Path Lights…From the Ordinary to the Sublime!

The Ordinary Path Light

The winter look of a copper path light

The Ordinary Path Light Can Be Beautiful

When it comes to path or area lights, often a designer will recommend the standard fixture that consists of a post, usually about 20 inches or so high. The light source sits on top of it with a “hat” or a top covering the light. The area covered is usually about 5 feet to maybe 8 feet. It is not uncommon to see the lights spaced maybe about every 8ish or so feet along a path and the effect is to create a bit of a runway look. (not good) The path lights serve the purpose of lighting up the walkway so that the user does not trip or fall. I think that the path light has never been considered as anything more than serving a utilitarian function. Additionally, it usually is in a high traffic area, next to a walkway, a driveway or set in a turf area. And that adds another dilemma to the pathlight: they are always falling down or are askew. Their very design makes them top heavy and usually they are only inserted into the ground via a 10 inch stake. I see countless path lights in a landscape that not a single one of them is straight.

Is It a Path Light or an Area Light?

To answer the question, I prefer to call this fixture an area light. It is pretty rare that I line a pathway with lamps. If I do, because the light output is so much better, I will typically stagger the lamps on either side of the path. The purpose of the light is to highlight terrain features such as a curve in the path, a hard turn or an elevation change. But it is not uncommon for me to highlight an interesting feature unrelated to a pathway. The photo is a good example of copper lights illuminating a curvilinear path as well as an interesting rock feature between the path and the gravel driveway. In previous designs, I have also used “area lights” to highlight elements in a pond or the edge of a change in landscape materials like a low ground cover to a higher growing group of planting.

The Path Light as Architecture

Since an area light fixture is probably one of the most visible light fixtures in the landscape, it is appropriate to view the lamp as an architectural element in the landscape. Lately, the industry has begun to put out some very attractive, durable and functional pieces. I do think that it is important to match the style of the lamp to the architectural design of the home and the landscape but with a little thinking outside of the box, you can come up with some very striking fixtures that will make your home’s landscape go from ordinary to extraordinary. Here are a couple of fixtures that are quite beautiful and if architecture is important to you, something like it should definitely be a consideration.

Beautiful Contemporary Lamp
Cool Bollard Style Above and Right

A new product that I have found is a steel bollard in any number of heights and sizes that has so many uses and possible placements. The lights source is at the top and reflects down through the body. The cut steel patterns on the “trunk” portray beautiful patterns onto the surface. One terrific use that I see for it is lining either a long driveway or in a commercial setting, say a resort hotel, installed on a pathway leading to an entrance feature. The reflections on the turf and hard surfaces are stunning. And considering that they are constructed of steel, they can withstand a ton of abuse.

Inground Path and Deck Lighting

I have suggested that we can show clients how to think a little out of the box. We have done installations where we embed in the driveway, patio or deck small lights that do a terrific job of lighting the confines of steps or path or by themselves are a beautiful architectural feature. Descriptions don’t do the treatment justice. A picture tells a thousand words. Endless possibilities! There are many manufacturers who sell good versions but caution should be taken to be sure that the beam is not too bright as it can be blinding.

Installing your Path Light the Right Way

I won’t go into the “nuts and bolts” of the installation but suffice to say, especially when using some of the larger and heavier bollard style lamps. When you are on a commercial site and you see a “bollard” style lamp (like above), how is it affixed into the ground? With concrete! In the residential landscape, you never see them installed in this fashion. Instead, as a result of poor installation techniques, you see crooked lamps, broken fixtures, fixtures nearly destroyed by landscape maintenance machinery. I do have a long time client who has a long driveway lined with some 20 plus path lights. I am constantly straightening, replacing and aligning these lights and we need to replace them. I think there is also a concern by some that concrete foundation setting are ugly. Yes they are, but create them correctly. Each foundation is set into the ground at the same height and the fixture is installed correctly and affixed in the right way. Lastly, the foundation can then be hidden with soil, mulch or sod or whatever would match the setting. It can be done seamlessly. And the results are a happy client and that is what we want.

It’s Your Choice!

I’m really big on freedom of choice not from a constitutional viewpoint (but that too) but from the point of view that I would rather have a number of choices for my outdoor lighting then just 3 or 4 fixtures. I know of some lighting companies that offer to their clients a limited number of fixtures to light up your entire landscape. They say that is all that is needed. And there is great truth to that statement. But what if you want color or have specific needs that require a specific type of fixture. How do you light up a huge tree? What fixture can you use to “down light” a home’s soffit. However, I think that using creativity, you can take your landscape lighting from ordinary to extraordinary. Like I discussed above, thinking about a path light as an architectural element will create a landscape of breath taking beauty. And if you have already spent a few hundred thousand on a magnificent outdoor landscape, why settle for fixture that everyone else has. You want to stand out from the crowd.

And that is why we, as an outdoor lighting specific company exist. We have the expertise to design lighting and its architectural elements into something that is extraordinarily beautiful. Choice is good! As always, we are happy to help you design the perfect outdoor lighting design to provide you with an amazing 24/7 experience.

You can reach me at Beautiful Nights, Chris Meyer 703-623-7561


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