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Shady Business

The arduous task of bringing new colors into the world

Author James Bartlett Illustration Marc Rosenthal


CALIFORNIA – In a barren warehouse in Vernon, California, Sara McLean, 44, stands looking at a long white wall. Until recently, this wall was covered with hundreds of cards, arranged on a spectrum from “Wine Goblet” to “Bourbon Truffle.” She spent nearly five years here, helping Dunn-Edwards Paints determine which “historic” colors to include with “trending” ones in a new collection. 

McLean is among a small group of people in the U.S. qualified to introduce new colors to the world—which, in terms of difficulty, is like finding new ways to say “the.” She just finished work on the Then, Now & Forever collection, a project that cost about $10 million and resulted in 300 new colors.

In order to find hundreds of hues that are aesthetically pleasing and unique, McLean spent countless hours looking at historical interior decorating books and archival paint brochures and consulting with architecture and design experts and the Dunn-Edwards lab. The task involved “many pots of coffee,” she says, “and lots of wine.” 

Finally, McLean had to name her creations. While she’s mostly pleased with the resulting handles—Pewter Patter, Eat Your Peas, Outlawed Orange—she allows that there were difficulties. With whites and creams  in particular, she says, “there’s only so many words you can use.” 

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