Keeping up with color and finishing trends
July 31, 2018 | 9:26 am CDT
Sample color and finish panels crowd the walls of the main room of the Sherwin-Williams Global Color and Design Center, where a variety of services are available to help designers and manufacturers of wood products.
Most anyone who works with wood knows how important the final color and finish of a wood product is to its success in the marketplace. But few manufacturers and designers know about a resource that can help them keep up with finishing and color trends and even work with them to develop specific finish recipes and appealing color palettes for their product lines.
Sherwin-Williams’ Global Color and Design Center, located in Greensboro, North Carolina, is an extensive resource of creative and technical experts ready to offer support, technology, and even a dose of inspiration to woodworking manufacturers and designers looking for solutions to their color and finish challenges.
Resources include rooms full of finish sample panels, a technical lab to test and develop finishes, stylists who work to develop trendsetting and inspirational finish ideas, spray booths for sample panels and even full-size furniture. There’s also a room full of specialized finishing equipment, including automated and flat-line systems from Cefla and Superfici.
Lauren C. West, manager of the Global Color and Design Center, jokingly describes the center and its services as a “best kept secret,” but she says the center staff meets with three to five customers every day and handles as many as 150 projects a month. The center targets finishing for key segments of home furnishings, kitchen cabinets, flooring, and specialty wood products.
Staff from the Global Color and Design Center work with designers and product developers to create or fine tune color palettes.

Tracking trends

One of the primary jobs of the center is to produce the Sherwin-Williams annual Colormix Forecast of color trends. West says the forecast comes out of extensive research that begins with data from the more than 480 Sherwin-Williams retail stores, but also includes a wealth of other factors that affect color and finish trends. West herself has worked in the home interior industry for 27 years.
For wood products manufacturers some of the trends the center studies can have a dramatic impact on their business. For example, West says, 80 percent of cabinets are now painted rather than stained, whereas only a few years ago it was the other way round. In contrast, home furnishings are 80 percent stained in today’s market, says West.
What other trends is West seeing? “Nothing red is going through now,” she says. “Anything denim is big now. It represents ‘durable’ in people’s minds. Heavy distressing is peaking. We are moving away from Mid-Century Modern to Scandinavian, including bleaching finishes. Walnut is surging.”
Emphasizing the role the center has in sparking new trends, this room is called the Inspiration Room and is designed to spur designers to develop new color palettes and finishes.

Inspiration to palette

A big part of what the center does is help manufacturers develop and fine-tune their color and finish offerings to keep up with trends and improve sales. Typically, a designer or marketing manager for a company will come to the center for a palette assessment. GCDC staff will compare the company’s current offerings to what they know about rising trends and offer suggestions about challenging the palette to add rising colors and finishes while giving less emphasis to declining trends.
When it comes to developing a new palette or even just adding some colors, the center staff takes advantage of hundreds of sample panels and objects displayed in multiple rooms in the center to offer guidance. “We want this space to be used as inspiration,” says West.
A tour of the facility puts you face to face with a dizzying array of sample finish panels and striking objects. There are panels that have traditional mouldings and distressed looks juxtaposed with high-gloss, high-tech panels. Furniture and architectural elements, such as carved corbels, stand across from live-edge tables and freeform wood sculpture. 
The displays are constantly changing as new panels are created and added to the collection.
A stylist uses one of the spray booths at the center to apply a new finish to a sample panel. The center staff can also work with companies on technical finishing issues and training.

Creative stylists

A lot of the diversity and inspirational nature of the display panels is thanks to six stylists, each with their own bench, working to develop new finishes, colors, and sample panels that inspire designers. For example, on a recent visit to the GCDC one stylist was working on a panel that would combine weathered wood from an old dock with high-tech carbon fiber material.
Ricky McDaniel is the team leader for the staff of sylists. He’s been with Sherwin-Williams for 15 years and previously for Stanley Furniture and Bassett Furniture. He gets excited about being able to develop new finishes to be used all over the world. “Furniture companies will bring in a sample material or a rendering, and we’ll develop the finish,” he said, adding that the center also develops production-finishing systems to match the systems the companies have.
All of the finishes developed by the stylists have a “recipe” of steps so that they can be easily duplicated and repeated in the production environment. Many of the sample panels at the center have a corner that shows stripes of the different layers or steps in the finish. Some companies will work directly with stylists to develop the finishes they need.
A technical lab at the center has scientists developing new finishes and testing existing finishes for durability and other factors. Six stylists work on their own benches developing new finishes.

Solving problems

A big part of what the center does is to help companies solve finish problems. Some of that might involve more marketing than finishing as in helping a company match its color and finish offerings with what customers really want. For example, one Texas company came to the center with a list of 170 colors and finishes offered for its products. The GCDC staff helped the company pare that down to just 70 colors for a more efficient production and sales effort.
Some of the problems the center helps companies solve have to do with technical issues and training. A big part of the center is a technical lab with scientists who develop new finishes and test the durability of finishes. Another significant part of the center is devoted to sanding and application equipment. Technical and sales representatives can be trained on new equipment and learn better finishing techniques. There are even specialized distressing tools to help companies that want to offer distressed finishes.
Since the center is located conveniently close to the site of the High Point Furniture Market, it is routinely called in to do last-minute and emergency furniture finishing work for companies exhibiting in the fall and spring markets. Sometimes furniture will arrive unfinished and needs to be finished for display. Other times finishes need to be changed or adjusted at the last minute. All that is done at the GCDC.
A variety of architectural elements, wood objects and furniture add to the inspirational features of the Global Color and Design Center.

Using the GCDC

Companies who are already Sherwin-Williams customers and do at least $400,000 in finishing business with the company can readily take advantage of the center’s services. But West emphasized that the center’s resources are available to smaller companies, too.
“For smaller companies with special needs, the door is open,” she said. “Start with your local sales rep.”
Another resource that doesn’t require a trip to the center is the online Virtual Panel Studio available for furniture, kitchen cabinet, and other wood product designers and product developers. It features hundreds of high-resolution panel images from the GCDC library that can be browsed from anywhere with an Internet connection. Most of the images are created by Eric Crosby, a marketing specialist at the center who is constantly adding new images to the collection.
Users need a password-protected account to access the system, then they can peruse all the panels and use online tools to create custom collections as well as view Sherwin-Williams curated collections. Images can be shared with clients and design team members. For details about the Virtual Panel Studio or any of the other Global Color and Design Center services, visit

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.