James C. Hunter’s first ceiling fan, which he invented in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1886, was water-driven.
Sometime after that, Hunter moved the company to Memphis and in 1896 changed its name to Hunter Fan & Motor Co.
Today, Hunter Fan Co. is still a part of the Memphis economy with its central administration facility that includes industrial design, engineering and a test lab.
Director of Industrial Design Christophe Badarello, right, goes over a product design with Industrial Designer Ben Guthrie at Hunter Fan Co.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Over the company’s long life, it has bought several other brands, such as the smaller Casablanca Fans Co., which became part of Hunter in 1996 but kept the Casablanca brand name.
“Casablanca is really set up as our leading design brand,” said Hunter CEO John Alexander, who took the company’s reins in March.
Casablanca’s 2014 line of eight new fans debuted this month at the Dallas Market Center Show, a wholesale trade show.
The new line is a concept in letting consumers choose the components of their ceiling fan.
“With design, it’s always changing. Always evolving. … The one big change that came out with the line we launched this year … is built around the ability to customize your fan depending on your needs,” Alexander said. “It allows designers and consumers to be able to choose and decide and personalize the product they are building for their room specific to the room. For us, that’s a big change.”
Christophe Badarello, Hunter’s director of industrial design, says the fan design and style is just as important as the furniture beneath the fan.
“The first thing is you will choose your furniture. We’ve got to stay close to those trends,” he said. “It’s kind of the centerpiece of the ceiling. You cannot really see it as an accessory.”
Badarello said aged white oak that has only a minimal treatment is a popular trend that Casablanca is pursuing.
The company matches the woodwork in a new resin-molding process that makes other parts of the fan.
“The blades that are on the fan are really high-end wood,” said Tiffany Miracle Judd, senior product manager. “The housing on that fan is the resin. They are spitting images. You cannot tell the difference. The grain is very specific. It mimics the look of the true wood in the housing of the ceiling fan.”
Alexander said Hunter has other new technology in its future.
“We can’t speak about them now, but I think what you will see over the next couple of years will be very exciting,” he said as he talked of broadening the reach of the products into foreign markets.
“We feel it’s much more important to put a stronger presence in some of the developing markets,” he added. “That will benefit both those markets as well as the U.S. as we scale up this company. We’ll see more trends from other countries that actually will feed into the U.S.”
Alexander said ceiling fans enjoyed great popularity in the 1970s as homeowners became more conscious of energy costs.
“It was a really strong story. As energy became relatively less expensive, people forgot about that benefit and the importance of it,” he added. “That story is still as strong as it was back then.”
Alexander sees Hunter and Casablanca staying in Memphis “quite a while.”
“I think with any company, whether it’s Hunter or anything, there’s a couple of things you look at. This does have a great heritage,” he said. “That’s a great asset because it’s a big brand and it’s well-known and we get a lot of support from the community.”