle Red, I used the CeCe Caldwell’s Paints palette colors of Jersey Tomato, Sedona Red and Texas Tea. It takes 6 parts Jersey Tomato, 6 parts Sedona Red and 1 part Texas Tea. Just like the farmers mixing the paint for their barns, you can vary the proportions slightly to change to color to fit your vision of “barn red.”
Why did I choose Albemarle to be the name of my barn red? Albemarle County, Virginia was an agricultural area for many years. It is the county that Charlottesville, VA is located in. I think that area of Virginia is one of the most beautiful places on earth and surely some of the earliest red barns were found there.
Albemarle Red: 6 parts Jersey Tomato : 6 parts Sedona Red : 1 part Texas Tea