Let there be Night
Daylight saving time may bring an early nightfall, but new lighting techniques and technology transform the great outdoors after dark.
Far Left: For a Villanova, Pennsylvania, allée of linden trees, Janet Moyer used stake-mounted adjustable halogen lights: 20-watts for the trunks and 50-watts aimed up at the canopy.
Near Left: Uplit roses resemble festive string lights.
Left: Ground-mounted spots fill out a bamboo bed and reflect light onto a walkway
These days, Tillett’s residential clients aren’t as interested in such passive observation; they want to stroll through and entertain in their outdoor spaces. Either way, creativity is at play when it comes to lighting. “The thing to remember,” says Helen Diemer, president of the Lighting Practice in Philadelphia, “is that you have this opportunity to compose a scene with light. You’re not trying to re-create the same view that daylight offers, you want people to see the landscape in a way they haven’t seen it before.” That could mean highlighting a favorite tree or making the neighbor’s house disappear simply by inserting or withholding light. You’re also not trying to re-create daylight, points out landscape architect Eric Groft, a principal at Oehme, van Sweden & Associates. Occasionally he’ll remind clients with rural properties of that fact. “As I say, it’s the country—it’s supposed to be dark.”
Left: A bollard (foreground) is made of carved-out timber topped with stainless steel.
Approaches to this transformation vary widely, and where some designers focus on plant materials, carefully positioning fixtures to show off leaf patterns, bark textures, and habits, others, like Tillett, concentrate on hard surfaces—furnishings, buildings, and the hardscape. “If the clients have paths and little moments they want to go to or are going to sit in at night,” she says, “then we’ll talk about the materials for the path: Can we use a lighter gravel? Can we find a reflective surface, like a rock outcropping that’s a light tone?” Tillett sometimes adds recycled glass or quartz to a lit surface to suggest magic and mystery. “Think about fireflies,” she says. “They’re so tiny but so enchanting.”
Left: A roof terrace pulls ambient light from the cityscape.
Tillett has seen great developments in portable lighting systems, but when it comes to a permanent installation, she’s a staunch believer in licensed electricians. “It’s way too dangerous,” she says. “Even for 12-volt systems. It’s the one mistake you can’t afford to make.”
Left: A water feature inspired by louvered blinds makes a graphic focal point.
Sadly, the weather in Whitehead’s Bay Area base is not the best for outdoor entertaining. “In San Francisco,” he says, “we have about two nights a year when we can go out without fur and gloves.”
Undaunted, he takes his cue from his Stone Age forebears. “One way to extend outside life is through a heating element like a fire pit.” Rather than wait for lightning to strike a tree branch somewhere near the cave, though, he just bought his at Costco.
Left: Light/dark contrasts give this small yard depth.