Want unbeatable advertising? Look left, look right, look no further than your most recent client’s neighbors.
There is no better form of advertising than tapping into a homeowner’s desire to keep up with their neighbors.
Those wowed by a well-executed landscape lighting design can become your next best customers. That’s precisely how Pete Bryant, owner of Southern Lights Outdoor Lighting & Audio in Greensboro, North Carolina, landed a 76-fixture job with 110 feet of low-voltage linear strip lighting.
“This project happened to be the next-door neighbor of a previous client where we designed and built an extensive lighting and audio system in and around a large outdoor kitchen, patio, pool and landscape,” he says. His company is a full-service outdoor landscape lighting and audio design provider. Their projects include work at the Frank Lloyd Wright Institute: Taliesin West project.
This new client had a specific vision: to create the ultimate entertainment space that was functional and featured a one-of-a-kind nighttime experience. The project encompassed multiple elements, including a back porch addition, various grilling and entertaining areas, upper and lower hardscape patios, walls and landscaping, Bryant explains. Above all else, the client wanted the upgrades to blend in with the natural surroundings and be cohesive with the rest of the home and backyard.
Finding the focus
The hardscape was central to this project and Bryant wanted to ensure the lighting allowed these features to remain the primary focus. He had three goals for the final lighting design: accent the hardscape, provide safety and avoid overpowering the setting.
“We were purposeful with the design to ensure that it enhanced the hardscape’s beauty without diverting attention away from it. So, we opted for an approach that achieved the desired look and feel we wanted while ensuring the stone remained the central focus.”
– Pete Bryant, Southern Lights Outdoor Lighting & Audio
“We were purposeful with the design to ensure that it enhanced the hardscape’s beauty without diverting attention away from it,” he says. “So, we opted for an approach that achieved the desired look and feel we wanted while ensuring the stone remained the central focus.”
Bryant designed the lighting layout using the landscape architect’s base plan and incorporated multiple products and design principles, including recessed lighting, directional down lighting, strip lighting, up lighting, wall lighting and wash lighting. But linear lighting with correlated color temperature, or CCT, was central to the design.
“The real star of the show had to be the linear strip lighting,” he says. “No other product would conceal better or create a more natural effect on all the stone. We went with a full RGBW + CCT strip that gave full control over brightness, color and saturation.”
Linear lighting, also known as strip lighting, offers a versatile option that caters to both function and aesthetics. This type of lighting technology operates on 12 or 24 volts and is designed to produce an endless line of illumination. This technique has a wide range of applications from accent lighting of architectural features in hardscapes to creating a soft, indirect glow in cove areas to illuminating pathways, decks, gardens and outdoor entertaining areas.
Just before this job, Bryant finished a large commercial project in downtown Greensboro featuring linear lighting, and he felt this residential backyard patio could also benefit from using similar design techniques.
“This was a relatively new lighting concept in the hardscape arena and we wanted to stretch our skill set and apply it to a more complex residential project,” he says.
“This particular project did not utilize 100% 12-volt lighting solutions,” he says. “So, it’s essential for a lighting contractor who is not familiar with 24-volt systems to do adequate research and play around with these product lines before installing them on a client’s home. Understanding the nuances and capabilities of new products is crucial in ensuring a successful installation. Your name is on the line.”
Due to their flexibility and ability to produce various colors, LED strip lights are also often used for creative and decorative lighting purposes in events, parties and festivals.
“I love the ability to control everything. RGBW + CCT allows me to manipulate colors, saturation, brightness and even blend colors for an unlimited number of options,” Bryant says. “In my design approach, I predominantly utilize the white spectrum for everyday lighting designs. A more subtle and balanced use of color enhances the overall design without overpowering the space.”
“According to Bryant, overloading a lighting system with too many colors can sometimes come across as tacky and may detract from the intended design concept. However, he added, there are instances where color-changing lights can be an essential part of the design, particularly in spaces like bars, pools and hot tub areas, where creating a dynamic atmosphere is desired.
According to Bryant, overloading a lighting system with too many colors can sometimes come across as tacky and may detract from the intended design concept. However, he added, there are instances where color-changing lights can be an essential part of the design, particularly in spaces like bars, pools and hot tub areas, where creating a dynamic atmosphere is desired.
“We came back after this project was complete in 2022, removed the directional lighting on the ceiling and replaced it with more linear lighting in the cove,” he says. “This created a smoother effect and tied into the kitchen below, providing more control for our clients.”
Bringing the vision to life
Designing any project requires a homeowner to trust the contractor, but this project required more faith than others. Outside of the previous commercial project, linear lighting was new territory for Bryant’s team.
“We made up a few samples that provided a very rudimentary concept, but there was really no way to showcase this lighting design without the outdoor kitchen being in place,” he says. “Having lots of good professional images of projects we’ve designed not only helped to show different lighting effects but also showed our clients we were capable of handling complex projects like theirs.”
The project was challenging and required extensive experience with hardscape design and installation. Luckily, Bryant’s crews had expertise working in and around new and existing structures from years of installing hardscape features as employees of his former business Southern Exposure Landscape Management (now Southern Outdoor Living), which he sold in 2022.
“It took lots of measuring, lots of conduit and lots of communication and coordination with the hardscaping crews,” he says.
The complexity and level of detail meant Bryant had to be on-site throughout the development and progression of the project. Hardscape projects often involve making design adjustments as they unfold, but in this case, the project required the precise fitting of numerous appliances and cooking equipment, necessitating careful planning and pre-wiring in each designated area.
“To handle this challenge, my presence on-site throughout the project was extensive. It took 100 hours to complete,” he says. “Being on-site allowed my team to make real-time adjustments and ensured seamless integration of the appliances and equipment according to the evolving design.”
Once the installation was complete, Bryant scheduled an appointment to “flip the switch” for the client and allow them time to soak in the result. He scheduled the reveal for a few days before the couple’s upcoming Kentucky Derby party. As the sun set, Bryant powered up the system and let the lights work their magic.
“Their reactions were priceless and audible! Both the husband and the wife were excited and amazed to see all the elements of their new addition come to life,” Bryant says. “The final reveal with the client delivered the desired result we hoped for and more. The clients were so impressed that they now purposely plan their gatherings and events in the evenings to showcase the lighting we installed for them.”
Charge accordingly! Due to the nature of hardscape installations and the changes in design, there were numerous unplanned trips to the job site.
“This is not a project you can plan to knock out in one day,” he says. “Undertaking a project like this demands a genuine passion and desire to push the boundaries of our design abilities and creativity.”
If you’re considering taking on a similar job, Bryant suggests evaluating your schedule to determine if you have sufficient time to devote to the project.
“Hardscape installations, especially those involving intricate lighting designs, demand careful attention and cannot be rushed because, ultimately, they will have to stand behind their workmanship and warranty the product,” he says.
All of Bryant’s installations are eligible for lighting maintenance packages that provide ongoing services, and he only installs products that offer extensive warranties.
“To date, we haven’t experienced any issues with the system, but due to the extensive wiring and conduits in place, should there be an issue in the future, it would be simple to make changes,” he says.
In an ideal world, lighting would be viewed just as important as the landscape and hardscape, or at least a part of the initial design process. However, most lighting contractors are called in after the project has been completed. This is because lighting tends to be an afterthought for many contractors and architects, he says.
When lighting designers are not included early in the project, clients’ options become significantly more limited, and the costs tend to increase. By not considering lighting from the project’s outset, the integration of lighting features becomes more challenging and may require modifications to the existing design, leading to additional expenses.
“To avoid such limitations and unnecessary expenses, we highly recommend involving a lighting designer from the beginning stages of the project,” he says. “This enables a more cohesive and integrated approach, where the lighting design complements and enhances the overall vision. By collaborating from the outset, clients benefit from more lighting possibilities with a more cost-effective and complete result.”
He admits it may have been a more straightforward project if he had installed multiple ledge lights around the outdoor living space. However, ledge lights could not create the same ambiance.
“As someone who always seeks to think outside the box and explore new possibilities in our industry, I realized the significance of staying committed to true lighting design rather than opting for easy and standard solutions,” Bryant says. “A true lighting design like this involved much more than that. This experience reinforced the importance of being passionate about our work and striving to create extraordinary outcomes that truly inspire and delight our clients.”