One of Costa Rica’s most prevalent and iconic symbols is the traditional house, or “casa típica.” Visitors to Costa Rica will see houses of this type on hundreds of postcards, in paintings, and in historically accurate reconstructions of actual buildings. The house looks the same in almost every representation; it has a red tile roof, square openings for windows, whitewashed adobe (or bahareque) walls, and a bright blue band of paint at the base of those walls. This blue band is the most remarkable feature on these houses. Interestingly, the reason behind the blue-and-white color combination—and the blue band, in particular—is not entirely clear. People have developed various theories to explain the blue, and all seem equally valid.

Some people say that the blue-and-white decorating scheme is merely an homage to Costa Rica itself. Because the traditional houses all had red-tile roofs, their owners decided to paint the walls blue and white. Thus, their houses were red, white and blue, the colors of the Costa Rican flag.

Some believe that when these types of houses were built, blue and white were simply the cheapest paint colors available. The paint protected the houses’ adobe walls, and people merely used the most economical colors they could find. Of course, this explanation does not take into account the particular design of the houses. Why is the blue at the base of the walls?

Other people argue that the blue at the base of the walls serves a functional purpose. When houses of this type were popular, Costa Rica was a rural country, and the houses stood on either dirt or grass. During the long rainy season, water poured off the roofs of the houses and pounded into the ground, splashing mud onto the walls. If the walls had been painted white all the way to the ground, their bases would have been mud-spattered and dirty throughout the rainy season. The blue paint served to protect the walls from mud spots and to disguise any dirt. Of course, one might wonder why people chose blue paint, instead of brown.

Still other people agree with the rain theory but have a different idea about causation. They believe that houses were all painted white at first and that they all developed a rain-induced band of caked-on mud at their bases. The brown band was so familiar-looking that people began to appreciate its aesthetic beauty. The color-block look became popular and desirable. With the idea of replicating this banded look, people began to paint the bases of their outdoor walls, settling on blue as a color that would not continually remind them of mud and as a particularly snappy pairing with white.

Although the reason behind the blue-and-white combination on Costa Rica’s traditional houses may be unclear, the houses are clearly charming and fun to see.

Please let us know if you have heard any other theories about the painted design of traditional Costa Rican houses.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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