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With a light touch, homes shine

Where outdoor lights once were strictly a safety measure, some homes do it for art.

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 23, 2002

CULBREATH ISLES -- By day, car dealer Carl Lindell's house is truly spectacular.

But after dark, it really shines.

That's when the lights come on, transforming his Culbreath Isles home into a work of art that glows against the night sky.

Lights recessed into the sill beneath the windows highlight the underside of the arches above, and spotlights hidden behind plants illuminate the tall columns of the porte-cochere.

Lights nestled beneath sago palms throw shadows of fronds onto the front of the house, and spotlights on a fountain dance through arcs of water.

The lighting, says Sol Fleischman, the home's architect, is always part of the design package he offers to clients.

"It's very important for mood and drama as well as just general safety," he says. "We love to either design the exterior lighting on our own or collaborate with specialty lighting consultants. It's very important lighting be properly designed to highlight the architecture and enhance it."

Other home builders and architects agree with Fleischman.

"Special columns and architectural features are just lost in the evening without lighting," says Karyn Sbar of Soleil Design and Build. "In the past we lit for safety, and now we do it for art."

Designer Tom Lamb says he likes to use lighting to create a sense of scale and accentuate where the house begins and ends.

"Lighting sets the mood just as setting your interior lights do," Lamb says.

Doug Tibbits, owner and president of Premier Outdoor Lighting, Inc., could be called the guru of outdoor lighting. He's been in the business for 20 years, and has lit some of Tampa's most notable homes, as well as the Don Cesar Resort in St. Petersburg, the Governor's mansion in Tallahassee and the Saddlebrook resort in Tampa.

"We specialize in creative nighttime environments," Tibbits says. "We paint pictures with lights and use the sky as our canvas."

Tibbits says he works with homeowners, interior designers, architects and landscape architects to help them accomplish their objectives -- whether it's security, aesthetics or a combination of both.

He works with many different types of lighting -- including high-intensity gas discharge, halogen, fluorescent and incandescent -- to achieve a medley of effects.

"What kind of fixtures you use and where makes a difference," Tibbits says. "You can have one HID light at the bottom of a large oak tree and the light will penetrate all the way to the very top leaf."

For a Bayshore Boulevard home designed by Fleischman, Tibbits installed controls to create different scenes for a variety of occasions, from nightly security lighting, to intimate arrangements for small gatherings and full-scale lighting for big parties.

"I use my sketch pad as my easel. We know exactly what limb a light goes on, the direction, the focus, the wattage, the shielding," Tibbits says. "Everything is spelled out in my design."

At night, he and a crew visit the site to fine-tune settings and placement.

Special techniques include moonlighting, which involves placing a light in the top of a tree and pointing it down to duplicate the dappled light of the moon on the ground. Tibbits also might brush light up a brick wall to emphasize depth and texture, or back-light a column so that it is silhouetted against the house.

For a Carrollwood home designed by Lamb, Tibbits up-lit the space between a series of arches to produce columns of light against the house. He likes to illuminate statues and fountains from trees so that the apparatus is invisible.

Lighting a house can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 and more. A single decorative light post can cost as much as $2,000, but accent lights used to showcase landscape and architectural elements run about $200 each. The transformer that keeps it all glowing costs from $300 to $900, depending on the number of lights.

A residence built by Keystone Homes on Lois Avenue achieves a dramatic effect with just two recessed lights placed in the front porch ceiling, which runs along the top of the two-story home.

"That home has such a grand entrance, we put in recessed lights so it would be a nice wash of light over the entire front of the home," says Paul Wiezorek, director of sales for Keystone Homes. "Just putting two fixtures on either side wouldn't have done it justice."

Doyle Studer owner, owner of Bayscapes, Inc., collaborates with Soleil Design and Build and the irrigation specialists at Hy-Flo. Bayscapes designs landscaping as well as lighting.

"The advantage of doing lighting with the landscaping company is, if they know what they're doing, they're going to know the growth patterns of trees and plants and how that relates to the house," Studer says.

"It's something that's very malleable," says Lamb of outdoor lighting. "Unlike the lighting placement of recessed cans in someone's home, which are unlikely to be moved around, landscape lighting is adaptable to plant growth and changing ideas."

In addition to giving a house curb appeal, good exterior lighting can entice homeowners to venture outside their front door at night.

"Most people work during the day so it's nice to have a good ambiance outside," says Studer. "If you have a good reason to go out and spend time in your landscape you will."

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