Lighting Rules for North Shore Homes and Gardens

We love our gardens. From tiny window ledge herb gardens to pottage layouts worthy of a Nancy Meyers film; you can find these and everything in between on the North Shore.

While most gardeners love choosing plants and spend hours with their landscape designer or their shovel, few focus on lighting their property and gardens.

And according to Chuck Hyams, a senior landscape designer with Lake Bluff-based Scott Byron & Co., that’s an unfortunate mistake.

“Lighting can be used not only to highlight landscape focal points, but to allow homeowners to get more use from the space throughout the season,” he says.

However, not all lighting designs are created equally. Consider the following tips to help you avoid common mistakes and create the most beautiful environment.

Avoid the runway effect
“You’re trying to subtly funnel the eye to the front door,” says Tim Tacheny, owner of the Richmond-based Estate Lighting, who advises against running a row of lights along the sidewalk to the front door to create a runway effect.

Less is often more
“Lighting should be subtle and like any good landscape design, it shouldn’t call attention to itself,” says Hyams. “Our philosophy is to use lighting sparingly so it doesn’t overwhelm the landscape.”

Design for security as well as aesthetics
“Without lighting, you look out the window, and it’s pitch black,” says Tacheny, who recommends lighting the trees around the property perimeter. “A little light between the house and the shrubbery helps eliminate a potential hiding spot for a prowler.”

Sometimes it’s best to start from scratch
Although lighting that’s been planned and installed by a professional can often be salvaged, most designers recommend creating a custom lighting plan and starting from scratch.

“If it wasn’t designed to be upgraded, the quality of light often diminishes when you start adding fixtures or changing the design,” explains Hyams, who considers the client’s future needs and possible expansion when installing new lighting systems.

Use high-quality fixtures
According to Tacheny, high quality fixtures are often designed for voltage drop—the enemy of low-voltage landscape lighting.

“You’ll put too many lights on one line and none of them will be getting the voltage they should,” Tacheny says.

Embrace new technology
According to experts, LED will revolutionize landscape lighting. In addition to energy savings, LED bulbs last between five and ten times as long as traditional bulbs.

The most compelling reason to add lights is to add enjoyment. The gardening and outdoor season is short in Chicago. If we can be outside in the moonlight and the sunlight, we double our time in our outdoor spaces.

Photography courtesy of Linda Oyama Bryan