Lighting Design Techniques

Architectural Lighting

In today’s world of lighting design, how do we define architectural lighting as it pertains to low-voltage lighting? In its purest sense, it is lighting with the specific intent of calling attention to a home’s unique architectural styling and details such as ornate columns, natural stone façades, decorative arches and interesting window and Gable details.

There’s been a growing trend over the past 15 years, for lighting designers and installers to incorporate more architectural lighting into their lighting designs beyond just the typical landscape lighting found in the garden spaces. This trend has become far more prevalent in urban areas than it has been in rural areas.

In the past, you would typically only see architectural lighting in high-end communities. However, with the everexpanding interest in low-voltage lighting, and the increased ease of acquiring materials;

we are seeing quality architectural lighting expanding beyond the borders of the affluent
communities and into a broader range of communities and residential neighborhoods.

Urban vs. Rural settings:

Because of the current trend seen in architectural lighting nowadays, I often know with 90% surety what my prospects are looking for before I ever meet with them based simply
upon the location of their home.

This is simply because the number one thing that my urban clients ask for is architectural lighting to highlight the details of their home. This trend is a result of several factors:

  • Most urban homes are typically larger, more elaborate and have greater
    architectural details to show off than their rural counterparts.
  • Forced entry and burglaries are typically higher in urban areas than they are in
    rural areas. Architectural lighting around the lower walls and windows is a great
    deterrent against opportunistic thieves.

Let’s consider for a moment why these two factors are so important.

Most of our prospects and clients are successful businessmen and women who are often also
independent entrepreneurs. As a result of their hard work, they typically have very nice
homes and properties. For many of them, they are proud of their homes and enjoy
showing them off.

Most of our prospects have also seen how architectural and soft
accent lighting can make a home look elegant and achieve greater curb appeal when the
sun goes down.

These same prospects also understand and realize, that a well-lit home
creates a safer environment for their family. That’s because we eliminate potentially dark
hiding places around windows and doors where intruders could comfortably hide and
wait to gain entry by breaking into the home unseen.

We also create a safer environment
around the home for visitors who will be able to make their way around the property
easier and safer due to the increased illumination around entryways and walkways.

In urban settings, architectural lighting often takes center stage. The gardens and
landscaping will usually also be lit in the overall design, but as more of a supporting role
to balance the visual focal point of the home.

Roughly 90% of all urban homeowners I
have met with have the architectural lighting at the top of their lighting wish list to a
varying degree.

Some expect it to be bright like a hotel, while others wish for a more
subdued look, but regardless of the subtilty desired, most want the architecture lit to some
degree nonetheless.

In rural settings, the opposite seems to be true. Only about 10% of
clients I encounter in very rural and woodsy settings are looking for the “home bling”
that clients in the metro areas call for.

Generally, their wish list encompasses more
landscape accents and lighting to increase the usability of outdoor spaces.

Regardless of
your preferences on architectural lighting, as designers, you must always listen and
respond to the needs and desires of the clients who will live with the lighting design we
create for them.

When properly designed, architectural lighting is a great way to bring warmth and elegance to a property. While on-site looking at a home and deciding what to light and what not to light, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Should I light this? Is this home really interesting to look at? Are there details about the architecture that are unique? Remember- just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. Up lighting a plain, blank box of a house is not really all that exciting to look at, therefore in these cases consider a more subdued look incorporating more landscaping and possibly casting shadows against the walls.
  • Do light: Columns, arches, natural stone, stucco or interesting brick. Wall texture is a big factor when I consider up lighting. The more texture- the greater the contrast of light and shadow.
  • Do light: Interesting dental moldings and gable details. Construction details such as decorative shutters, window boxes or even decorative iron and stone work.
  • Do light: Around doorways, windows and daylight basements. Security is the key here. You are looking to eliminate dark hiding places in a very subdued and subtle way. Most lighting which is done for aesthetics also doubles as passive security lighting. Remember this when designing your lighting- security lighting doesn’t have to be obvious or obnoxious (as in a double-headed flood light from the eave).
  • Don’t try to eliminate all shadows from the architecture. Remember, it’s accent lighting. The play of light and shadow is a good thing. A small degree of contrast is desirable- the home doesn’t need to look the same at night as it does during the day.
  • Don’t light up areas around air conditioners and utilities unless absolutely necessary. Some things are better left hidden in the darkness of the night
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