Lighting Designer Puts Spotlight on Landscape and Architectural Schemes

By Cindy Atoji Keene

One of the deadly sins of exterior lighting is the “runway” look: a line of plastic lighting fixtures stuck into the ground, with wires running from one stake to another. “This is the worst way to arrange pathway lighting – it looks like markers for an airport,” said Marblehead lighting designer Nancy Goldstein. Another lighting no-no is depending on the local big box hardware store for lamps and other accessories. “This is a thoughtless lighting decision that makes me shudder,” said Goldstein, 54, principal of Light Positive, a lighting design firm that specializes in landscape and architectural projects. People don’t realize that there is something better out there. It’s a matter of education.”


Goldstein has been in the lighting profession for over 30 years, ever since a college dorm mate knocked on her door and asked her to help out with a theater set-up. These were the days of old-style “piano boards,” mechanically mastered resistance dimmers with the big handles, but from that day on, Goldstein was hooked on not just being able to control lighting, but also the experience of manipulating shadows and spotlights. “Lighting amplifies whatever you are trying to convey whether it’s a dance concert or an interactive exhibit at a museum. It affects how you feel in a place,” said Goldstein, who has her M.F.A. in lighting design from the Boston University School of Theatre Arts.

Q: You recently finished lighting the Boston Flower and Garden Show. How was that?
A: The Seaport World Trade Center has florescent overhead lighting, but we turn them off and hang over 400 theatrical lighting fixtures from the ceiling with truss work. I use filters, also known as gels, to tone the exhibitors’ gardens, so one side of the exhibit looks like it’s in the sunshine and the other is in the moonlight, for example. I look at the plant material, and then adjust, color and aim the lights, so the exhibits are ready for the judges the next day.


Q: What’s hot now in lighting?
A: LED, LED, and LED. I attended the international trade show and conference called Light Fair International and joked that it should have been named LED Fair International, because it was all about LEDs or Light Emitting Diodes.

Q: Isn’t LED lighting quite cool or bluish-white in appearance?
A: LED runs the gamut. I like a lot of LED product that I see – and a lot is terrible. You can’t just walk into a retailer and pull a LED replacement bulb off the shelf and get good lighting. You need to know how to specify what you want, and there are different “color temperatures” that appear warmer, although they are less energy-efficient.

Q: How do you plan lighting for the outdoors?
A: Ideally, interior and exterior spaces are integrated so a client can enjoy the landscape from the inside at nighttime, whether it’s illuminating a treescape or a garden. There should be no “black mirror” effect, when you look out the window, all you see is a glaring reflection. Often when creating yard settings, I do a mock-up with a battery pack, running temporary lighting up trees. After that, we come up with an equipment list and proposal. A subcontractor does the installation, and then I come back and aim and focus so the lights are exactly the way they should be.


Q: Is there a common lighting principle, whether lighting a kitchen countertop or a home office?
A: No matter what you’re doing in lighting, the goal is to put the focus on the most important objects in the field of view and create a composition. What changes are the tools you use to achieve the look you want to achieve.

Q: How have you used your lighting knowledge in your own home?
A: My house is very old, and unfortunately it is currently lit as you might expect that a 1867 farmhouse would be. It’s the syndrome of the cobbler’s children have no shoes. But when the kids were young, I was known for our Halloween displays, which included theatrical light fixtures projecting patterns on the side of the house, and fog rolling down the front steps.


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