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Adding life to landscapes

Well-executed lighting concepts can cast outdoor spaces in the best possible light, and through creative design can add style and dimension to enhance any environment. Not only is exterior lighting an essential and necessary component to outdoor areas, but the concept itself can entirely transform a space.

Troy Merchant is the Director of LED Outdoor in Adelaide and says the importance of exterior lighting is just as critical as interior lighting. Troy and his wife, Andrea are both experts in the field and found themselves in the industry due to their mutual love of the outdoors, architectural design, and their previous experience in residential and stage lighting. He says that it took over a year to fine-tune his product range due to the rigorous testing, researching and developing of each product. “This gave us time to experiment and fine-tune the art of landscape lighting.”

When designing a landscape space, Troy will run through a set of questions with his clients which will outline their expectations from the lighting concept. He explains it is critical to clarify what exactly the client needs, and from there he will begin the design process. As each client’s lighting needs will vary immensely, Troy will evaluate the client, the space, and from there, employ his approach. “My concepts will range from conservative to creative, it all just depends on the client and space,” he remarks. 

Of course, each design concept will depend mainly on the type of project too, what the budget looks like and how the occupant intends to use the space. LED Outdoor recently worked on Mount Lofty House in the Adelaide Hills (a heritage listed building with stunning landscaped gardens that form part of the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden). Troy reveals the owners were looking to accent pathways and focal points around the gardens that would connect their guests with beauty that surrounded them and extend the overall experience. “The warm white lighting naturally accentuated the hues and textures that mother nature provided, creating a harmonious connection between the outside to within.”

While outdoor lighting not only ensures security and safety; it also has the power to enhance the ambience and functionality of any landscape. Troy expresses that people often forget the important decisions concerning outdoor lighting and that it will play a substantial role in the nighttime view of their property.

Troy believes when it comes to ambience, not everything needs to be illuminated: “How can you appreciate light without some form of darkness?” He will also refrain from using a floodlight unless it is necessary and will always be considerate of the surrounding environment, nature and neighbours. On floodlighting, Troy states it is like a camera flash: “it washes light over everything which is great for overall security but adds nothing to create any ambience.” He further clarifies that being able to control the beam angle prevents wastage of light and that the design of a floodlight’s large face makes it hard for this type of lighting to be discreet, “they create a lot of glare which is what we try to prevent.”

For outdoor lighting, darker surfaces will absorb light, where a lighter surface will reflect light. Troy remarks that this is why you need luminaires with higher light output when illuminating darker surfaces. “You need to control the light through careful selection of lumen levels and beam angles while avoiding hotspots, like when the light hits a surface with too much intensity.” 

A consideration of where an outdoor lighting design is situated is an integral part of the process. “Light levels vary immensely between a country landscape and a city environment; this will inevitably determine the amount of light which is required.” Troy declares his main priority is the visual comfort of his clients; “I achieve a pleasant lighting level by avoiding direct glare, along with the careful placement of luminaires.” He does this by getting as much information as to how each client will experience the light; the general ambience they are after and what other luminaires are in the area. “The direction in which the lights are placed, the use of glare guards on our garden spikes, or honeycomb filters on ingrounds are all important factors in the design process.”

Although CRI is not as crucial in landscape lighting as it is within an indoor space, Troy confirms that LED Outdoor will never use anything less than 80 CRI. “When you select luminaires with high CRI, colours will pop, textures will stand out, and finishes have depth,” he states. Of course, selecting a high CRI when designing an outdoor space is important too, given it assists in creating the desired ambience. “I’ll always ensure entertaining areas are warm and inviting with my CRI selection,” comments Troy.

Some current outdoor lighting trends include spotlighting, highlighting, silhouetting, shadowing and grazing. “Using light to designate what’s most important intuitively draws attention to specific spaces,” expresses Troy. 

A space can easily be lit from the outside, but a good lighting outcome will incorporate layers of light to aspects like the pathway and its endpoint. “The quality of outdoor lighting is so much more important than indoor because of the harsh environments the luminaires must face by being in full weather and often in coastal conditions,” he expresses. 

For Troy, creating the right mood with light is a critical component to his plans. “When we design for landscape lighting, it is about building something different to what we see during the day,” he comments. “This is why we love uplighting, as it is such a contrast to downlighting in which we get from the sun.” He claims that uplighting generally creates more shadows and can make leaves and trees glow.

As clients are spending more time in their outdoor spaces, exterior lighting is more important than ever. “It is definitely a growing industry – with LEDs, we now have the ability to create a lighting concept that is both functional and attractive,” Troy states. In addition to providing brightness, outdoor lighting can draw attention away from problem spots and highlight special features. Troy says with improvements in technology, lighting up a landscape now doesn’t cost the earth to run. 

With the development of LEDs, lighting design has entirely transformed the way we think about lighting landscapes, providing multiple possibilities for interior and exterior spaces. Troy states that with the progression of technology in recent years, there are greater opportunities for smaller and more powerful luminaires, which were not possible before. With the improved efficiency and output from many luminaires, landscapers can produce creative effects to emphasise textures and architectural elements without the light source even being viewed. “Previously landscapers needed large 240V luminaires to achieve what we can now do with one-tenth the wattage and the size as before,” comments Troy. 

Troy explains wayfinding is a primary safety aspect of lighting but can also add a nice visual effect, providing depth and interest in his designs. “When choosing wayfinding luminaires we always consider glare and love using products that focus the light onto the ground rather than into your eye,” he emphasises. By using an assortment of strip lighting, bollards, path, handrail and inground lights, Troy creates appealing concepts which help guide people through outside environments. 

Outdoor lighting provides people with the chance to appreciate their outdoor spaces at night. Troy comments; “People spend so much time making their yard, and home exterior look good, why would they hide it once the sun goes down?” With a trend in land size decreasing, he suggests we learn to utilise the space we have. “Even though people may have smaller outdoor spaces than ever before, it is super important to maximise the impact of the space. Lighting helps bring the outdoor spaces inside.”

Golding Wines, Adeliade Hills

LED Outdoor completed an exterior lighting concept for the Golding Winery in Lobethal, South Australia. “The gardens are mostly mature, so we did a lot of uplighting to accent the natural elements.” The project called for uplighting to graze the beautiful stone on the exterior barn walls and given these luminaires were so close to the entertaining space, LED Outdoor installed honeycomb lenses into the luminaires to limit glare for guests. The project utilised the combination of downlighting the path and uplighting the trees which ensured a majestic ambience was created without the discomfort of light shining in the faces of guests. Troy explains that LED Outdoor used track lights for general illumination in the barn, and around the edges of the building used spotlights to add warmth by grazing the stone. “The area is commonly used for weddings so ambience and functionality were equally important.”

It’s significant to note that no matter what the size or design of the exterior spaces, landscape lighting will always enhance the positives. With exterior lighting noted amongst one of the most desirable characteristics for buyers, there’s no denying it is an integral part of any design. Troy notes that landscape lighting makes properties look more luxurious, expensive and leads to an increase in value.

For Troy, various elements impact the result of a lighting outcome in exterior spaces, ranging from; luminaires used, glare and location. For LED Outdoor, multiple techniques are employed which help achieve various lighting effects. Landscape lighting design will remain to be a fine art that accomplishes many things all at the same time, adding space and a dynamic form to an otherwise bland exterior.