enLIGHTenment – The Lighting Industry Trade Publication

The Great Divide

Lighting showrooms love ceiling fans, while the majority of interior designers hate them — and both sides are passionate about their reasons.

For years I have heard that interior designers “hate” ceiling fans and refuse to spec them in the homes they design, but I had never actually asked any designers if the rumor was true…until the other week. On my Facebook page, I asked the question since ceiling fans were on my mind as I was preparing this issue.

Over the years I have watched ceiling fan design evolve from the basic builder grade black and white finishes to more decorative looks, detailed finishes, and finer accents (even crystal). My thought was, with all of this aesthetic development surely interior designers would find the product category more appealing. I was wrong. In all, 48 individuals from all over the country – and Canada – weighed in on the topic.

In Southern and Western states, it was agreed that ceiling fans were often a necessity – although one designer piped up, “That’s what AC is for!” and another quipped, “I have clients with 20′-high ceilings and no way would they have a fan. If you have high ceilings, you should afford the electric bill.”

Interestingly, the designers who do spec ceiling fans often do so at the homeowners’ request. It seems that consumers don’t view ceiling fans with the same stigma, perhaps because so many new home builders include them in their model homes.

On the interior design side, however, ceiling fans are a necessary evil. Lighting industry veteran Rob Emery reported, “I conducted an interview survey of interior designers in Kentucky and southern Indiana and most of them preferred decorative lighting over ceiling fans. When they were selecting fans, they oftentimes had to talk clients out of ‘fashion fans’ and educate the owner [about] blades and the motors. The designers want to match carved wood blade finishes to other wood furniture and stay away from the printed, pressed wood blades common with the ‘fashion fan’ styles and commodity products.”

Interior designer Marc Langlois added, “There are a few I like, but unless you have extremely high ceilings I tend to talk clients out of it — like TVs above fireplaces.”

The sticking point for the interior design community appears to be the light kit, or rather, using the ceiling fan in place of a lighting fixture. “As a designer, I feel that if a ceiling fan is needed – either for circulation or cooling – it is the responsibility of the designer to select one that aesthetically fits the room,” stated interior designer Terrance Mason. “I hear from other designers all the time about how they hate ceiling fans because they can’t put a decorative fixture there. The designers are more concerned with how the room is going to photograph rather than function, which should be their first concern. The good news is that there are decorative fans that are aesthetically pleasing.”

Interior designer Wendy Lepkoff has embraced ceiling fans in her work, explaining, “They help energy efficiency and there are so many wonderful ones now. I’m happy to use then when requested, but I’m very selective. I would [use them] for high ceiling spaces, homes without central air, and sometimes they simply add to my design vision.” She has also spec’ed ceiling fans that were noticeably decorative, such as one with crystal accents for a formal bedroom and one for an office that had blades complementing the cream carved picture frames on the wall.

In one instance, interior designer Donnamarie Bates softened her stance on ceiling fans after a client insisted on having them in a house with 8-ft. ceilings. “It was quite a challenge to find the right ones per room,” she recounted. “Initially I wanted them to fade out of sight, but I finally embraced the fact that it was to please my client. After much research, I found some perfect choices which are now the jewelry of each room. I do believe [finding suitable fans] was easier than usual since this was an ultra-modern home, so the fans were uber-contemporary, but normally I dislike them!”

The majority of the interior designers who weighed in on the topic said they preferred ceiling fans (usually white) that blend in with the ceiling so that they would be hardly noticeable. If a close match to the ceiling isn’t found, interior designers such as Kathryn Spetz will even paint them the color of the ceiling to look more custom.

“I don’t like them and try to avoid if at all possible,” noted interior designer Robyn Fryer-Zumwalt. “If I need one, I keep it the same color as the ceiling so it disappears. I feel most people try to make them be a focal point of a room instead of just for air circulation. I have them in all of my bedrooms, but not in the family room.”

When it comes to creating a visual centerpiece in the home, most designers prefer decorative lighting fixtures. One style that is hard to place ceiling fans in, according to the designers, is high-end traditional. “For many of my clients, they often don’t jive with the look we are trying to achieve,” stated April Elizabeth Hewitt. “I don’t love them, yet clients still want them. [Ceiling fans provide] functional lighting, but are so functional that they are hard to make very attractive.” 

As designer Brooke Gardner explained, “I think the answer is architectural appropriateness.” In the South and West, ceiling fans do not seem out of place. “In a plantation-style house, ceiling fans would totally be expected,” she added.

Interior designer Scott Tjaden boiled his opinion down to whether or not the ceiling fan was going to act as overhead lighting. “I never specify a fan as the only light source in a room,” he affirmed.

Jodie Orange, a lighting store owner who began her career as an interior designer before becoming a lighting specialist, said, “I can attack this question from several angles. As an interior designer, fans aren’t always the go-to choice for aesthetics. However, any good designer will assess the needs of the client first and then design around that. This includes understanding the intended use of all spaces. If a ceiling fan is required, then it’s the designer’s job to provide one that is functional for the task and that is aesthetically pleasing for the space. Let’s face it, I don’t think toilets are attractive either…but hey, when needed they’re handy! As a lighting specialist, I attack the fan vs. no fan question from my clients as a designer first. Is it necessary? Then the difference between being able to prepare a lighting plan for a new construction and being sure that there is proper general, task, and ambient lighting in the room is so I can then specify the necessary ceiling fan(s) for the space without having to worry about lighting from the fan. If we are relying on the light from the fan as the main light source in the room, then my conversation and recommendations to my client will be very different.

“Bridging my fields together,” she continued, “I would say that I always try to suggest blending the fan out in the room with the ceiling color unless, of course, there’s a reason not to. For example, I have a cottage with high ceilings that are all pine. I installed a fan in an Oiled-Rubbed Bronze finish that accentuates the dark knots in the pine. It adds a cozy feel to the space when it’s turning, in addition to circulating the hot air lost in the high ceilings. This is important at my cottage because water is extremely expensive and I heat the cottage with wood-burning stoves and keep the temperature comfortable with the fans’ help. I believe there will always be a need for quality ceiling fans in our industry and a need for experts to help clients make the right choices.”

And so the debate continues. Interior designers, for the most part, will resist using ceiling fans in their work and lighting showroom personnel will continue to spotlight the benefits to consumers. 





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