Q & A with Ron Rezek
I caught up with Rezek to discuss design influences, favorite fans, and his seminal Stratos fan.
In a career spanning more than four decades, Ashland, Oregon-based Ron Rezek has created designs ranging from lifeguard equipment, to lighting, to ceiling fans, all reflecting his philosophy of simplicity in form and economy in production. In 1978, he founded Ron Rezek Lighting, which he later sold to Artemide. The versatile designer started The Modern Fan Co in 1986, ushering in a new, contemporary style of ceiling fan.
You studied industrial design at UCLA and your professors included Henry Dreyfuss, Charles Eames, Don Chadwick and Niels Diffrient. What did you take away from that time?
Ron Rezek: I was very lucky to fall into an era of such design talent and to witness how each went about solving design problems and managing successful studios. Dreyfuss was the consummate corporate designer and his clients like AT&T and John Deere required a pretty firm path. Eames was a playful tinkerer, always having fun with films, toys, and graphics. Chadwick and Diffrient were very serious, step-by-step designers, taking months or years to finish some very significant projects.
Who are your biggest design influences?
RR: I really enjoy studying the history of design; seeing how people like Victor Horta or Michael Thonet solved problems of their time interests me. I love museum design shows, trade exhibitions, and antique stores; they all reveal fascinating work. Ettore Sottass and Bucky Fuller were my most direct influences.
How do you decide which designers you’ll collaborate with?
RR: There are two ways: Sometimes we want to add special products to our catalogue, so we ask a designer to develop something specific for us that respects the characteristics we requested. Other times designers submit exceptional fixtures to us and we decide to produce them.
Your designs have ranged from lifeguard equipment to contemporary lighting. How did you come to designing ceiling fans?
RR: After school I chose to pursue design entrepreneurship. I liked the full control I had when I picked both the problem and the solution. I was always on the lookout for products that could use a modern design perspective; lifeguard equipment and contemporary lighting both qualified. When I started in 1986, ceiling fans were stuck in the Victorian era. I simply viewed and developed the products with a modern image and technology.
You created the first contemporary ceiling fan, the Stratos, in 1986. Why do you think it has been so enduring in its popularity?
RR: I had never owned or even used a ceiling fan before I was asked to design one for a Los Angeles-based fan company. Starting with the clean sheet of paper, I developed a fan that I liked using some intersecting geometries I had been thinking about. Most fans were ornamented brass and glass confections, so I think the appearance of a simple functional product caught the interest of architects and interior designers. It was kind of a shock at the time and took two years to convince the company to produce it. The Stratos doesn’t have a style other than minimal, enabling it to look pretty fresh for almost three decades.
How would you describe your design philosophy?
RR: Simple forms, expressive of function, and affordable.
What makes for a well-designed fan?
RR: The best design is one that the customer is happy with. After that, it’s quality construction, life of the components, and durability of finishes.
What are some of your favorite fans on YL?
Would your contemporary fans work in a more traditional space?
RR: I have always felt that a formally simple fan blends into the architecture of the space and can be used apart from the decoration. It’s nice to have a few quiet elements in a room so that others can stand out.
How did you become interested in designing rescue floats and end up designing a model that is still the preferred one for professional lifeguards?
RR: As with many career paths, this was a complete accident. A lifeguard walked into my office at UCLA and asked if there was anything we could do to improve these rescue cans. I happened to be working on a school project that could be perfectly applied to the problem they posed. They still work pretty well 45 years later!
Are you working on new designs at the moment, and will you stick with fans?
RR: I design new fans as the market advances, energy regulations take effect, and new technologies are available. For example, when the standard incandescent light bulb was restricted I was able to convert our offerings to compact florescent or efficient halogen light. We are incorporating DC motors and LED lighting at this time.
Design as a lifestyle sticks with you. I continue to design buildings for the Modern Fan Company and have recently completed a series of innovative acrylic paintings on glass.