Shine On

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm

Effective outdoor lighting can increase the quality and curb appeal of a home, while also increasing the quality of life for those who live there. In the typical front yard, a house may have four or five lights along a front walkway, a lantern light in a bush near the front property line and lights above the garage door and front door. While this typical lighting set-up is unobtrusive and utilitarian, much more can be done to use less energy and to accent the architectural beauty of a home, lighting professionals say. Marty Peck, owner of Germantown-based Creative Lighting Design & Engineering, believes lighting can create a romantic environment not achieved during the day, both in the front and back of a home.

"One of the neatest things about outdoor lighting is that it gives the opportunity to expand living space," Peck said. "People think they don’t need lighting because they are not often out on their decks or in their yards at night, but the proliferation of windows extends living space at night." Creative Lighting Design & Engineering has offered indoor and outdoor lighting services to residences and commercial properties since it was established by Peck in 1992. Peck previously worked for a lighting company but also has a background in engineering and theatrical lighting design. His three designers have architectural backgrounds.

The company works with clients on a national level, but locally, the firm has installed lighting systems for the Governor’s Mansion in Madison, Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Club in Milwaukee and the indoor water park at Country Springs Hotel, Water Park and Conference Center in Waukesha. The residential properties that Creative Lighting Design & Engineering typically works with are multi-million dollar homes, Peck said.  Creative Lighting Design & Engineering creates outdoor lighting designs using a composition that would offer light for those in the yard and provide a nice view for those inside the home.

"I like to create near views where the landscaping close to the house can be readily seen out the window, then mid views of the yard and deck to create focal points and then far views where lighting is placed on the property line in the trees," Peck said. "The composition takes the eye through the yard and masks lights from traffic and from neighboring houses so that it is not as objectionable." For the Governor’s Mansion in Madison, Peck used that type of composition while keeping security at a maximum. Creative Lighting Design & Engineering put lighting in trees, near the house and in clusters throughout the yard, so that a person in the yard can be seen at all times. At the same time, the design element is still intact, Peck said.

Waukesha-based World Class Outdoor Lighting LLC mainly works with residential properties in southeastern Wisconsin and has designed lighting systems for all types and sizes of homes, said co-owner Kevin Hunt. Many homeowners looking for outdoor lighting are interested in entertainment lighting for the patio, pool and deck areas of the backyard, said World Class Outdoor Lighting co-owner Brian Webb.  "Lights make a house look like a home instead of another piece of property," Webb said. "Using fixtures small in number and size make the property better looking during the day and cause less light to cast everywhere at night." In the backyard, lighting can accent sculptures, birdbaths and trees or light a patio and hot tub area for safety and ambiance.

World Class Outdoor Lighting uses low-voltage lighting for its crisp white color and energy conservation. With low-voltage lighting, a homeowner can accent the texture of brick or a domed window. Low-voltage bulbs also last longer than high-voltage bulbs and gives off a softer, more dispersed light, instead of a harsh spotlight effect, Webb said. World Class Outdoor Lighting prefers to light a home or landscape without interrupting the inside of a home.  "From the inside, the light is uniform so that all of the windows are dark," Webb said. "And from the outside, no light is blasting on the reflective spots of the house."

Hunt and Webb consult with customers to determine what the customer is looking for and what fits in the budget. Outdoor lighting can be a costly investment. A 2,500 square-foot home with a budget of $1,500 would only have the ability to concentrate on one side of the house for lighting, Webb said. Instead of doing a mediocre job placing lights on both the front and back yards, World Class Outdoor Lighting suggests homeowners concentrate on one part of their home first.
"It is important to get a budget together to light the front yard to make it bright and tasteful, Webb said. "Leave the backyard dark until you can budget for it. Once customers see what we have done, 85 percent add lights in the backyard."
Creative Lighting Design & Engineering works with larger homes that require a larger budget to be lighted attractively. A $5,000 budget would allow a customer some design consultations and would allow them to purchase about 15 to 20 light fixtures, Peck said. Many of the light fixtures that Creative Lighting & Design purchase for designs cost mre than $100 per fixture.

Peck uses higher-end lighting fixtures and wiring methods to keep water out and to allow the lighting system to sustain harsh weather. One of Peck’s clients has a garden area with cement columns where large, cement planters sit. To create light near the steps in the area, Creative Lighting Design & Engineering contracted the Brass Light Gallery in Milwaukee to create a light fixture with a planter around it. The light fixture looks like a vintage lantern with one bulb, but small lights hidden in the hat of the fixture provide lighting that is aimed at the steps for safety and security. Creative Lighting Design & Engineering also works with a nature-oriented design scheme called moonlighting or the romantic method.

"The romantic method gives the feeling that the moonlight is coming down and lighting a certain area," Peck said. "It is a natural style." The natural scheme of lighting would include placing two or three fixtures in a tree, Peck said. Downlighting would be placed in the upper third of the tree and uplighting would be placed in the lower third with the possibility of a floodlight at the bottom. Lights often have a blue color filter to give the feeling of moonlight.  In other areas, Creative Lighting Design and Engineering would place warm-colored light fixtures, suggestive of lanterns, and juxtapose them in a way that creates a romantic setting.

The use of color is not popular other than on lake properties, Peck said. To use color tastefully, Creative Lighting Design & Engineering places subtle color filters over light fixtures to accentuate objects such as flowers for a fanciful lighting scheme, he said. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are sometimes used to create continuous color or change colors. "Color requires maintenance yearly, and the biggest issue is when plantings overgrow and the lighting needs to be raised," Peck said. "Our philosophy generally is that we don’t like to see light fixtures." Webb and Hunt do not recommend the use of LEDs to their customers because the technology is ahead of its time, expensive and requires maintenance, Hunt said.

Both companies use timers and create lighting systems that are maintenance-free for the most part. "Carefully crafted, subtle landscape lighting defines a home as another level of prestige, sophistication and elegance," Peck said. "Similar to landscaping, it adds curb appeal and a tinge of anticipation and drama when others approach the home."

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