Light It Up!

By Amanda N. Wegner | Photography of Twilight Solutions Installations courtesy of Ideal Impressions 

Even with a nice landscape, “what makes or breaks it is the lighting,” says Todd Ingersoll, president and owner of Ingersoll & Co., Elkhorn.

And a blinding floodlight isn’t the stuff good outdoor lighting is made of. luckily, area residents are realizing how beneficial outdoor lighting is for their properties.

“We have some of the most beautiful homes in the country here,” says Ingersoll. “Yet, I’m amazed at how many properties still don’t have any lighting. But it’s becoming more common around the lake. Homeowners are recognizing it as a need and when well done, it adds a lot to the property.”

A well-designed outdoor lighting plan, notes Sarah Ehrhardt, landscape designer and horticulturist with Seasonal Services, Mukwonago, not only adds value to a home, but makes the outdoor space more enjoyable. “When done right, it adds a lot to the feeling of the space, and it just looks great,” she says.

With lazy nights on the patio, sunset cruises around the lake and backyard parties that extend into the night on everyone’s mind, here are some trends, ideas and advice for extending your landscape with great outdoor lighting.


“In the last two to three years, I don’t think I’ve designed or sold an incandescent fixture,” says Ingersoll.

The primary driver is efficiency: An LED is about 85 percent more efficient than a low-voltage incandescent. In addition, there is virtually zero maintenance.

“From a practical standpoint,” adds Ehrhardt, “LEDs offer huge advantages: energy savings, time saving, bulb savings.”

Plus, the color temperature of LEDs has vastly improved. Just a few years ago, LEDs got a bad rap for their stark, garish, bright white color. Since then, technology has improved and manufacturers have worked to warm up and soften the color to match incandescent bulbs. “Today, the coloring is so good,” says Jon Adams, owner of Twilight Solutions, Lake Geneva, “that with some manufacturers, the difference between the two is almost indistinguishable. You can’t tell between the two light sources anymore.”

Those advances in LED technology have also spurred a cascade of other opportunities for landscape lighting, including zoning, light scenes and colored lenses, primarily thanks to FX Luminaire, a California company that both Adams and Ingersoll use.

“These are some pretty cutting-edge things in landscape lighting,” says Ingersoll, “but very similar to what you can do in your indoor space. Now, homeowners can do the same in their outdoor space.”

For instance, Adams explains that FX’s Luxor system utilizes transformers with “intelligent packs” in them that allow homeowners to access different zones and scenes of light from a smartphone app. “Homeowners can dim them down, turn them up, take them out of the normal outdoor setting for a festive party,” says Adams. “The ultimate goal is to put the control into the hands of the homeowner.”


Pier lighting is another thing “starting to take off,” says Ingersoll. “Of the thousand-plus homes on Geneva Lake, I’d say less than 10 percent have lighting [on their piers]. That’s something I think people are starting to consider as they use their boats more at night.”

To light piers, Ingersoll uses indirect downlights on pier posts that can be switched on and off using FX technology. “As you’re coming in, you can turn it on, know which pier is yours, and be safe maneuvering in and walking up,” says Ingersoll.

Adams’ company uses a modular unit with a 2-watt light directed on the pier surface; the unit can be taken in and out each season. While no bulbs are exposed, the unit fully illuminates the lake or shore for safety and security.


It’s a proven fact that lighting is the greatest deterrent to theft, says Ingersoll. “Unfortunately, a lot of people know the value in and around properties here; many people ask us to increase lighting simply because of that.”

As a result, increased lighting tends to lessen or eliminate any theft issues home
owners have had. “If someone walks up or drives up to a home that’s well-lit, they’ll just go to the next; lighting definitely helps,” Ingersoll adds.

In addition to securing a property, good landscape lighting helps keep you, your family and your guests safe. “Be sure to light access routes to and around the house, steps off a deck or patio,” says Ehrhardt. “You want to be able to move through the landscape at night without tripping or bumping into things.”


When it comes to designing your landscape lighting, take the less is more approach.

“With outdoor lighting, it’s not the element or the fixture that should become the focal point. Instead, you should be enhancing what the builder, landscape architect or the good Lord put in place,” says Ingersoll.

Adams adds that many people don’t realize how little light they need to see something until shown. “Because that feels so subjective, part of our process is the education
piece,” says Adams. “When you show them that they don’t need three 60-watt lightbulbs in torches on the garage, but that they can use 15 watts, they see the difference and like the difference.”

In practice, this includes plenty of indirect lighting and non-glare solutions, such as small downlights in the beam work of a pergola, downlights under the lip of an outdoor kitchen counter or seat or a subtle wall wash to highlight a distinctive feature of or stonework on the home. For existing fixtures already attached to the house, it’s putting dimmers on the source and choosing lower-wattage bulbs.

To illuminate walkways, avoid what Ehrhardt calls “soldier lights,” or placing lights every two feet.“It’s not a about creating little runways. That’s not appealing. A good lighting designer will know the proper spacing to get the right light pattern.”


Getting homeowners to think about how little is needed to tastefully and safely light an area, says Adams, is critical to protecting the beautiful night sky in the Geneva Lakes area. Adams is a member of the International Dark Sky Association and has been working with the new Geneva Lake Dark Sky Initiative, a broad-based community group movement committed to seeing the stars again by promoting sustainable and intelligent light sources in the Geneva Lakes area.

While parking lot and municipal lighting are the biggest offenders, “general light pollution is affecting our ability to see the stars,” says Adams. “I would love for the community to move toward softening up the shorescape. I am for lighting, but I am for good lighting. When we get enough people on board, we’ll see a nighttime shift around the lake. We’ll still have plenty of light, but it will be less glaring and more tasteful.”

This is especially important as the Lake Geneva area is home to the renowned Yerkes Observatory. “Yerkes is an international gem that happens to be right here in our community, doing good work; it’s important to be considerate,” Adams adds.

For more information about the Geneva Lakes Dark Sky Initiative, visit

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