Residential Landscape Lighting


Landscape lighting can make the plainest of homes look better and homes with special character, visually exciting.  The addition of residential landscape lighting also provides safety, security and peace of mind during evening hours. The cumulative good news is that intelligently placed decorative lighting can also serve the safety and navigational needs of the home. The homeowner gets all for one !

When planning landscape lighting, first decide what needs to be lit. Determine whether the building will benefit if illuminated. Assess the property at night to find walkways and steps that are dangerous in the dark. Finally, turn to the gardens and plantings to find notable elements that demand attention. Once the location of light is scoped and an overall vision is developed, it is time to plan the specific lights and design the effects.


Architectural Lighting


Architectural lighting is best described as that which illuminates the home or apartment building, but can also be used to define the lighting of built details within the landscape such as pergolas, walls, arbors, water features, sheds and bridges. Because of its size and presence, it is wise to start a design here.


A simple wash of light across the entire home functions as a base. If the architecture is flat and uneventful, it may be all that is needed. Excitement will be applied later as you play with foliage shadows and statuary silhouettes against this backdrop. If the home has interesting details such as columns, quinces, corners and peaks, highlighting those areas will add to the drama. Using low light on the overall wash and brighter light on the details will create depth and visual intrigue. Light intensity should be varied, unless a series of columns are being illuminated. These structural pillars should have a continuity of intensity, as their purpose dictates.


Stone walls can be a dynamic place for lighting. With their uneven façade, the high points will naturally grab light rays, while the depressed sections will fall into shadow. This natural cragginess can be further accentuated by placing the light source to the side, rather than straight-on. The angled light will make the shadows more dramatic and the highpoints more brilliant. By using an assortment of light with varying degrees on lumen intensity and even altering elevations and directions, a plain stone wall will become an artist’s canvas of vibrant contrasts.


By themselves, arbors, pergolas and trellises introduce a focal point to a daytime garden. Rather than disappearing at night, with the addition of light they can continue that focus. Filling an arbor canopy with light creates an inviting nighttime gathering place below. Spotting the corners of a pergola with light calls attention to the beauty of the structure as it sits amongst the surrounding foliage. A wide spray of light against a trellis allows the intertwined flowers to shine while creating enticing shadow patterns behind.


Utilitarian garden sheds may benefit from the dark, but if the shed has been designed with a bit of whimsy or panache, light could be added. A subtle flush of light against the face will make a statement of value that can be enjoyed from inside the home or the backyard.


Lighting water features can be a challenge, but once quality lighting fixtures have been specified, design is limited only to the imagination. Dots of light behind a waterfall change their effect every second the water moves and curls. Highlighted waterborne plants shimmer due to the constant movement of the surrounding liquid. A lit pool of water is a continually changing entity.


Subtlety is key with architectural lighting. The home and its surroundings is not a marquee. As with so many things, less is more.


Walkways and Path Lighting


Well positioned and attractively places pathway and step lighting can be a welcoming addition to a home. Not only are they functional, but when placed correctly they add to the aesthetics of the whole landscape.


The reason behind path lighting is to help a person walk without stumbling or tripping. To accomplish this feat, light does not need to be consistent and continuous. The human eye is amazingly adaptive and it easily fills in the blanks formed by non-consecutive lighting. With that in mind, when lighting a pathway, consider an aesthetic approach, rather than functional. Because of lawn care issues, try to keep the path lights out of the grass. Position them at the edge of garden beds, at intersections and bends in the walk and at the culmination of the path. This placement will serve the function and add to the beauty. Plan for some of the scallops of light to intersect on the path to present unique light patterns on the walkways.


An easy way to service the steps is to place the path light close to the lowest riser. Avoid light directed upward near stairs or steps. By aiming light down and onto the treads and culminating walk below, glare is avoided, thus making navigation easy.


These aids to nighttime movement need not be formula to provide assistance to those who pass by them. Path and step lighting can and should be a stylistic addition to the nighttime landscape plan.


Garden and Plant Lighting


A constant source of pride and worldwide, the most popular household pastime, gardens add immeasurably to the look of a home. However, at night they disappear into the dusk. With the proper application of spread lighting in a garden and accent lighting on trees and shrubs, that hard-won beauty can be extended through the night.


In addition to the path lights placed on the edge of a flower bed, it may be necessary to position a spread light in the center to call attention to the vibrant colors provided by blooming foliage. These shocks of color become even more brilliant in the dense blue of night. Judiciously placed, they become an unmistakable focal point.


Illuminated trees can add a variety of exciting visuals. A narrow spot light running up a tall, mature tree trunk and culminating in the outstretched canopy takes on monumental proportions in the night. As the wind moves the branches of a lit tree at night becomes a kinetic sculpture. Short, dense shrubs with wider application of light can anchor the landscape in front of a building and give depth to the setting. If the architecture is plain, use the flat surface as a canvas for the shadow created by short spiky trees. As the seasons progress, the shadows will change; as the air moves the limbs, their shadows will dance across the backdrop.


Down-lighting or moon-lighting is light place in a tree or above greenery and replicates the light and shadow effects of the moon. Canopies of leaves rustle above and branches move in shadow below. By recreating nature, added interest is delivered.


Other Outdoor Areas


Growing in popularity are outdoor dining and lounging area. Food preparation outside has been a reality for centuries. Statuary and artwork are appearing in more and more landscapes. To increase their evening usefulness, lighting should be considered pre and post installation.


Dining outdoors at a table under a pergola can only be accentuated with the inclusion of an outdoor chandelier. The luxury and style provided by a chandelier transplanted outside will add a touch of dignity to any dining experience regardless of the fare.


Outdoor gather spots are the perfect place to unwind. Conversation and a glass of wine as the sun sets can be complimented with judiciously placed lighting. Care must be taken to avoid glare so the comforting environment is not upset. Path lighting around the area can achieve this goal, so too will outdoor rated portable table lamps, but be certain to use minimal wattage lamps.


When cooking outside, ample lighting is important. Planning lighting into an outdoor food preparation area is essential PRIOR to construction. Because the surroundings are dark, it is important to avoid glare and directing the light down toward the work surfaces is central to good, usable lighting.


Cross lighting is the act of using two accent lights, one on each side of an object to create the nighttime dimensionality that cannot be achieved with a single light. To fully appreciate garden artwork and statues, cross lighting delivers a full punch of light, allowing the viewer the ability to experience the artist’s creation in three-dimensions.


There are scores of unique items used in landscape design. Each is a candidate for lighting. Regardless of what it is, determine if light will benefit the whole, or conversely, detract from the total lighting experience. Act accordingly. It is important to develop a cohesive plan, rather than lighting an element simply for the sake of lighting. With landscape lighting, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Safety and Security


In the past, lighting may have been added, only to provide security to the property. That approach resulted in a very utilitarian application of light and a very industrial feel for the surroundings. The by-product of good landscape lighting is good security lighting. When the home, garden and paths are lit well, it wards off any security concerns. The problem is solved.


Residential landscape lighting can be both beautiful and function. When designing a lighting system, care should be taken to accentuate the architectural features of the house, the unique and formative plantings and the functioning pathways and steps that lead to the building. Any or all of these techniques may apply to a specific design. The result will be an amazing nighttime transformation for any residence.