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Lighting design in high-end, single-family residences

Nestled in beautiful natural landscapes throughout the country, high-end, single-family residences offer a unique opportunity to live harmoniously with nature. The owners of these architecturally innovative homes want to highlight the distinct features of the natural elements in order to create a stunning home and unmatched experience that complement the surrounding environment. There’s an evolving attitude about the relationship between buildings and the landscape that people want to keep unsullied — and lighting designers play a role in delivering on that vision.

We caught up with Robert Singer, IALD, IES, head lighting designer at Robert Singer & Associates and former SOURCE Award winner, to get his take on the role lighting design plays in distinctive homes.

What differentiates lighting design in high-end, single-family homes from ordinary residential spaces?

RS: It honestly depends on the location of the home. Our offices are in Aspen and Scottsdale, but we currently have projects in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Colorado and Texas. All of these places have different vibes, so it varies. Typically, ordinary homes — think spec quality, mass-produced subdivisions — are not investing in lighting consultants. For these budget-driven projects, a general contractor or electrician may lay out the lighting, but the end user isn’t getting the same expertise or caliber of work they would receive from a lighting specifier.

On the other hand, our clients are much more concerned about the quality of the product, the quality of light and the experiences fostered by the perfect lighting. Sure, there are always budgets and value engineering, but priorities are different. Our clients want to ensure their art is properly lit and that the outdoor lighting highlights the natural beauty of the environment, among other things. They’re also interested in modern conveniences, such as home automation and LED technology. In fact, every project we’re doing throughout the country is 100 percent LED, meaning we’re no longer specifying incandescent lighting.

You work all over the country in places with beautiful, natural landscapes and features. How do the natural elements of the landscape influence lighting design?

RS: So many of our residential projects focus on lighting the exterior, because of these homes’ picturesque qualities. With lighting, we try to make sure there is a seamless transition as you move from the interior to the exterior. We are deliberate when specifying lights to complement majestic vistas. That’s why you’ll often see large, opening doors that span the entire length of a wall, with lighting on either side. In the summertime, when you’re likely to have those doors wide open, you’re able to experience the same comfort level of light on either side of the space.

For environments with breathtaking scenery, it’s critical to have an exterior that is strategically well-lit. This way, you’re not experiencing a nighttime mirror effect, where it feels like you’re encapsulated in a room instead of being able to see outdoors. Since the scenery is a primary focal point for the luxury homes in these areas, we use lights to enhance its natural beauty, rather than detract from it.

What impact does lighting have on the way people interact with the natural environment around their homes?

RS: The goal is to create a space where your eye penetrates the glass, so you can see the beautifully lit pool or details in the landscape without distraction. Having uninterrupted lines of sight allow you to interact with the environment in a natural way. In many of the homes we’ve worked on, you can relax in the living room but feel like you’re actually lounging on the foothills of a mountain or right on a sandy beach.

While the exterior landscape has to be well-lit, we always have to take the night sky into consideration. Particularly in the areas of the country where we work, people love the expansive views of the sky and want to be able to enjoy the stars in the darkness. So, when it comes to preserving the night sky, our clients appreciate a subtler moonlighting effect. To achieve this, we often use a downlighting effect within the branches of trees, so you see the dappling of light through the landscape. This approach is preferred over Vegas-style uplighting, with palm trees lit up everywhere. It also minimizes light pollution.

How is lighting design affected by the architecture in these high-end, single-family homes?

RS: Elk Peak Ranch is an incredible property where you really see indoor to outdoor living come alive. There’s a huge outdoor media center where a glass backlit 18-foot-by-24-foot video screen emerges from the ground. Actually, the entire house seems to emerge from the ground, as if it’s part of the natural landscape. It’s an impressive project.

Adding to the seamless indoor-to-outdoor living experience, there is a set of underlit steps that goes from a dry environment right into a pond.

The 135 Miners Trail Residence project is another example of an incredible indoor-to-outdoor visual. With expansive views of the Aspen mountains and loads of intricate details, such as indirect backlit glass, this custom residence exudes luxury.

While the projects aren’t necessarily antitheses of each other, they do represent distinctly different vibes and architectural styles. Elk Peak Ranch has a warmer feel, while the Miners Trail Residence is much more contemporary. You’ll notice that the lighting is very similar, though. The different styles, yet similar techniques, reinforce the notion that luxury homeowners have certain priorities and preferences about the appearance of their homes that can be directly addressed with high-quality lighting.

All photos courtesy of Robert Singer & Associates.