Good-Looking Ceiling Fans, the Holy Grail

By Erica Broberg Smith
the industry standard for traditional nondescript residential fans
Here is an example, according to the author, of “the industry standard for traditional nondescript residential fans.” Durell Godfrey

    One of the great dilemmas in residential design is finding a good-looking ceiling fan. Two recent homeowner responses I have heard to fan suggestions are “I just can’t go there,” and “That is the least offensive one I have seen so far, but no thanks.”
    Of all the Google searches an architect can do, the most intensive and frustrating is probably for ceiling fans. “Italian ceiling fans,” “traditional ceiling fans,” “historical ceiling fans,” “modern ceiling fans.” Try it, and prepare to be frightened. You will be visually assaulted by fake palm leaves, giant bulbous lights with Greek key accents, or blades that look like machetes or leaf blowers. You have entered someone’s fantasy of “unique” fan design. Ceiling fans with lights attached seem to be the worst offenders. I have yet to come across a decent-looking lighted fan. Names like the Bel-Aire, the Monte Carlo, and the Bordeaux sound scary to me. Will the Bordeaux fan transport me to the rolling wine country of France as I gaze upon it gently spinning above my chaise lounge?
    The images you find online are sure to give you a momentary design giggle. It seems that ceiling fans have taken design to another planet. If the designer of any of these happens to be sitting in his or her fan-filled waterfront residence reading this article, I apologize. However, as my acerbic girlfriend says, “There is a lid for every garbage can.” So do not despair.
    Ceiling fans typically list a square footage area that they will cover. For example, a fan that will cover 144 square feet will be able to handle a 12-by-12-foot room with 8-foot ceilings. Fans also list cubic feet per minute (C.F.M.) of air flow and note their wattage at high speed. Fans are given an airflow efficiency rating of cubic feet per minute per watt. Some models are Energy Star rated, which can reduce energy consumption over the long term.
    Most fans have reversible directions. In winter, the fan should be rotating clockwise, which pulls the air near the floor upward and circulates the warmer air by the ceiling down to the floor. The lower edge of the blade should be the leading edge as the fan circulates. Since the fan is pulling air upward, there is no direct draft of blowing air on the people below it. In warmer months, the fan should be switched to counterclockwise to provide a breeze directly onto the occupants.
    Ceiling fans were invented in the mid-1800s and were operated by a series of cables turned by a water-induced turbine. This system linked multiple fans with a series of intertwining cables. World Pie in Bridgehampton has a replica of this sort of system in its bar area.
    Fans are an ingenious concept in that they can limit the use of air-conditioning and thus energy consumption. And James Dyson has recently challenged the style and design problem. His new fan concept has no blades and a round hole which functions as an air foil. Dyson’s Air Multiplier Technology may be the answer. The dream of a simple circular opening set into a ceiling may come to life sooner than we think.
    If you are too busy and overworked and need your free time to enjoy the bucolic East End, visit Home Depot in Riverhead, argue with your spouse over which is the least ugly fan, buy it, install it, and head to the beach. Problem solved. Sort of.
    If you prefer something that you might actually like, here are a few Web sites that offer a range of styles:, modernfanco. com,, and

    Erica Broberg Smith is an architect in East Hampton and New York City.