Why are Barns Red?

As a young girl in Indiana, cornfields, cows and barns were part of the regular landscape for me. Even today living thousands of miles from my hometown, this Hoosier girl loves to photograph rural American scenes with wide-open fields, fences and animals.  Something about the rural landscape takes me back…specifically a red barn.

Barns are iconic.  The symbol of rural America and a simpler time.  But barns aren’t always red.  White, black and natural wood barns are all commonly found in different parts of the country. 

Here in the Northeast, there are mostly white-washed and weathered-wood barns.  In fact, in the early 18th-century painting homes and barns was not commonplace.   The practice of painting a homes and barns started in other parts of the country by farmers who settled later in Virginia and Pennsylvania. 

Why are most barns that same distinctive red color? 

Hundreds of years ago, many farmers would seal their barns with linseed oil, which is an orange-colored oil derived from the seeds of the flax plant. To this oil, they would add a variety of things, most often milk and lime, but also ferrous oxide, or rust. Rust was plentiful on farms and because it killed fungi and mosses that might grow on barns, and it was very effective as a sealant. It turned the mixture red in color. 

(Farmer’s Almanac)  https://www.farmersalmanac.com/barns-painted-red-240

The clue was right there in the red hue…it’s a very specific orangey-red (or should I say rusty) red color! And because a commonly found ingredient (rust) was readily available to most farmers mixing their own paint, the resulting color ended up nearly the same.  

Are you looking to decorate with barn red?

Detailed color information and paint vendor links here:  https://encycolorpedia.com/7c0a02

Using Format