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The Uncommon, the Odd, the Ornate
Lighting Landscapes

Mike Dahl, LC/DBM

Before starting a project, a lighting landscape contractor never knows what may need his or her artistic touch beyond the basic paths, plants and trees, until surveying the grounds. There can be statues and other pieces of art, antique items, elaborate structures and more.

Jerry McKay of McKay Landscape Lighting has seen and tackled a number of distinctive items in his career. He remembers one being a metal sculpture in the shape of a heart.

"The only way we could do it was to attach small lights to it so that the shape would show up at night," he says.

Another heart-shaped object was a 400-square-foot rose garden inside a secret garden that the owners could view from their second story master bedroom balcony.

As McKay recalls, "We hid 2 poles behind 2 tall Junipers and had a total of 4 lights and different beams spreads highlighting the exact shape of the garden. The client was ecstatic."

As for advice on these types of challenges, McKay suggests to first ask the client if it would be beneficial to them to have it lighted - if it is something they care for. And analyze if lighting would work well with a given object, as some that do not have a lot of mass are hard to satisfactorily light.

Also consider its purpose.

"A unique play area that is in a dark corner might be best served to be on a switch," McKay advises. "That way if the kids wanted to use it, the switch would allow it to be lighted. Every other night of the year it could remain dark as to not take away from the landscape."

Here are more examples with the solutions that lighting professionals came up with.


An Intricate Sculpture
When lighting items like this one, which is in the backyard of a home in Omaha, Nebraska, McKay advises to ascertain where the objects will be enjoyed from the client's perspective.

This artwork's delicate elegance is highlighted by two Auroralight LED copper spots (SLX16) with Halco LED, 4-watt, 3000 K LEDs with 60 degree beam spreads. One of the same fixtures is focused on the Japanese Tree Lilac. They all were mounted with ground stakes.

The total project included 69 of the spotlights, seven LED A PL3.5t copper path lights and one LED brass well light.


Strength and Grace
As the icon of a university in Connecticut, this bronze statue is a focal point on campus and warranted professional lighting treatment, which is what Michael Gotowala of Preferred Properties Landscaping, did. Somewhat limited by the base of the statue as to where he could put the lights, he installed five PAR 36 well lights from Unique Lighting. They all had 5 watt lamps with a color temperature of 3000 K and a beam spread of 32 degrees. To inject some life into the inanimate object, Gotowala used spreader lens glass inserts over bronze theatrical film.

"It looks like the stag is breathing," he says.

Besides lighting it for artistic reasons, Gotowala acknowledges that there were safety and security reasons involved also. And he advises lighting contractors to always do the "finish pointing" during the night.


Surrounded by History
The backdrop of this seating area at a house located just outside of Rockford Park in Wilmington, Delaware, was constructed of brick from the original walls of a barn built in 1895 by stonemasons on property that was originally part of the Gibraltar Mansion, an estate that is listed in the Natural Register of Historic Places.

According to Scott Berry, the owner of Evergreen Hardscaping, careful attention had to be taken to not damage the brick and respect the history of the of the property. The extensive lighting setup features:
1 Classic niche LED
2 Classic Savannah deck light LEDs
2 Classic engineered wall light LEDs
2 Classic New Orleans area / path light LEDs
2 Classic well light with well light grates
1 Classic MR-16 bullet light LED with a 24-degree medium angle beam spread

They are all hooked up with 12/2 landscape lighting wire and powered with a 300-watt transformer. Extras include a digital timer and a Spider splice assembly junction box.


A Festive Feel
Though not an unusual feature, the terrace of this 1920s home in Raleigh, North Carolina, takes center stage for entertaining and the residence owners wanted the lighting to be high-spirited. So Southern Lights of Raleigh installed customized festoon lighting to help create the proper mood. Supported with stainless steel aircraft cable the lighting has turnbuckles that allow tensioning to adjust each of the 5 strands. Hooks and disconnects allow setup and removal in under 15 minutes. The 7-watt G12C Pro Grade incandescent candelabra-based globe lights are spaced 18" on-center on pro-grade 16-gauge Lightstrings. LED bulbs were available, but incandescent bulbs were selected because their richness provides a more celebratory appearance.

The entire project encompassed the front and back areas and included 150 fixtures. In this photo, the porch column is down lit with a white 15093WHT Kichler accent fixtures and the fountain wall was uplight with 6 SL570 Southern Lights brass bullet lights, both with Brilliance MR16 5W 60-degree 2700K drop-in LEDs.

Illuminating the terrace perimeter are 12 PL9 Serengeti copper path lights by Auroralight with 2.5 watt 2700k G-4 bi-pin LEDs. Because beds had mature hedges and space was tight, path lights were used with custom heights and located in middle of hedges.

The system was designed by company owner John Garner, ASLA.


Welcome to a Historic Boutique Hotel
Mark and Ridgely Hutchin bought the historic 1905 Bunn Home in Asheville, North Carolina in 2013. Over the next several years they renovated the home and gardens into a hotel, retaining as much of the original material and charm as they could. As a good example of how one job can lead to another, K2 Services, Inc. was called in by the general contractor to discuss installing an irrigation system. From that initial meeting, the landscape team's relationship with the owners became not just a strong working relationship, but a friendship as well. Besides the irrigation system they helped with installation of the lawn, much of their landscape as well as the landscape lighting.

"When you work with a client of this caliber, the project is enjoyable and problems become fun challenges," says company owner Kevin McRae. "We had to address typical lighting concerns such as providing safe and effective lighting for guests travelling to and from the hotel while maintaining a beautiful and subtle lighting effect that fit with the elegance of the property. Additionally, we wanted to highlight the grounds and provide a safe and inviting opportunity for guests to enjoy the walking trails around the gardens."

To sharpen their skills, the team attended several seminars put on by a manufacturer. For the hotel's front gate, K2 used FB accent lights with 3-LED lamp (4.5 watts) with a 35-degree beam width on the columns and sign. They were mounted with ground stakes and have a flat black finish so they can disappear into the landscape. In the background is a walking path illuminated by the SC lights, also mounted with ground stakes and are copper with the antique tumbled finish to match the style and feel of the Bunn House.


Making It Their Own
These whimsical characters reside at what Nature's Expressions of Nicholasville, Kentucky calls their feature home of the year. The residents had purchased this house in Lexington and wanted to customize it to their liking.

Charming in the daytime, the lighting crew had to take care not to make the statues look ominous at night. Six model 15711ss 3.5-watt pond lights in the trough of the water feature illuminates the back frog. One Kichler 16005 AZT 4- watt spot at a 60-degree angle and 2700 degree Kelvin lights the front frog.

For the entire project Nature's Expressions installed over 50 lights around the property using a mix of path lights, accent lights, hardscape lights and pond lights.

Besides the lighting, the landscape crew extended the backyard fence, changed the topography by adding a retaining wall, which raised the grade and doubled the size of the space, installed a cabana with a fireplace and television at one end of the pool, an outdoor kitchen at the other end, dramatic fire bowls and up-lit columnar hornbeams to create an enchanting outdoor space.


Attractive Architectural Attribute
On the Newport Coast in Southern California, Jon's Masonry & Landscape, Inc. installed all the hardscape, softscape, pool & lights on this brand new house. Company owner Jon Kidder reports that everything was dirt when they started.

The entire project required 96 all-brass LED fixtures with 2700 Kelvin color temperature. For the arched entryway, eight in-ground up lights, 4 inches in diameter were installed. They have cast brass grills, 3-watt LED lamps and were mounted flush in the travertine paver deck. The exterior wall is illuminated with 4-inch well lights with 2.5 watt LEDs.

Lighting Innovations Inc. supplied the fixtures onsite ready to install. Owner Jim Homan is a lighting designer that also consults with contractors on larger jobs such as this one throughout Orange County. His services include meeting the client with the contractor and then together interpreting their requests into a solution, though he gives Kidder total credit for the look of the arched entryway.

Another thing Homan seeks to do is to empower the homeowner, who is likely exasperated at this point in the project due to its length, by returning at night to make small adjustments to the lighting at their request - giving homeowners control of the final look of their landscape at night.

"Moving a light half an inch or tilting one 10 to 15 degrees can make a tremendous difference in the appearance and performance of light," he says. "There are rights and wrongs in lighting but there is also personal preference - and that's a huge variable."


Reflecting Brilliance
This expensive stainless steel sculpture at a private residence in Connecticut was quite a challenge for Preferred Properties Landscaping because of its mirror-like qualities. According to company owner Michael Gotowala, it was important to minimize the glare present when the sculpture is viewed from the home's windows.

He used three Classic down lights mounted about 20 feet-high in three different trees to cross light the statue in a triangular configuration. Two of the light fixtures were outfitted with 35-watt lamps with 36 degree beam spreads and a color temperature of 3250 K. The lamp in the third fixture was the same except for having a beam spread of 60 degrees. There are additional up lights on the larger tree and an accent light on the large stone.

Gotowala admits that he couldn't necessarily rely on past projects when lighting this piece because of the individuality of it, and that is something to always keep in mind. One technique he recommends is taking preliminary photographs of the work in progress at night.

"You can kind of study light with a picture," he says, "whereas sometimes going out there at night without a camera, you get overwhelmed by the wow factor."

The homeowners were so pleased with the work on the sculpture that they gave Preferred Properties the go-ahead to illuminate the entire property.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, April 2017.

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August 25, 2019, 5:44 am PDT

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