Striking a Balance Between Lighting the Home and Lighting the Landscape

 The Landscape Lighting Designers Dilemma

Even though we use the term 'Lanscape Lighting' to refer to our profession, this tells only half the story. It is not only the 'Landscape' to be lit, but also the 'Home'.

What is the ideal landscape lighting experience?
When the homeowner enters the property, he or she is ideally gretted by an illuminated scene of landscape elements with the illuminationed home as the central feature. An excellent lighting design addresses all elements of the enitre property to achieve a cohesive and compelling canva.

What does the homeowner want?
Homeowners vary greatly in their understanding of what landscape lighting can accomplish. Some are only familiar with path lighting while other have seen and want an extensive illumination of home and property. Their expectations of the lighting designer vary greatly and may be based on an incomplete understanding of the art and science.

With this in mind, the designer needs to assist the homeowner in clarifying objectives and offering a more thorough assessment of what can be done. It is up to the professional to propose a lighting designthat satisfies both the homeowner and the basic principles of good design.

It is these basic principles that are compromised when the designer favors either the home or the landscape. And it is the homeowner's loss when a designer fails to incorporate the entire homestead into the lighting design.

Why light both the home and property?

  1. To honor the principles of lighting design. . .
    Clearly, the house is the central feature of the landscape. Other features include plant materials, driveways, pathways, decks, lawns, etc. A good design ties these disparate elements together with skillful illumination establishing a cohesive impression and experience.
    Depth: This principle suffers greatly when only the house is lit - as darkness falls, the landscape retreats from view and the home appears as an island in a sea of blackness. The viewers experience is flattened as the gaze starts and ends of the surface of the structure. Instead of giving the impression of a rich three-dimensional world, there is only a two-dimensional poverty of experience,
    Focal Points: A good lighting designer recognizes that the human visual experience is dynamic. As we gaze upon the world, our eyes rest on the first one object, then another, tracing a path defined by what draw oru attention. in the case of front yard lighting, we want the final destination of the visual path to be the house, so we carefully plan the design to establish focal points in the landscape that lead to the entrance of the home.
    Quality and Direction: Many designers don't light the home because it is already lit. There may be an entrance lantern or down-lights under the portico, The quality of such lighting in most cases is glaring and uncontrolled in both direction and intensity - inconsistent with, and distracting from the low voltage lighting in the landscape. The only other lighting is the light coming from the windows, This light does not highlight architectural features and is dependant on the homeowners turning on indoor lights. A better approach is the skilled application of the architectural lighting from the designer.
  2. To honor the goals of lighting design. . .
    Clealy, homeowners are very concerned about security. Lighting only the house neglects the opportunity that a designer has to provide strategically placed lighting in shadowed areas of the landscape. I've seen too many projects where the designer is content to leave the homeowner with high voltage floodlights that blast the landscape with harsh lighting and that create even darker shadows where prowlers may lurk.
    Beauty: No need to elaborate this point, lighting both the home and landscape is unarguably more beautiful than favoring one or the other.
    Nighttime Usability: Designers universally agree that decks and patios need to be lit, but many neglect the fact that homeowners may want to use other areas of the property at night - even if it's just talking a stroll through a garden or lawn. Why not create compelling and inviting lighting throughout the property?

What if the homeowner can only afford a few fixtures?
Unfortunately, it is often the case that a tight budget is imposed. The designer is faced with the reality that both the house and landscape cannot be adequately lit. In this case, the designer best serves the homeowner by laying out the ideal design incorporating all elements of the homestead, then proposing a phased approach with each phase bringing additional fixtures into play to eventually complete the design. The designer can improve compliance with the phased approach by offering to pre-wire the areas of future installation, along with the promise that future fixtures can be installed with minimal cost.

What if the landscape is bare?
Unfortunately, there are many prospective clients with beautiful homes on properties that are either poorly landscaped, not landscaped at all, or otherwise difficult to light. This presents both a challenge and opportunity for the designer. The challenge is to establish depth and cohesion and the opportunity is to make the property look better at night than during the day.

The designer should not be shy about suggesting further landscaping with the intent to improve both daytime and nighttime appearance. If that fails then the designer need to look to provie a visual pathway from the entrance of the property to the home. If moonlighting is not an option, then path lights alogn the driveway and entrance way can be used. Other options may be lighting the borders of the property along fencesor hedges.

What if the house is ugly?
From a nighttime perspective, there are no ugly homes, only ugly lighting. In cases where the house surfaces are uninteresting, projecting light through plant material can create visual appeal. The result pattern of shadows can be very compelling and help establish moods of romance and mystery. Light can also be directed onto the structure behind plants so they are silhouetted.

In conclusion, we can say there's nothing wrong with lighting designers approaching their craft with an emphasis on either plants or architecture as long as they do so with an understanding and respect for the principles of good design