Let's imagine that I want to say the following, replacing the word drab:

This painting is beautifully drab.

I'm particularly thinking of when you describe a piece of art. Usually something lacking in color is drab, but occasionally the lack of strong colors is appropriate and positive, if that makes sense.

I have searched through the thesaurus for synonyms of "drab" and antonyms to synonyms of "colorful". As far as I can tell all of the results are generally negative in meaning.

Is there a word or am I searching for something that does not exist?

  • No, never. As you yourself said, something lacking in color is drab. That sometimes that's appropriate and positive, makes sense but it could never stop (whatever) being drab. How does "This painting is beautifully drab…" not speak for itself, or say exactly what you meant? Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 21:46

2 Answers 2


You could perhaps call it understated:-

restrained in design, presentation, etc.; low-key: the understated elegance of the house.

  • understated! That is the word I was looking for! I could almost feel a physical fizzle of connection in my brain when I read it. Cheers! Commented May 15, 2013 at 7:31
  • 3
    That's the best, but muted isn't too negative. Commented May 15, 2013 at 10:30

Alternatively, you might consider austere, for which one meaning is

  1. Having no adornment or ornamentation; bare: an austere style.


Usually austere is more extreme or severe than drab, but it has an elegance to it. When you want something more militant than understated it can work well.

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