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Getting Started With Lighting Design For Outdoor Space

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Sina Kamran

Founder and Owner of Design Scapes Inc.

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To show off your outdoor spaces to greatest advantage, you need to consider lighting design. You’ll want to enjoy evenings outside, so let’s talk about how to start planning for outdoor lighting. 

Consider Various Viewpoints

When you’re investing in a major makeover of your yard, you want to get the best results. You don’t want to overlook the “crowning touch” that lighting design provides. Try this easy and fun planning exercise of considering your outdoor space from a variety of viewpoints.

  • Stand in different outdoor locations and view your yard. Check out what you see from different vantage points. What do you see from the patio, back end of the yard, and both sides? If your yard changes in elevation, check out the viewpoints from the higher portion and lower portion. Do this in daylight, but also do it in the evening. From the various viewpoints, think about what could be illuminated. Where could light be used to add to your experience? 
  • Do the same thing from inside your home. Look out the various windows and think about being able to see specific features or vegetation during the evening. The view from the kitchen window is a specific example. A bit of planning could add a special nighttime view for someone in the kitchen at the end of the day.  

Walk The Entire Property For An Overall Viewpoint

Take a bold approach and look at the possibilities to reclaim “unused” land. 

  • In our local area, it’s fairly common to have a steep back yard with a spectacular view only available from the top. With the right lighting, you could safely navigate to this area and relax to take in the city lights and gaze at the stars. 

This steep hill at the back of the property becomes an asset rather than wasted space. 

  • Consider every part of your property, not just the obvious (patio, back yard, front yard, street view). Look for unused areas that could be transformed into an inviting conversation space or a perch to enjoy a particular sight line to a view. Or a spot to quietly enjoy morning brew or nighttime drink. 

This intimate seating area was completely wasted before the redesign and lighting design. Now the homeowners love to quietly connect over an evening cocktail in this special spot.

  • Look for areas that are hidden in gloom at night that could come alive with lighting. You could add dramatic impact by framing a steep back yard or showcasing changes in terrain elevation.  

Here you can see how a focused spotlight shows off the colors of the vegetation and shines on the tree trunk. Note how the bronze color of the fixture blends into the earthy tones. 

Treat Each Area As Its Own

Think of your outdoors as a collection of separate areas that can be visually “treated” with light. These are the general areas that you need to consider when designing a lighting plan for your new outdoor living spaces.

  • Back yard
  • You’ll have seating areas, a dining area, and likely some sort of outdoor kitchen. You may have ornamental rock work, masonry, a fountain, pool, or hot tub. 
  • Lighting design turns those features into warm and inviting settings.
  • Lighting effects create an ambiance that makes you and guests want to linger and to connect.  

Deck lights clearly define the steps of the hot tub. Downlights wash the left fence providing an expansive and safe feeling. The uplights shining up on the planters (on the right) provide big pools of light and show off the lattice at the back. 

This combination of lighting effects creates the feeling of an outdoor room. When you can see the perimeter of your yard, it’s reassuring and gives a feeling of security and wellbeing.  

This layered lighting effect shows off the elegant lines of the tree trunks. The vegetation and shadows of natural shapes add interest to the visuals. The different colors, textures, and shapes pop once the lights go on in the evening. During the day, they are mere background, but become focal points in the evening. 

  • Front yard and street view are very similar, but slightly different based on the viewpoint. The front yard view is what you see walking up the path to the home. The street view is the “curb appeal” experienced by someone driving up to or in front of your home.

Notice how this lighting effect emphasizes the texture of the fence. It adds visual interest to something you would not notice in day time. 

  • Front yard: You may want to use lights to highlight unique features of your home. If you have texture or form that doesn’t stand out in the daylight, light can emphasize it at night. Showcasing specific trees, vegetation, or color beds with light adds personality to the yard. Definitely though, you want to be sure that the path is illuminated so that it’s safe at night. 

west los angeles landscaping

This pathway is well lit at night with no glare on walk or steps. 

  • Street View: There are two areas of lighting design to consider with the street view. Where do you need to use light to increase safety and security? And, how can you use light to increase the WOW Factor of your home’s curb appeal? For safety, you might use light to illuminate the street number. Or, use downlights to light any steps or edges that could be hidden in the shadows. For the WOW Factor, you could use a combination of lighting techniques to create effects with vegetation, trees, or hardscaping. 

This hillside home is well lit for safety at night. Notice the lighting on the left outlining the edge of the driveway. The large, lit house number and uplights on the trees makes it easy to find this home in the dark on a curvy street. 

  • Side yard: A side yard doesn’t have to be a visual wasteland good only for garbage bins and junk. Look at your side yard with an eye to see possibilities. 
  • How could you use light to make the side yard feel safe for nighttime navigation? 
  • Could you make a utility area more usable by adding light in a specific area?
  • Is there anything that could be lit to create a beautiful peek of view from indoors? 

This side yard is well lit with uplights. It gives an example of how to use lighting design to make the most of every scrap of your yard.  

  • Driveway: When thinking about light and the driveway, safety is the primary consideration. Where do you need to add light to make the driveway easier and safer for both you and your guests? You especially need to consider the use of light to illuminate the general areas where people get in and out of vehicles.  

Notice how these downlights illuminate the edge of the driveway. The driveway is elevated from the street and curves downward. This lighting ensures that anyone driving in or out can clearly see the edge. 

  • Garage: When using lights on the outside of the home, typically you also add lights to the garage exterior. You also want to consider what lighting is needed around the garage to satisfy any safety concerns. 

Consider Unintended Consequences

Sometimes, lighting can unexpectedly cause a problem. For example, if you’re using spotlights and they cause glare to neighbors or to someone driving into your driveway, that’s problematic. 

  • When you’re using lights to light up the entire front of your home, be sure that light placement doesn’t inadvertently shine into a bedroom. It may make the outside of the house look dramatic, but if the light will disturb sleep, reconsider the option. 
  • You never want bright lights shining into the eyes of anyone on your pathways. At night, that can cause them to temporarily be unable to see where to step. 
  • The same is true for the driveway. Be sure that there is no glare shining into a driver’s eyes creating an unsafe situation.
  • Be considerate of neighbors too. Ensure that your lighting isn’t going to shine into their yard or windows at night. Proper shrouding of the lighting fixtures keeps the light where it’s needed. 

Include Lighting Design With Outdoor Space Design

We’ve only touched on a few possibilities. Lighting design is such an integral part of planning an outdoor space. We recommend you think about the lighting design from the beginning of your project. Designing how your outdoor space is lit at night truly is the “icing on the cake”. 

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Reviews

Andrew H.
Los Angeles, CA
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Sina and his team worked with us to design and build both our front and backyard. The results exceeded our expectations and the team worked patiently during COVID and through a challenging permitting process with LA City. The team was professional and always prompt. The pricing was fair and transparent, and communication was great. The project was large overall so we worked together with Design Scapes for almost one year. I have recommended the team to many people already and think they do great work.
Ben L.
Los Angeles, CA
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We hired Design Scapes to turn our backyard into a hostable space that would feel welcoming to guests, but more importantly, utilize what we felt was completely wasted space. It's hard to put words to just how incredible of an experience we had with Sina and his team. From the get-go, they were efficient, communicative, and dedicated to making us feel content. Sina, Aaron and everyone they work with truly understand design - the technical, architectural, and aesthetic elements that are needed in order to create the best results. We never had any doubt that we went with the right company. The results were ten times better than we ever could have imagined. Our backyard is a total haven, we feel like we're on vacation at our own home! We would give ten stars if we could!
May M.
North Hollywood, CA
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I worked with Sima at Design Scapes on a recent backyard renovation. He was extremely patient as we began from concept to finished project! His crew was very professional and it turned out exactly how I envisioned. The reno included building a pergula with a cover, hardscaping with pavers and adding lighting and ficus trees. We were so happy with the finished product!
Jeff R.
Santa Monica, CA
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Design Scapes constructed a composite wood deck and two planters in my back yard and I couldn't be happier with the result. Very professional, terrific work, really nice people (especially Heli, who worked with me throughout), and they got it done when they said they would, completely satisfied with the whole experience!
Charles M.
Santa Monica, CA
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Sina and his team are your go-to for innovative and beautiful outdoor construction. They installed a gigantic, closeable pergola over our wrap around deck. They handled the entire process from plans to permits to installation and did a tremendous job. We feel like we've added a room to our home. They did an amazing job. Five stars!
Laurene F.
Manhattan Beach, CA
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Design Scapes is very highly recommended! Very professional, creative and reliable. They were very timely and reasonable with their estimated budget and time line to complete the project. Also, they were very responsive with additional requests after the initial project. I will refer them to my friends.
Mersedeh M.
Los Angeles, CA
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I can not say enough how great working with Design Sacpes was. My husband and I met with several landscaping companies and Design Scapes seemed to be the most honest and professional one. Sina is an awesome person, he guided us in choosing the best design for our backyard while he was considering what we want in all the steps. We ended up planting some great fruit trees in addition to a cute fountain and some design with beautiful rocks. The crew was very clean and professional. We did not feel we have workers in our background the whole time. The final invoice reflected exactly what we had spoken of, although we made some changes and ended up choosing better material and plants in some occasions. I highly recommend Design Sacpes if you are looking for the best landscaping company.
Bob K.
West Hills, CA
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Sina and his crew are great. We started off with replacing a block wall we shared with our neighbor with a wood fence. Once we saw the excellent quality of the work we had him transform our backyard which was basically a dirt lot into a backyard oasis with pavers, a grassy area, a new tree and a section of plants. His crew is unbelievable. Vert talented and hard working. On time every day. Courteous and friendly. Always kept the work area clean. Sina when not on site was always available by phone or text. His estimates were clear, and his on line billing system was easy to use.
Charity B.
Thousand Oaks, CA
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We did 2 projects with Sina at the same time. One was done on time and was exactly to our specification (even though we changed our minds once the project started as is sometimes the case when you start to see it come together). Sina was always available with ideas, feedback and keeping us up to date. The other project was delayed through no fault of Sina's. The material he ordered came in damaged. He took care of it completely and rescheduled his crew to come back once the material was received. I didn't have to fight with anyone over damaged materials and he didn't even ask me to accept sub-quality. He just rejected it immediately and took care of the problem. Both projects were beautiful when finished. I am very happy with the quality of work. I have worked with many contractors. I can easily say that Sina is one of the best. He is amazing because he does exactly what he says he will do... follow up calls, shows up on time, sends detailed work plans, etc. Seems like a little thing but if you've worked with contractors, you know that's rare! I have already referred him to friends and will definitely use him again in the future.
Bill O.
New York, NY
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When my wife and I moved into our new home at the beginning of 2020, we loved the potential of our new backyard. It has a pool with lots of room for gatherings and two healthy fruit trees that provide good shade. Unfortunately the existing planters were overrun with tall unorganized grasses and the "grass" area was nothing but dirt. As soon as I called Sina at Design Scapes, he scheduled a quick visit to view the property and get an understanding of my design intent. He listened closely to what I wanted, offered his expertise and suggestions when appropriate, and created a plan that met all expectations. When I explained that the plan was slightly above my cost limit, he offered adjustments that kept the design incredible while aligning with my target budget. All work was performed professionally and on schedule and he has consistently followed up to ensure satisfaction. I would absolutely work with Sina on all future exterior projects! (Before and after photos attached)
Keithh N.
San Francisco, CA
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I can't express how happy we are with Sina's work. He is extremely professional and reliable. He was always at the job site when needed. And he clearly went the extra length to get our work done. One of the things we needed done was adding mesh to a quarter acre property around the Fenceline. Sina's team made sure to dig down over a foot under the dirt to make sure our animals couldn't get underneath it. He made sure The mesh was tied tightly to the fence around the entire property line. His work was very clean and he did not disrupt any of the plant life. He is extremely knowledgeable about landscaping and plant life. I would definitely recommend using him again and sure we will in the future! Thank you for everything Sina

Our Certifications

We hold the following ICPI certifications:

Concrete Pavers

ICPI—Concrete Paver Installer Course

  • Introduction to the construction of interlocking concrete pavement systems using concrete pavers and slabs

 ICPI—Certified Concrete Paver Installer

  • Job planning and layout
  • Safety
  • Soil classification and compaction
  • Bedding and joint sand
  • Paver selection and installation
  • Use of labor-saving specialty tools
  • Edge restraints
  • Base material selection and compaction

ICPI—Residential Specialist Course

  • Creating an outdoor living area.
  • Bringing the indoor comforts outside.
  • Locations
  • Heat Materials
  • Utility Hookups
  • Appliances
  • Building Codes
  • Overlaying pavers on existing asphalt or concrete, and best installation methods. 
  • Includes paver overlay application around the perimeter of a pool, and general construction of a paver pool deck around most common types of pools (linear pool, fiberglass shell, or concrete shell.
  • Existing Site Conditions
  • Existing Pavement Preparation
  • Installation Details
  • Paver Overlays with Mortar or Adhesives
  • Types of Pools
  • Construction Details
  • Drainage
  • Paver Selection
  • Building Codes
  • Seat Walls
  • Lighting
  • Decorative Borders and Edges
  • Utilities under the Pavement
  • Once course is completed, requires documentation of 50,000 square feet of concrete paver installation experience in residential projects to receive Residential Paver Specialist credential.

ICPI—Certified Concrete Paver Installer—Residential Specialist

                        • The Residential Professional Course is the highest level designation for ICPI certified installers.
                        • Base and Subbase
                        • Edge Restraint
                        • Bedding Sand
                        • Concrete Pavers
                        • Joint Sand
                          • Supervisor’s role in finding and fixing workplace hazards.
                          • Jobsite Planning and Logistics
                            • Site Management
                            • Equipment
                            • Common conversions and equations needed when estimating materials, including perimeter, area and volume. Converting between different dimensions such as cubic feet to cubic yards.
                            • The three basic components of a functional and attractive raised patio: walls, flatwork, and steps. Visualizing the levels and steps and then developing solutions for the site. 
                            • Considerations
                            • Steps
                            • Railings
                            • On-Site
                            • Building Codes
                            • Once course is completed, installer must document 25,000 square feet of concrete paver installation experience and 20 residential projects to receive Residential Paver Specialist credential.

                                                  Permeable Pavers


                                                  ICPI—Permeable Interlocking Concrete Pavement (PICP) Specialist Course

                                                  • Use of permeable pavers can reduce the quantity of runoff and maximize irrigation of your property.
                                                  • Benefits
                                                  • System Components
                                                  • Types of Systems
                                                  • Precautions

                                                        National Concrete Masonry Association Certifications


                                                        Certified Segmental Retaining Wall Installer (CSRWI)


                                                        • Advanced topics include: 
                                                        • Wall layout and planning
                                                        • Water and drainage
                                                        • Cut and fill walls
                                                        • Tiered walls
                                                        • Corners and curves
                                                        • Stairs and patios

                                                                  Pricing

                                                                  • Our pricing is completely transparent. 
                                                                  • Estimates, quotes, and invoices are always line-itemized for different trades or sections of scope of work. No big mystery numbers where you don’t know what you’re paying for.
                                                                  • We quote the installation based on existing site conditions, local codes, bespoke materials or layout, and/or pattern picked.
                                                                  • If there are any change orders, they are quoted and approved by the client first. They are fully documented, leaving a complete paper trail. 
                                                                  • Labor cost is based on what it takes to do the job right, and do right by a professional crew.
                                                                  • Expect to invest up to 7% of your property’s value for a completely new outdoor space. 
                                                                  • The design phase cost is approximately 3% – 7% of the total installation cost.
                                                                  • Each project is custom designed, and cost depends on design.
                                                                  • When needed, we work with you to accomplish your project in stages—rather than diminish your vision.
                                                                  • You know what your costs are upfront before any work starts.

                                                                  Payments

                                                                  • We accept Visa, Master Card, Amex, Discover, check, cash, wire transfer, Venmo and Zelle.
                                                                  • You get a payment schedule with your project schedule. 
                                                                  • You only pay for labor, and materials delivered up to payment date. You’re not paying in advance so we can buy materials.
                                                                  • When implementing your project in stages, the Design Phase is completed and paid for in advance of implementing the first stage.

                                                                  Return on Investment

                                                                  • You expect a return on investment when improving your property. 
                                                                  • Studies show that a beautifully landscaped yard can increase your property’s value by up to 20%. 
                                                                  • Money magazine estimates that you can recover up to 120% of your project’s cost when you sell your property.

                                                                  Implementation Phase

                                                                  • We provide you a detailed project and work schedule that shows orders, deliveries, installation dates, and payment due dates.
                                                                  • You know exactly how many days your project takes, and what to expect each day.
                                                                  • Your designer / estimator is present on-site every day of installation, supervising the project from start to finish. Eagle-eyed supervision prevents aesthetic or functional mistakes.
                                                                  • Our team includes only trusted workers who have been with us for years. All workers are bonded.
                                                                  • Design Scapes Inc is fully licensed under both C27 Landscaping and General B licenses.
                                                                  • We never sub-contract our work to others, or hire from the parking lot of the local building supply superstore.
                                                                  • Every installation team member has decades of experience and expertise in their area of specialty.
                                                                  • All work is insured, and supervised. 
                                                                  • We carry all required insurance policies like workers’ compensation, liability, and vehicle coverage.
                                                                  • Our efficient process controls the chaos of construction. Only the tools, equipment, and materials that are needed for the work week get delivered and stored for that week. 
                                                                  • Site, tools, and materials tidied up and secured at the end of every work day.
                                                                  • We need no interior access and bring our own toilets and power generator.
                                                                  • We leave your work site spotless and hazard-free.

                                                                  Design Phase

                                                                  • You get one-on-one consultation from an award-winning landscape designer, Sina Kamran.
                                                                  • I will generate picture designs for your new outdoor space, and present them to you.
                                                                  • Design goes through an extensive revision stage. Together, we go through all different layouts, patterns, material types and colors, or different functions to consider. 
                                                                  • The revision stage eliminates problematic surprise change orders and project delays. It also enables us to deliver your project per schedule.
                                                                  • Your project installation is scheduled as soon as you approve the final project plans.
                                                                  • Lead time is usually three to five weeks from approval.

                                                                  Complimentary Estimate

                                                                  • We get a copy of your plot plan and general yard measurements in preparation for the initial consultation.
                                                                  • We draw inspiration from your property and listen to your dreams for your outdoor space. The meeting focuses on your vision and how we could help you realize it. 
                                                                  • We survey the area and point out possibilities and discuss potential issues. 
                                                                  • We make a point of providing an accurate bid rather than bidding low to get the work. You have our promise on this.
                                                                  • We want you to have the peace of mind of knowing exactly what your project will cost from the very start. No surprises.
                                                                  • Once you approve the initial estimate, we move on to the Design Phase.
                                                                  • You receive a final and firm quote once the Design Phase is completed and all work has been identified.