The First Law of Residential Landscape Lighting is “less is more”. A design achieves the greatest drama and beauty with as little lighting as possible. How little is “as little as possible”? Generally, just enough to meet safety, security, and functionality needs. An artistically illuminated outdoor kitchen, for example, can’t be too dark to cook in. Path lighting has to show where the path is. Too much lighting, though, and a property looks industrial, or institutional. When it comes to adding color in landscape, lighting, “less is more” is especially apropos.
Almost any property can be beautifully lit using white light only. Houston-area foliage and architecture generally provide enough color to create pleasing effects. Another subtle layer can be added with filters that change the temperatures of selected fixtures. Nudging a white beam toward the blue produces a “cool” effect. In contrast, warmer whites are biased toward the yellow. White light corrected this way, though, is still white light.
COLOR IN LANDSCAPE LIGHTING
The best way to approach using color in landscape lighting? First, complete an all-white layout that satisfies in all respects. Then, consider whether there are opportunities to add some drama or warmth with color. Bear in mind that color filters reduce a fixture’s brightness. Areas lit for safety or functionality are probably not great candidates for color. Neither are blooming flowers, by and large. Nature has that covered as far as color goes.
Green or even blue-green light adds depth to lawns and green shrubbery. Too much blue, though, tends to make foliage look, well, weird. Yellow is another color to be wary of in landscape lighting. Its interaction with the natural greens of foliage has a deadening effect. If there’s a place for yellow in outdoor lighting, it’s with hardscapes like sculpture, and walls. Red? Handle with care. When perfectly placed and sized, red certainly attracts the eye. It can become a welcoming beacon. Inexpertly used, it suggests something more like an emergency EXIT sign.
A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY
There are, of course, seasons and occasions when a temporary addition of color in landscape lighting is absolutely appropriate. When subtlety is set aside, and festivity rules. ‘Tis the season for colored lens kits that snap onto most outdoor lighting fixtures.
The temptation to “goose up” a design with color in landscape lighting is strong in many clients of this Houston-area designer. It’s not a terrible idea, per se. Long experience teaches, as noted above, that the important thing is to get the all-white system right. From there it’s easy to try adding a little color where it might improve the look. With snap-on filters, there’s no commitment. They’re inexpensive, too. Even if it turns out that basic white works best, clients can set some color filters aside for Christmas or Independence Day.