Most homes come with basic utility lighting at the front of the house. That basic outdoor lighting plan will usually include an overhead fixture that illuminates the entry porch area. There may also be a few low to the ground path lights and a lamp post at the start of the front walkway. However, if the lighting design is uneven, if there are gaps, there will be an imbalance between shadow and brightness that won’t help all that much to “show the way” to the front door.
Also, there is often a missed opportunity with front yard lighting. It can be used to showcase landscape features after dark that dramatically contribute to the aesthetic experience of approaching the front door of the house.
Bring Your Front Yard Landscape to Life After Dark
Outdoor lighting serves three primary objectives in the front yard landscape: 1) utility, 2) safety, and 3) visual appeal. The first two objectives aim to achieve security and functionality on walkways and steps. The third one primarily serves the aesthetic purpose of showcasing landscape features and architectural details of the home after dark.
It’s that third objective that is almost always underdeveloped in most front yard landscape lighting designs. That’s why it’s important to consider all three when planning front yard lighting and a good landscape architect will do that, will always find ways to combine both beauty and utility at every opportunity.
Outdoor Lighting for Safety & Utility
The number one reason for investing in outdoor lighting is safety. An improperly designed lighting system has blind spots. There may be areas that are in deep shadow and others that are too bright. The imbalance interferes with vision. If a lighting fixture is not properly placed, it may blind you with glare as you are walking down the sidewalk, or if the lamp is too bright it may throw blotchy hot spots onto your house or into trees.
It is important that the lighting be placed in the right locations and be of correct brightness. When lighting steps and walkways, lamps should be positioned to direct illumination downward onto the surface. To cast light over a broad area, say at the turnaround area of a driveway, we would position lights on poles or in trees.
Any shadowy spots could be dangerous for guests arriving on your property. One of them could miss a step, or fail to notice a low spot or patch of ice. Front yard lighting must be carefully designed to show the way to the front door of your home and guide guests safely there.
Outdoor Lighting for Aesthetic Appeal
Professionally designed outdoor lighting makes your landscaping look as good (or better) at night as it does during the day. You will discover a different landscape after dark that can be enhanced by using the contrast between light and shadow to bring out interesting shapes and textures. You can show off the house with low intensity wash lighting, the limb structure of a tree with focused uplighting, or create silhouettes that bring out interesting shapes and textures by using subtle backlighting.
Some of the most frequently employed artistic techniques in landscape lighting design include:
Lighting fixtures are positioned at the base of their subject and focus the beam upward (e.g. to display the trunk and limbs of an ornamental tree)
Fixtures are positioned overhead to direct illumination downard. (e.g. attached to the cross beams of a pergola so as to light the structure as well as the area beneath it)
An artistic variation of downlighting in which fixtures are attached high up in trees to cast diffuse beams through the branches–thus creating a moonlit effect that casts interesting shadow patterns on the ground
Fixtures are positioned behind an object to illuminate a wall or fence thus outlining the form of the object in front of the wall–can also create a “halo” effect around the backlit object
This technique is often used to bring out texture on a large surface such as a stone wall. Fixtures generally “wash” diffuse light across the object from an oblique angle.
Low voltage outdoor lighting systems today allow you to create a variety of moods using color temperature correction and varying brightness levels. Color gels can be inserted in front of lamps to display holiday appropriate hues for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day. Lighting systems today can be programmed and easily be customized to fit any occasion.
Honestly, there is a lot to think about here. But discussing your outdoor lighting needs with a landscape architect will help you to select just the design elements you need to bring a new dimension of visual appeal to your front yard while brightening the way to your front door.
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