July 19 2019 06:00 AM

Summer is a great time to explore lighting for a tiki- or tropical-themed landscape.


Aloha! Summer is a great time to explore lighting for a tiki- or tropical-themed landscape. After visiting Hawaii or other tropical locations, many people return stateside gripped by the desire to create their very own tropical paradise at home. Island-style landscaping, often topped off by a tiki bar, has become quite popular over the last 20 years.

A client with that kind of backyard motif needs the right kind of lighting to enhance it. Although the mechanics of such a lighting system remain the same, the effects are quite different. The goal is to make the lighting as creative and fun as the landscape it’s enhancing. So how exactly do we create a tropical mood via outdoor lighting? There are several ways.

An artificial sunset. A background sunset effect can be produced using a mixture of amber, red and 2200K lights. More color effects can be achieved with colored glass or dichroic lenses. When shining a white light through a colored lens, it may be necessary to use a higher wattage lamp to let light pass through.

Colored LED lamps can be used as well. Placing colored lights behind plant material and projecting their silhouettes onto back walls creates a dramatic effect, one that can be seen in many tropical-themed movies.

The “rippling water” effect. You may have already created a rippling water effect by shining a light through a waterfall; it’s very easy to do. But what if you don’t have a water feature to work with? Don’t worry — it can still be done.

Several years ago, an MR11 fixture came out consisting of a liquid-filled glass lens attached to a 12-volt minipump that made the liquid inside the lens move, creating a beautiful ripple effect as the light shone through it.

Although this fixture is no longer available, the same effect can be accomplished using a rotating projector. The rippling water image projected onto the side wall of a yard is even better when combined with the sunset effect in the background.

Tiki totems. Like any statuary, tiki totems are very dramatic when illuminated. Most are carved from palm or hardwood, but some are cast in concrete or resin. Wooden tikis can be lit with warm colors like red and amber or 2200K to 2700K white bulbs.

Concrete and resin tikis come in a variety of heights and colors. The light source and beam angle you use to illuminate them will depend on their viewing position and color.

Colored globes. You almost can’t picture a tiki bar without illuminated, colored, netted glass floats. If you can’t find the genuine ones, you can simulate them by using round, clear lamppost globes and basketball hoop netting. Wire them up with swag light kits from a home improvement or electrical supply store.

String lights. Bistro string lights with multi-colored LED lamps also create a festive tropical effect. Inexpensive light strings with blow-molded plastic tiki, flamingo or lantern covers can be incorporated as well. One caution: Plastic string lights should be used under cover, out of direct sunlight, as they tend to degrade from ultraviolet exposure.

Garden torches. Tiki torches are a staple part of the island style. A classic one produces flames and comes equipped with an oil reservoir, cap and wick, but several manufacturers make electric types with 12-volt sockets and lamps under shades. They’ll provide a down light and flame effect without burning flammable liquids. To further enhance the illusion of flames flickering on the ground, use amber lamps.

Several manufacturers have released omni-directional electric-flame effect LED lamps. I’ve seen the 12-volt version used in hanging lanterns and path light fixtures. Installed behind frosted or opalescent lenses, they produce dancing flames and the romantic illusion of real candlelight.

For more on tiki style and culture, I recommend “The Book of Tiki” or “Tiki Style” by Sven Kirsten. I wish you all a wonderful summer. Mahalo.

Kevin Smith is the national technical support and trainer at Brilliance LED LLC, Carefree, Arizona, and can be reached at kevin.smith@brillianceled.com.