One of the advantages of being an Architect-Led Design-Build firm is our in-house ability to customize solutions for clients to best fit their circumstances and needs. We don’t have to settle for the standard approach and we can elevate the design, even with what is on the surface, a simple element like lighting. Whenever possible, we like to get away from standard lighting, whether natural or artificial, and make the space less predictable yet oriented to the client. Here are some recent examples of different scenarios for how to approach lighting inside and outside your home.

Exterior Lighting

Landscape and Water Features

As part of the major renovation project of the Kearsarge Residence in Brentwood, we were replacing the decking around the existing pool. Located in the rear of the property, the pool was positioned on a steep and heavily wooded hillside leading down to an arroyo. The home is in an urban setting, but is very private, which left the owners in a quandary. They didn’t want to look down into an ‘abyss’ and see nothing–especially at night and for security reasons. They did not want spotlights that would destroy the mood and annoy the neighbors, however distant they may be.

Seeing the need, we designed a solution with a light system integrated into the deck railing–just under the wood cap. We were easily able to work with our in-house electricians to route a space into the cap and ran the light through it. As a result, the lighting casts a soft glow onto the deck and the outer side of the railing onto the hillside. This solution was effective, yet not overpowering. The light washes over the lower part of the handrails, adds drama to the space, and sets the mood. This solution was so effective, the cable handrail company asked us to submit our approach on this project in their award competition–we won first place.

Backyard exterior lighting for architectural details on modern home with pool
Kearsage House Rear Yard with landscape lighting around pool.

Adding lighting to certain landscape elements adds dimension and interest to the exterior of the home. Uplighting trees adds grandeur to the façade. Path lightening feels sophisticated while at the same time provides a practical solution for safely walking around outside at night. Low voltage and solar lights are excellent choices for stair lights on multi-tiered deck systems. Water features can provide serenity during the day and when lite up at night, can extend that mood into the evening. At our Sunset Residence project, there was a water feature near the entryway that could be enjoyed from both indoors and out. By simply adding lighting, we were able to ensure the clients enjoyment day and night. Outdoor pool lighting adds a magical touch to an interior space when the light reflection can be seen on the ceiling of the interior rooms, like the dining room or kitchen.

Outdoor Lighting fire stone uplight
Westgate Residence front courtyard fire feature with backlight stone.

Interior Lighting

Artificial lighting decisions should be based on how the homeowner wants to feel in the space. For example, if the kitchen is used for a lot of food preparation or work, lighting on an even and predictable grid is desirable. If that’s not a concern, task lighting and spotlighting might be a better option. In the living room, the client may want the glow of a reading lamp. We don’t just assume everyone wants or needs the standard ‘six lights per bedroom,’ we talk that over too.

Interior Lighting Punctuates Architectural Features at the Kearsarge Residence


Coloration matters too. The color of light exists on a scale from warm to cool. There are so many choices in lighting today from LED to Halogen, to Incandescent, to hybrids. Each has a use. Although subtle, lighting can often be the difference between a space feeling warm and inviting or stark and cold. Light creates an atmosphere that can move us both psychologically and emotionally. For example, when a room already has a lot of wood, or browns and yellows, you need to brightening it up and use lighting that is more on the cool side of the spectrum with a little more white in it. If you’re looking for a period lighting solution, a reproduction Edison Bulb (incandescent) can provide for you a warmer, more yellow tone light.

Natural Light

We take a birds-eye, top down view when considering the orientation of the house to the sun when starting the design of a new home. This is especially important in Southern California where we are located. We work directly with the homeowner to determine how the house and grounds are to be used at various times of day. There may be existing trees or walls which cast shadows that must be consider during the design process. By factoring all of these elements in, we are able determine the optimum orientation of the building on the site. We can plan ahead and include, for example, trellises and overhangs that provide shade during the harsh sun of the California summers while allowing direct sunlight in the winter (when the sun is lower in the sky and warmth is wanted).

The use of the rooms figures into the schematic design as well. The kitchen and breakfast nook can be pleasing places to enjoy the morning sun. The bedroom, or for those who entertain, the dining room, may be oriented for enjoyment of the setting sun. We also look at where the property gets the most sun to determine the best placement of the pool.

It is easy to overdo it with lighting, and when this happens you know it right when you walk into the room. Our goal is for the lighting to be additive to the room, not the ‘star.’ When you are an Architect-led Design-Build firm you are able to experiment with what works best. We can give it the extra time and attention that wouldn’t happen if we were only “calling out lights” for a sub-contractors electrician to install like a traditional architect would do because they rarely visit the job site. Additionally, we are not leaving it to a stand-alone contractor to interpret the architectural drawings that were carefully crafted after lengthy discussions with the homeowner on how to make this their dream home.