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05-04-21 | Feature

Nighttime Oasis on Carolina Coast

The Coast of Wilmington, North Carolina
by George Hartner, Outdoor Illumination

This residential project found along the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina was designed collaboratively between landscape architecture firm, H. Burkert and Company, and lighting design firm Outdoor Illumination. At the center of the lot, a collection of large oak trees frame a boulder grouping in which the Landscape Architect drew inspiration from a classical balance of Japanese energy of force and stability, created through the triangular, asymmetrical orientation of the boulders. Small spread lights with three-watt lamps illuminate the rocks and surrounding landscape. The boulders are the main piece of the presentation and the surrounding plants are there to cushion but not compete with their simplicity. Away from the boulders sweeping bands of complementary plantings create movement that draws your eye through the landscape and toward the front door.
Two coral stone walls frame the entrance to this home. The panels incorporate abstract lines to contrast with the clean and crisp lines of the house. They are designed with the color of rusting metal to complement the coral stone. The team wanted to use an element of design and material that is dynamic with both sunlight and night lighting, creating shadow patterns during the various phases of the sun and from the adjustable wall wash lights with 140-degree beam spreads at night.
The driveway is made of tabby shell concrete divided by artificial turf inlays with the center squares being large aggregate imbedded in concrete. Betula nigra (left) and Quercus virginiana (right) are found throughout the entrance way. The smaller Betula nigra trees are lit with a five-watt LED lamps while the larger Quercus virginiana trees required slightly higher outputs.
A small courtyard overlooked by a window of the home is lined with Juvenile Bambusa Oldhamii (timber bamboo) that will one day be 20' tall. Steppingstones placed within the area are made of the same tabby shell concrete as the driveway with Ophiopogon japonicas 'Nana' (dwarf mondo grass) placed between the pavers. Miniature spread lights with two-watt bi pin lamps are used to backlight the plant material and also cast soft light onto the faA?ade.
Downlighting from the mature tree introduces the driveway and leads to the front steps while limiting the number of path lights needed throughout. Uplighting on the same large tree assists the goal of showing the effect of the lights without showing the sources.
A rock garden is filled with white river rocks that surround glazed terracotta pots containing yucca plants, trailing annuals and seasonal colors. Rectangular pieces of paving extend from the grass inward to draw attention to the pots which are further accentuated by Aurora miniature brass well lights with integrated two-watt lamps. The view terminates with three-watt miniature brass spread lights highlighting large Agave Americanas (blue century plant) at the end of the stone bed.
The maritime oaks throughout the property are hundreds of years old and uplit with lights adjustable to 19 watts or 950 lumens, strategically placed to capture the wide canopies of the trees. Downlighting is used to highlight paths and plant materials, and pathlights are used at the changes in elevations especially where steps and boulders lead the way.
A combination of Aurora copper path lighting along with miniature spread lights on the boulders lead visitors up the walkway to the house. Accent lights are used to uplight the newly planted trees in this area as well. Leading to the entry door are several terraced garden areas with a side promontory sitting section off the main walkway.
Using a silhouette technique, wash lights pointing toward the wall from the base of the palms create a unique and ever-changing shadow.

This residential project sits on several acres of island paradise along the Intracoastal in Wilmington, North Carolina. Heather Burkert of H. Burkert and Company whose resume includes designs for high-end residential, commercial and community projects throughout the Carolinas, called George Hartner, lead lighting designer at Outdoor Illumination of the Carolinas. Hartner loves life along the Carolina Coast. Whether he is surfing the waves at his favorite break, out on his boat to catch a sunset, or designing a lighting project at one of the beautiful waterfront homes along the Intracoastal Waterway, he finds inspiration in the sea and salty air of coastal Carolina.

Outdoor Illumination of the Carolinas was founded by Hartner and his wife, Jane Cockrell in 2005 and they have designed lighting for some of the most exclusive homes along the coasts of North and South Carolina, including the beautiful coastal towns of Wilmington, Southport, and Beaufort.

"When Heather first invited me to meet with the clients, there was a completely different house on the property," Hartner said. "I started to develop a lighting plan, but things changed when the decision was made to knock down the existing house and start over."

Fortunately, the existing landscape consisting of maritime oaks, sabal palms and beach grasses remained. The new home would be built to live in harmony with the beautiful coastal setting which already included a boat house, dock, and private boat ramp. Designed by architects Charles Boney and Dean Webb of the award-winning architecture firm, LS3P, the new home took full advantage of the water views and included a new entry sequence that would bring guests "to and through the home which would reveal the breathtaking water views waiting out back," said Boney, LS3P principal.

After the new home was designed, and a multi-phase landscape plan developed, it was time to consider the nighttime setting and what role lighting would play. For Outdoor Illumination, H. Burkert, and the team, the task was no small order: develop a world-class lighting design that was worthy of the beautiful coastal setting, incorporate the new landscape and hardscape design elements, and consider features of the new home itself including elevated gardens, an entrance bridge over a koi pond, a backyard pool area, and large, built-in planters throughout the grounds.

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Hartner credits the lead time he had to get the design right. "Many times, we are brought in late in the process, sometimes even after the build-out is complete. Fortunately, the project team and the client knew the important role lighting was to play so we were part of the design team from the beginning."

"I spent a lot of time early on just slowly walking the property especially along the waterfront, and under the live oaks, taking in the views from what would become the new home. I took lots of photos and then began taking notes. My approach was to be subtle but create something dramatic and magical at night."

The new plantings would include several Japanese maples, birch trees, bamboo, camellias, Italian cypress, more beach grasses, and palms. Multi-level pathways and large boulders would weave their way through the grounds. The home itself would provide its own challenges and opportunities for lighting including the bridge over the koi pond that would lead to the front door, multiple patio areas, a deck and pool area, ipe steps, travertine walls, planters, and more. Classic Landscapes of Wilmington, North Carolina installed the landscape.

With the high demand of the operations, transformers were located throughout the property and conduit ran like underground tunnels and roadways which had to be coordinated well ahead of time. Logistical planning and being able to adapt to the changes were key to the overall success of implementing the lighting plan.

"We used every lighting technique in the book and even added a few chapters," Hartner said. "In addition to uplighting, downlighting, and pathway lighting, there are custom lights built into walls and planters, LED strip lights underneath ipe steps that work off of dimmers, underwater lighting in the koi pond, and specialty lighting for boulders, large garden urns, and statuary."

As for fixture and product selection, Hartner said the most important thing is choosing products that can stand up to the harsh coastal conditions. He primarily used copper, brass and stainless steel with high-end LED lamps and integrated product with variable light output and beam spread options from manufacturers like Aurora. Astronomical timers keep all lights coming on and going off at exactly the same time each night.

"The final touch of nighttime lighting by Outdoor Illumination gives the site an ethereal quality, with outdoor 'rooms' inviting guests to wander the site," said LS3P's Boney.

"We have a dedicated team at Outdoor Illumination," Hartner said. "The client and the project partners knew our work and reputation so there was trust from the very beginning. That's a great feeling but with that trust you need to deliver."

Outdoor Illumination was founded in the Washington, DC area by Mark Oxley in 1998. Although they are separate entities, both the DC and Carolinas organizations are very close.

"Jane and I learned so much about the business from Mark when we started out 15 years ago," said Hartner. "He is not only a great business partner but a very close friend as well."

The Outdoor Illumination team has several lighting projects on the horizon including more high-end residential homes, hotels, marinas, and new developments including ones in Beaufort and Chatham Park.

"I am always excited about the new projects," said Hartner. "You never know what kind of magic is waiting around the corner."

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2021.

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