Once Chris and Kelli Hansen purchased lighting company Palmer Hargrave from the imperiled Dessin Fournir in 2019, the husband-and-wife duo thought they were finished buying companies. The pair had worked side-by-side at the lighting company for nearly 20 years at its Plainville, Kansas, headquarters before buying it from Dessin Fournir founder Chuck Comeau after the company’s tumultuous Chapter 11 filing. “The lighting brand was the only thing [at the company] that we had a passion for, because it was manufactured in Plainville, our hometown, and we wanted to keep it there,” says Kelli Hansen. They hired back two other employees—production manager Don Wessel and craftsman Justin Klein—and resumed operations.
But when Steve Bird, the owner of fellow trade brand Casella Lighting, called the Hansens in late 2020 to let them know he’d be shutting down operations to pursue other interests, a familiar feeling emerged. They decided they had to explore the idea of keeping Casella alive, too.
“We were familiar with their products because we applied one of the finish options on their lights,” says Kelli. “So, we knew the quality, we knew the craftsmanship, and we just wanted to get to know Steve a little more.” She and Chris flew from their home base to California, where Casella was headquartered. “We met Steve and his wife and spent a couple of days visiting, learning about the company and discussing what they would like to see happen with the brand. By the end of the trip, Steve was in agreement that if the brand was going to continue, he wanted us to take it on.” Bird told them he felt like he was dropping his kids off at a friend’s house and knew that they would be OK.
Casella and Palmer Hargrave have similar origins, each founded as family businesses in the first half of the last century. In 1946, Palmer “Jack” Hargrave founded his namesake company, which was passed to his daughter Janet Hargrave, before being acquired by Dessin Fournir in 2000. Casella, meanwhile, was started by artist Alfred J. Casella in the 1930s and was run by the Casella family until 2001, when it was bought by friends of the family, brothers Steve and Chuck Bird. “Our family was honored to continue the Casella lighting business for the past few decades,” says Steve. “It is now time to pass this along to another special family, the Hansens.”
The Hansens decided to fold Casella into Palmer Hargrave instead of running them as separate brands, and will release the debut Casella collection by Palmer Hargrave in early August. (Palmer Hargrave will eventually offer the entire Casella line; Chris Hansen says they chose to start with the brand’s pharmacy lamps and swing-arm lamps, which were some of the most popular styles.)
While the designs will be unchanged, Chris and the craftsmen at Palmer Hargrave reengineered some of the mechanical elements of the Casella designs to fit with the existing Palmer Hargrave product functionality. “The system we have, we’ve found that it works really well and contractors really like them,” says Chris. “The overall design of the fixture doesn’t change, but it’s the little things that we pride ourselves on, like that we don't have exposed screws on the face of the products. It makes for a nice, clean installation.”
The debut of the first Casella line took slightly longer than the Hansens had originally anticipated, mainly because the brand previously operated off of line drawings and sketches of each product, while Palmer Hargrave works from 3D computer renderings built in SolidWorks, an AutoCAD-like software. Converting all of the often hand-drawn Casella fixtures into 3D models took months. “We build each little component of the lamp, down to every screw or nut or different brass part and each individual component, inside the 3D software,” says Chris. “Normally, our turnaround for drawings for customized pieces is less than 24 hours because we don’t have to completely redraw the whole fixture.”
The sketches and hand drawings also made sifting through all of Casella’s intellectual property challenging, as they had to make sure they were working off the most current version of the fixture. “That’s how we spent a lot of the last couple months,” says Chris. “Looking through drawings and taking all of those components for Casella fixtures and building them in SolidWorks so we could have a good master drawing to keep production consistent and customize things as people need.”
The Hansens are excited to introduce both brands to new audiences and reach new designers. “There’s some crossover between designers who shop these two brands, but I think the Casella collection will be a great asset to Palmer Hargrave clients because it’s a little more architectural than what we’ve done in the past,” says Chris. “I think it’s going to really round out our offerings.”
The significance of keeping not one, but two trade brands that are more than 75 years old active in the marketplace is not lost on Kelli. “There was something special about marrying the two brands that just have such a high perceived value in the industry, because there are not a lot of brands that have lasted that long,” she says. “For us, it’s great that we’re now able to offer another design resource for our interior designers that they clearly would be missing if Casella was no longer available.”
Homepage photo: The Casella collection from Palmer Hargrave | Courtesy of Palmer Hargrave