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Bringing Back Bygone Beauty
Andrew Soto, LC/DBM


At this 1920s mansion in Omaha, Neb., a restoration project encompassed a new, low voltage LED outdoor lighting design by McKay Landscape Lighting. Highlighting architectural elements on the front of the home was a key element of the installation, as was brightening darker areas for security reasons. To that end, Cambria 203 down lights were mounted, with the help of a ladder, in the large trees to the left and right of the house. The wires are attached to the trunks with zip ties and stainless steel screws that get checked periodically and adjusted as needed as the trees grow around them.


Copper and brass mini path lights illuminate the walkway. Circular surface-mount lights called cascades were mounted on a planter wall to light the front steps. The installers drilled through the bricks to run the wires out the back.


Path lights and cascades were also used on this walkway and sunken area, with all-original paver work. Two AL16 copper spots focus on the statue, and others uplight the trees behind it.

The owners of a historic property in Omaha, Nebraska sought to recapture the charm of its mansion, and enlisted McKay Landscape Lighting to help with that. The area-based company has made a name for itself in the industry serving thousands of customers all over the country.

Since 1987 they have transformed the exterior of homes and businesses to provide safe, attractive and inviting landscapes. McKay's endeavors have earned the company the opportunity to work on some unique and impressive projects and this one really fit that billing.

A Comfortable Challenge
Outdoor lighting designer, A.J. Coleman is one of those responsible for delivering to the customer quality designs and installations regardless of the age of the building or building materials. This 1920s brick-and-mortar masterpiece called for the company to rise to the occasion.

"With all the hard surface, it wasn't an easy install but those kinds of jobs are right up our alley. Our guys are really good about coming together as a team and figuring out how to handle the challenges", says Coleman who served as project manager.

The inherent risk of working with building materials that have been in place for decades without causing permanent damage is a constant worry. Some building materials are irreplaceable: one mistake could ruin weeks of time and effort.

Coleman goes on to explain, "Probably the biggest challenge was drilling through the old stone wall. Some of the blocks broke on us and we were luckily able to glue them back together and make it look pretty seamless - put it back exactly how it looked."

Decreasing the Voltage
This install required that the wiring from an existing 120-volt system be removed and replaced with modern wiring and hardware. Updating this old mansion made it possible for Coleman to specify low voltage LED technology for the entire installation.

Unlike traditional systems that convert most of their operating energy into heat LED light sources convert as much as 80 percent of operating energy into usable light allowing the end user to better focus it.


This statue is uplit by one spot as are the small trees in the background.


Existing conduit found beneath walkways and walls aided the installation considerably. Before the new wires could be pulled, old wire from a 120-volt lighting system had to be removed. One transformer was mounted on the house for the lights in the front and another was installed in the garage for the lights in the back.


Down lights installed in the two magnolia trees accent the steps. Existing lighting in the fountain was left untouched.

Upping the Curb Appeal
One of the most important design areas on this project was the main facade. Brick and mortar structures are by nature dark. Lighting for this project had to be strategically placed to illuminate key areas to provide a warm and welcoming approach.

Miniature path lights and circular surface-mount lights called cascades illuminate a walkway and curved set of steps that come off the circular driveway, as well as a walkway from the secondary entrance leading to the garage, and a sunken area around a statue. The glow from the fixtures provides enough light to safely navigate the landscape while not flooding the area with obtrusive and unnecessary light.

Copper spots up light the facade and trees, while Cambria 203s are mounted in large trees for down lighting. These fixtures cast the right amount of light onto dark areas that would otherwise remain in the shadows after sunset.

Tree-mount brackets secured the fixtures to the trees and zip ties and stainless steel screws were used to fasten the wires to their trunks. One transformer was installed on the home to provide power to the front of the property.

An Inviting Backyard
The rear of this historic landscape is the second area that needed to be updated. It posed bigger challenges for the install team than the front of the home, requiring an additional week of work.

Miniature path lights illuminate the walkways throughout the area. Down lights installed on trees accent the patio, statuary, and steps leading up to a fountain that retained its internal lights.

Cascades are mounted onto planter walls to provide more illumination. Copper spots uplight trees, sculptures and individual planters. Another transformer was installed in the garage for all of the lighting in the backyard and patio areas.

The team taking on this delicate project included a lead technician and one assistant. All aspects were handled in-house. A third installation phase - two gate entrances - began recently.

Coleman admits that even though there were some challenges, they were able to save a lot of time and effort because some of the existing conduit was intact and usable.

"With an older property, you don't know what's under the earth or behind the walls until you start working," he says.e were luckily able to glue them back together and make it look pretty seamless - put it back exactly how it looked."

Growing Through Give-and-Take


Four years ago Jerry McKay, the owner of McKay Landscape Lighting, decided to share his two decades of experience in the industry with those interested in learning from him and each other. So he organized a gathering of lighting professionals to exchange information, ask questions, network and learn all the latest news in a non- competitive environment.

Jerry felt that too many industry seminars were manufacturer-centric. He wanted to create an event that would cater more to the issue of how to build a landscape lighting business and tackle the unique challenges facing that specific industry.

Twelve people attended the first Lighting Summit and since then, information about the event has been spreading by word of mouth. There are some discussions about design and installation techniques but the focus tends to be on subjects like managing a sales force, adding support staff, organizing a shop and a trailer, network with architects, designers, photographers and the like. McKay has also brought in a certified professional coach, SEO expert and web designer.

"The Lighting Summit provides a fantastic platform to learn and interact with other like-minded professionals. The option for one-on-one consulting is another level to improve your business by providing a fresh perspective helping make improvements," sums up McKay.

On January 18-19, 2017 the Lighting Summit will provide attendees with first-hand knowledge and experience, as well as the opportunity to network and establish positive business relationships.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, November 2016.

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December 5, 2019, 7:50 pm PDT

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