Landscape lighting designer Paul Gosselin reveals what clients are looking for now.
Paul Gosselin, president of the Association of Outdoor Lighting Professionals (AOLP), was operating his own electrical contracting business in Kingsland, Texas when the landscape lighting bug bit. “I had a client who had a little area in their backyard with a water feature. The couple said they liked to sit out there and have a glass of wine,” he recalls. “They just had a floodlight on the side of the house pointing in that direction, but wanted to see if I could come up with a better solution.”
Since outdoor lighting was not an area Gosselin was familiar with, he conducted research on the types of products available – and was immediately hooked. “I spent the entire weekend on the Internet looking at low-voltage landscape lighting and learning all about it. In the past, all you did as a contractor was throw a floodlight out there,” he admits.
Inspired by the wide variety of options and techniques he saw on the Web, Gosselin decided to change the direction of his business that very weekend. He was so proud of the resulting design he came up with that he brought his wife, daughter, plus his mother-in-law over to take a look at it and provide feedback. They were unanimously impressed.
The Gosselin backyard soon became the testing ground for many different light sources and landscape lighting techniques as he began learning the business. He named his firm NightScenes and embarked on absorbing everything he could about the category. He joined the Low Voltage Lighting Institute of the Americas (LVLIA), which has since become AOLP, and is an active member of the International Dark Sky Association. He has served as the vice president of AOLP for four years before being voted its president in 2011. Gosselin is also a Certified Low Voltage Lighting Technician (CLVLT) and Certified Outdoor Lighting Designer (COLD), the latter of which is a four-year certification process offered by the AOLP.
When he started out, landscape lighting hadn’t caught on yet. “Our town has two traffic lights and is not even big enough for a McDonald’s,” Gosselin states. “There was nobody in my area doing landscape lighting.”
Fortunately, 50 miles away in Austin, there was a building and population boom going on. “There were a lot of people relocating who were coming from California, Florida, and Arizona where outdoor lighting is more common,” he says. The Austin area had a few companies that did landscape lighting services, but there was enough business for everyone.
At the time, systems were primarily low-voltage halogen or incandescent. It wasn’t until 2006 and ’07 that LEDs began breaking into the landscape market, Gosselin recounts.
Despite the higher pricetag, consumers have been readily embracing LED systems. “I explain to clients that I can install an LED system that will initially cost 20 percent more than the halogen version, but cost 50 percent less over its lifetime,” he comments. Once those benefits are detailed, almost all of his customers will choose LED.
Thanks to breakthroughs in technology, color rendering is no longer a hindrance. “The improvement in color has been phenomenal,” he says. It’s much easier to create the warm look of halogen with today’s LED products. In fact, in order to keep up with the industry, Gosselin made his first trip to Lightfair in 2011 to observe all of the developments that are on the horizon.
Typically when Gosselin goes out to a client’s home for a consultation, he first tunes in to their wants. “However, I get excited when I see a feature – like a sculpture – that they didn’t even think about lighting. I like to discover the gem in their backyard,” he notes. On a recent project, that “gem” was a large, colorful sculpture that attracted a lot of attention by day, but wasn’t noticeable at night. Now it has become an illuminated centerpiece in the yard.
The one-hour consultation with Gosselin is free, however, a lighting plan is not (the cost of the plan is deducted from the project). “Unless the clients already know what they want, I begin by creating the full mack daddy of a lighting plan,” Gosselin says. Since NightScapes works with every major manufacturer of landscape lighting products, locating the right product for the desired effect is never a problem.
Gosselin preaches subtlety to his clients. “You don’t want to have your property lit up like Disney World®,” he comments. Instead, controlled drama is best.
Speaking of control, another increasingly popular option is lighting control (Gosselin happens to prefer Insteon® over X10). The availability of iPhone apps that control the lighting systems is another appeal. “Customers aren’t necessarily wanting to use the iPhone app as a remote control, but they like the option that they’re able to do so if they’d like,” he explains. For example, if the homeowners are out later than usual and the timer for their outdoor lights has already turned off, the lights can be turned on right from their phone. Most clients use the control option to set up a program that turns the lights on and off automatically at specific times.
With Gosselin’s familiarity with Dark Sky ordinances, he can easily generate a plan that will comply with the neighborhood’s regulations. In fact, there are several subdivisions that are outfitted almost entirely by Gosselin – from the homeowners association’s clubhouse and public grounds to individual properties.
Once consumers see what proper illumination can do for their homes, they generally jump onboard. “Many are realizing that lighting makes all the difference in the world,” Gosselin says. “More residents are spending their time outdoors than ever before and they really want their outdoor spaces to look great.”