Drab (aka Greige)

Photo: November mud puddles

This is stupid. So some designer somewhere paints a house a colour I don’t care for. It shouldn’t upset me. But it does. This is stupid.

My husband tossed the mail on my computer keyboard. He leaves it there knowing I will at least have to move it to another pile before I venture into the creative zone where I lose all track of time. A flyer for a charity lottery dangled a two million dollar house in front of my eyes.

I like this house. I really like this house.

Tucked into a Douglas fir-covered hillside it gathers the bits of twine and twig that attract my nesting instincts. Some people call it West Coast mountain style. I like the warm cedar wood facing the gables, the stone work edging a long porch, the glass stretching from vista to vista. The photo must have been shot at twilight; a warm amber light calls from behind those huge windows, beckoning the weary traveller home, almost like one of those kitschy “Christian” paintings which I will never publicly admit to liking.

I was actually tempted to buy a ticket.

My husband says lotteries are a tax on the mathematically challenged. The chance of winning a West Coast mansion is only marginally enhanced by purchasing a ticket. I can’t believe I am thinking about enhancing and chancing on a cold dull morning. The fantasy machine starts whirring in my mind.

Overlooking the inlet, you say. Sunsets on the Pacific. A little 4000 square foot getaway for shopping weekends in the big city (accessed by my private jet, of course). A surprising little retreat for entertaining film crews when they come to interview me. I wonder if there is adequate space for overnight guests. Doesn’t say. I’ll have to look it up on the internet.

I do. There’s the view. Niiiice. There’s outdoor living space perched over the worm-grubbers below in the valley. There’s the dining room.


They painted the walls that trendy brownish gray that leaks out like dirt under the front porch. High ceilings though. I suppose I could paint it. The furniture follows a predictable “variations on a brown rectangle” theme, the same supposedly stylish stuff that seems to be the only offering that shows up in furniture galleries lately. A couple of good antiques could change that. I move on, kitchen, living room, master bedroom –no, no, no!

Every room is painted that horrible, horrible, dreadful, awful, disgusting colour. 4000 square feet of potentially beautiful space painted the colour of a World War II bunker.

Every room has the dark fog of a diesel smoke-filled November service road coating each wall. Why? Why would anyone ruin my house this way? They painted it the colour of a dead shrub, of a mud puddle, of a back alley trench coat. It is going to take so much work to fix it.

Drab. That’s the name of the colour –at least it used to be in the Sears catalogue when I was a kid. Now it’s labelled “greige”.

Aaaargh! I hit the red X and stomp away.

OK, this reaction is out of proportion, I admit, but the emergence of the colour drab on the thick end of the trendy scale symbolizes something more to me. Why do certain colours become fashionable at certain times in our history? What does this say about us now?

I heard someone say that to some dreamers and artists, colour and the symbolism and emotion associated with colour is all-important. They are all about colour. They see everything in colour –- except life.

Guilty as charged.

I know other people see “greige” differently (maybe a drab wall does make a red pillow “pop”) but to me drab is the colour of compromise. This is the hue that results from throwing every committee member’s idea, sans discernment or direction, into the same mixer, then lightening it up slightly with a bit of off-white politeness. This is the hue my art teacher warned me would be the result of indecision when mixing blobs of paint on my palette without a sense of direction.

“Mud, dear,” she would say, “Beware the artist who thinks he can create beauty with twelve shades of mud.”

When playing with light and photographs on a computer, drab is the colour of timidity. It is what happens when you slide the saturate scale button too far to the left and suck all the life out of a photo just before heading into the world of black and white. Designers say drab is neutral. To me, drab is no more a neutral colour than suicidal depression is a neutral emotion.

And there you have it. To me, “greige” symbolizes depression, a nice smiling-on-the-outside, don’t-rock-the-boat, suck-the-life-out-of-you depression. That’s why I hate it.

Someone asked me the other day why lol laughing while reading a joke on a bus, or skipping in the mall, or dancing in the aisles of a church is considered to be an unacceptable display of emotionalism, when white-knuckling a steering wheel, scrunching a face in disgust at the weather, shouting the equivalent of “death to the infidels” at a hockey game, or dragging the corners of one’s hopelessness into a pew are perfectly acceptable displays of emotionalism.

An internet article on the psychology of colours suggests that grey-brown as a decorating colour subdues emotion, creating a calm, non-evocative atmosphere. Wow. A whole house that says, “Don’t feel. Don’t get your hopes up. Prepare for disappointment.”

Show me a house that says hope lives here. Send me a pamphlet for a lottery house that says, “Come here and let me hug you. Let’s sing, let’s dance, let’s rejoice.” I might buy a ticket.

Photo: a house in the ‘hood

10 thoughts on “Drab (aka Greige)

    1. Your photos pop for me!
      When we went house hunting with our son and daughter-in-law practically every new housing development featured this colour. There are entire subdivisions in towns and cities in this part of the world where the houses are covered with a variation of dull brown and grey siding. Miles and miles of greige. On an overcast day after the frost comes they are so utterly cheerless. Maybe I should just move to the Caribbean. Hot pink and turquoise houses work for me.


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