Let’s say you’ve built the cottage of your dreams. You thought when you invested in extensive landscaping, you had placed the jewel in the crown. Your heart swells with pride every time you return to your property.
But if you haven’t invested in ambient lighting, you’re still in the dark when it comes to making the most of your cottage and the time you spend there. According to Chris Shirchenko, partner in the
Muskoka-based family-run business Nightscapes of Muskoka, the list of reasons to install landscape lighting is long and varied.
Beginning with the practical, effective lighting helps safeguard against trips and falls. This is an especially important consideration when it comes to the stone steps and steep slopes that are typical of many Muskoka lakefront cottages. “Our designs around pathways generally include rolling, ambient lighting,” explains Chris. “There’s never pitch blackness between path lights, but at the same time the light guides you without being overdone.”
A second benefit: Illuminating your property pushes back the shadows to provide added security and visibility.
Carefully highlighting your outdoor living space also extends the window of time you can enjoy being outside. Midsummer heat and humidity can move us indoors during the day, or we could be spending our days working, running errands, and tending to practical matters. When evening comes, everyone gathers together, ready to relax; that’s when you want to have all your living spaces, both indoors and out, at your disposal.
For Chris and his team, the challenge and reward of their work come from satisfying the practical goals of landscape lighting in ways that elevate the property artistically, so that homeowners experience a whole other side to their home or cottage.
For example, in a recent large-scale project on one of Muskoka’s Three Big Lakes, Nightscapes of Muskoka was inspired by the property’s centuries-long history to introduce lighting that evoked and celebrated its grandeur. “Because of the size of the property,” explains Chris, “the challenge was balancing the lighting, and because the property is so special, we needed to give it something special.”
This was achieved partly through the careful use of layered moonlighting — fixtures hanging in the trees at heights of 20 or 30 feet. At those elevations, the lights produce long, soft shrouds, but you’re never looking up into a glare, even from the lake level. “It’s important to hide the source and see the effect,” says Chris.
“Not all lighting installations are created equally,” he cautions, explaining that a pre-existing fixture on the property meant to illuminate an armour-stone wall also had the unfortunate effect of blinding passing boaters. “We don’t work as electricians or landscapers. We’re fully insured landscape lighting designers and installers. This is really a niche market.”
Inside that niche, one can achieve an incredible level of customization. The Big-Three property, for example, includes path lighting, moonlighting, lantern lighting, and armour-stone lighting. Each type of lighting is dimmable and operated on a separate transformer, so the homeowners can theme the lighting by, for example, illuminating only walkways that lead from the cottage down to the lake level.
No matter how beautifully a landscape is lit, however, it can never compete with nature’s own light show, and that’s something Chris and his team are respectful of on every project. “Naturally, people want to be able to see the stars,” he says, “and that’s where you need to be mindful of your lumen output.” Lumens are a measurement of the intensity of light. Using warm LED lighting keeps things night-sky friendly and is more gentle on the eye. “Landscape lighting should be calming anyway,” Chris explains, “never glaring or harsh.”
Not surprisingly, the ideal time to make a landscape lighting design is during the planning phases of the hardscaping, or even before construction begins. But if you’re long past those stages, don’t despair. Nightscapes of Muskoka is more than equipped to come in after the fact and draft a lighting design that seems like it was part of the plan all along.
Retrofitting has its challenges, though. Cottagers may have weather-proofed walkways, railings, and docks that can’t be drilled through, so there’s a dilemma that comes with introducing lighting to posts and decking. “We run into this a lot,” says Chris. “We have tricks up our sleeve when it comes to knowing how to introduce lighting without having visible wiring,” he explains. “Obviously, people want a clean look.”
Trends in landscape lighting right now include underwater lighting and the introduction of coloured light. Dock lighting is also big. And like most things these days, landscape lighting is controllable via a smartphone app and can be programmed to suit your schedule and your needs.
Inside we use candles, dimmable lights, and coloured shades to create ambience, but we haven’t always understood that we can achieve a similar effect outdoors. “When it’s done right,” says Chris, “there’s no glare, just reflection. It’s an art. You want to keep looking at it, not turn away.”