Double Take on a Desertscape
A Designer from the Pacific Northwest Teams Up
Two heads are better than one, the saying goes, and in the case of a landscape lighting project in the desert environs of Arizona where the first of the two has honed his craft, when the second one hails from the lush, green surroundings of Oregon, what materializes from these different perspectives promises to be quite distinctive.
Desert Foothills Landscape, a company of about 200 from the Phoenix area town of Cave Creek, was commissioned by a homeowner in the stylish Scottsdale area called Estancia to landscape his surroundings with resplendent high desert plants from their own private nursery.
"It was a contemporary design with a mix of Southwest," says John Drew, the landscape company's director of marketing.
The selections included organ pipes, barrel clusters, saguaros and rostratas. A 90-ton crane was rented to lift some of the plants up and over the house.
The resulting landscape, not only arresting on its own, takes on different compositions throughout the day as sunlight, filtered through trees and shade structures, sculpts it.
And when it came to illuminating it for night views, that viewpoint guided the design.
"What we were intending to accomplish is creating a landscape lighting setup that was not just specific directional spotlights on certain things," relates Chad Norris, the VP of sales and lead designer at Desert Foothills; and head of this project. "We wanted a landscape that was just as visible and enjoyable at night as it is during the day."
Though the lighting was included in the original deal, the homeowner, who has another property in the Pacific Northwest that was illuminated by Oregon Outdoor Lighting, floated the idea that maybe they help out with the installation.
"He had such good results at his Oregon home, he asked if I'd be open to bringing them to this one," Norris relates, "which I was happy to do especially since he referenced them so well."
Remarking on the differences between the types of plants he typically works with and what Kyle McKelvey, the owner of Oregon Outdoor lighting works with, he adds, "It was definitely cool getting somebody else's perspective; another expert's input and philosophy on this type of palette here in Arizona."
When McKelvey visited the site, he brought the lights his company produces and showed them to the team who were quite impressed with their quality.
As Drew notes, "The lighting was supposed to be a higher-end package to showcase what we consider to be living artwork."
Once the landscaping was to a point that fixture selections, including output and beam angles, were possible, Norris and McKelvey spent a few evenings plotting the design. But that did not include a formal lighting plot because Norris prefers an in-field plan.
And he avoids minimal lighting strategies because they can look "funky," with some bright areas separated by pools of darkness.
"This has over 100 fixtures of all different types of style and directional output and brightness that creates more of a glow throughout the landscape but still gives you dimension because of the varying light fixtures," Norris states.
A four-man crew from Desert Foothills worked for a couple of weeks to position that number of fixtures. Trenches were hand-dug for the wiring that was set in without conduit.
Spotlights, well lights and wall washes with integral lamps in a variety of lumens and beam angles made up the majority of the fixtures. Some of them can be dimmed and adjusted at different times depending on necessity. Brass fixtures were selected over aluminum ones due to their ability to better withstand the heat and varying exposures in the desert.
Nearly all of the lights are fixed into the ground with a 12-inch-long, heavy-duty stake, which Norris says is enough to firmly anchor them.
Exceptions to this are a few down lights that were mounted in trees to disperse over a larger area. And a side-mounted directional spotlight was installed on one of the beams of the shade structure to illuminate the topside of the big golden barrel cluster.
Most of the well lights are recessed into the bare earth though some, accenting the shade structure's columns and structural corners of the home, were incorporated into the hardscape, which was completed at the same time.
"Instead of having one trade do everything, we had the best of each trade working together, each focused on their expertise," says Norris.
All the landscape lighting is low voltage but the patio area fixtures, which weren't installed by Desert Foothills, are 110 volt. The homeowner wanted it this way for ease of control and separation on his smart home system.
Three 600-watt transformers were needed to accommodate the landscape lighting.
One of the adjustments that Norris made after the initial install was to add risers of different lengths to some of the wall washes to illuminate the tops of plants and boulders.
Another adjustment, and one that really resonates with him, was suggesting an alternative to a sculpture that was to be placed in front of a decorative wall, and bordered by a travertine walkway.
Norris proposed to the homeowner that a golden barrel cactus be set in the available ground instead.
"So we craned the golden barrel about 120 feet from the golf course parking lot into place," he recalls. "And it fit within inches in that space. It was one of those "meant-to-be' moments."
According to the lighting team, their work overall provides a secondary landscape after sunset because of the different types of shadowing and dimension created.
"This home has an amazing landscape during the day but the low voltage lighting creates a completely different experience in the evening that is like none other," says Norris, adding, "These fixtures are what sets it off and I have continued to use them on other high-end projects where this level of quality is necessary."
One other result that reflects this emphasis on distinction: Drew relates proudly that Norris was voted Phoenix Home and Garden best landscape designer in Arizona - the youngest ever to win that award.