Backyard Lighting Done Right
Insights on how to successfully light an outdoor living space
When we first saw photos of this backyard in Willow Glen, California, the lighting is what caught our eye. The backyard makeover included a luxury-style pool and sitting areas, but the lighting is what completes the project by creating the overall ambiance. The owner of the property wanted to create an outdoor gathering space around a fire feature and a separate outdoor dining area, with a mysterious feeling and mood.
Why was lighting important in this backyard?According to Dan Gandee, of Aesthetic Gardens, the lighting in this backyard serves three purposes. First, it provides light so you can see where you are walking or stepping. Second, security was an important factor for this outside lighting plan. “Having enough light to make an area safe should always be a consideration,” states Gandee. However, the most important reason these clients had Aesthetic Gardens prepare an outdoor lighting plan was to create an ambiance that would enhance their outdoor living experience. Gandee also notes, “The lighting we installed allows the owners to enjoy the beauty and mystery of the outdoor design from the indoor comfort of their home.”
How did you determine which areas of the yard to light?“The way we decide where light is needed most, is to spend time in the area at night, without any lights on,” says Gandee. This allows the Aesthetic Gardens team to discover where the greatest needs and opportunities are. In the case of this backyard, a group of established oak trees became the focus of the lighting plan.
How did you light the oak trees?“When we began the project the trees were lit up like a football field with huge gas lights,” Gandee recalls. Aesthetic Gardens’ goal became to light the trees in a way that would highlight their structure and provide lighting to the gathering spaces nearby. “The oak tree lighting was a combination of off-the-shelf commercial grade lights modified to mount onto the oak trees and custom designed lights,” says Gandee. The mounting mechanism was changed to ensure that no harm would be done to the trees. “There's also a group of custom lights that we created in our shop from old Moroccan candle stands we found on-line,” he adds.
Is it common for you to make modifications to fixtures?“The specifications of our lights are proprietary, because we will use an off-the-shelf product and then customize it to meet the design aesthetic,” states Gandee. Customization may include changing the hardware, extending the leads, changing the anchor post for stability, swapping transparent glass for a warmer film or switching bulbs to meet LED specifications. Sometimes Aesthetic Gardens makes fixtures from scratch if necessary. “We use every type of light currently on the market; up lights, down lights, large spots, step lights, etc.,” he continues.
How much control do the homeowners have over the lighting system?The landscape lighting was installed to allow the owners to pick and choose what lights are on at any given time. “The lights we install are usually on as few as three up to as many as twenty zones, depending upon the size of the project and its needs or requirements,” explains Gandee. Some of their clients request their lights to go on automatically as the sun sets and to click off at a given time via timer. Others have requested the ability to turn on individual or groups of lights as they choose, along with the ability to increase or decrease the lighting intensity with a dimmer switch. “We have also created lighting installations that are triggered to go on when someone crosses through a motion sensor. There is an infinite number of combinations that we can offer for turning the lights on and off, depending upon the needs or requirements the clients have,” he concludes.
How do you ensure the light produced is soft and natural?The light quality is determined by the wattage of each light, the specific lens for each light, and the color of each light. “For the oak trees, it was necessary to place several test lights in and around the canopies to see what type of lighting we could create, and to confirm the property owners’ vision and our vision was a match,” notes Gandee. This is a good practice for ensuring that the light quality will be pleasing to all.
What residential lighting mistake do you see most often?Many homeowners neglect to remove the existing spot lights that are often in place on the house. Aesthetic Gardens recommends removing or retrofitting all of the lights currently in place to match the design aesthetic that's being created.
Note: The property featured in these pictures is two acres and the lighting budget was $45,000.00.
Mountain View, CA
Sarah Hutchinson, contributing writer for Landscaping Network
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