A Bright Idea
Bright Former farmer lights up the night in New Jersey
Louis Cappuccio came into the landscaping game a little late, but he is really lighting up the outdoors in New Jersey with what he calls “lightscaping”. Outdoor lighting makes up a significant percentage of his business. Here’s what his Web site (www.greengiantlandscape.com) says on the subject: “With outdoor lighting, your home’s unique landscape and architectural features can have a dramatic effect by having a second life under the stars.”
And, it’s not just a few lights. Cappuccio’s customers want a whole new dimension to their landscapes, front and back. He’s the kind of lighting designer who doesn’t even require a piece of paper to diagram the extensive lighting patterns, using an artist’s sense to visualize the illumination that will best suit an outdoor situation. He’s a technician, too, but he is most proud of the creative lighting designs that show off some of the most expensive homes in the state.
He’s an upbeat man with a small company focusing on the upscale custom home landscaping market. Which might seem a little odd, because for many years he was a farmer. Cappuccio grew up on the New Jersey farm, operated by his father and uncle, and later worked at an even larger farm. However, the hours were killing him, and he became fascinated by the nursery plants that the farm grew as a sideline. Soon, he was using them to landscape a few yards on the side, and then he attempted starting a garden center with his cousin. When that didn’t take off, he started his own masonry and landscape construction business, Green Giant Nursery & Landscaping in Hammonton. That was in 1998.
At one time his company had 18 employees, including himself, but that number has been reduced to six because of the economy. Because of his hands-on nature, Cappuccio still gets down in the trenches and does some masonry or tree planting, but he is known for his creative lighting. After taking a seminar on the subject for the technical aspects, he was able to put his creative talent to use.
“I love the design part,” Cappuccio says of outdoor lighting, which he estimates comprises about 35 percent of his business. He designs entirely in his head, and explains to clients the effects that different light fixtures will have, as well as budget. He finds that most clients don’t know much about the effect lightscaping can have on their yards.
He tells his customers outdoor lighting can give them 24-hour use of 100 percent of their property if they so choose, and it makes sense for aesthetics and security purposes.
“Most of our clients, they want the whole package,” he says. He emphasizes security aspects, such as the proper lighting of a driveway gate or the front door of the house, but it is the beautification that really sells them. He focuses on residential landscaping, but does have occasional commercial jobs.
One of his jobs required 257 lights, and he’s done several with over 100 lights. “The properties we do are so big that they needed that amount of lighting,” he explains. Outdoor lighting has gone beyond homeowners wanting to illuminate a patio or a special tree. Occasionally, once Cappuccio explains the possibilities, they will want to light areas deep into a large property where they socialize or feature as particularly beautiful.
The fundamental areas of lighting are still pathways, patios and water features; 99 percent of his water features are lit nowadays, he says. One must-light area is the corners and peaks of roofs, which gives real dimension to the whole property. Another is to light the front door apart from the porch light. Clients often think that will have a glaring effect, but Cappuccio angles fixtures just right to get a subtle effect while still improving security.
Lighting choices are tremendous nowadays, and low-voltage outdoor bulbs and fixtures allow great effects for any situation without a big addition to the electric bill. He uses primarily 12-volt strings, but does use the 24-volt system so he can install long runs without altering wire size, allows him to put more lights on a run and still have all the lights at the same brilliance, as well as ensure that the bulbs last a long time. Those are important considerations and require some experience to calculate the string correctly. He hopes to utilize LED technology to see if it allows longer runs and increases bulb life.
Cappuccio does much of the technical hookups himself, but also, he has a foreman who has learned how to do the installations. Fixtures must be assembled; lights installed; wire run and buried; and the proper transformers, timers and photocells selected and installed. There are many reliable light manufacturers, but he has limited his brands to Unique, Vista, Cast, Alliance, Best Quality Lighting and Kichler. He says Unique offers a complete line of 24-volt lights, which is unusual.
All of these companies offer brass fixtures, which is important in his area. Homes near salt water should not use aluminum lighting because of the risk of corrosion. He budgets about $200 per fixture for top-quality brass, installed, which gives him guidelines for his bidding process. (Of course, the larger the job, the larger a price break he gives per fixture.)
Despite the many choices of fixtures, both simple and elaborate, Cappuccio basically uses six types in his designs, and they cover almost any situation: He uses well lights for uplighting large trees; accents, or small spotlights, for specimen trees; large spotlights to reach the roof peaks of large estate homes; path lights for walkways; landscape bed lights that spread downlighting over an area; and sometimes small rectangular lights for low, dark areas of a house to give it definition.
“Every plant has its own character,” he says, noting that one of the creative aspects of his job is deciding which lights to select for a particular plant or tree. For example, an evergreen is a solid plant that throws a deep shadow and will take a completely different fixture than a deciduous tree that casts a filigreed shadow. He lights for the shadow, as well as the plant. He doesn’t usually light individual shrubs unless they are specimen plants, one reason being that lights can dry out a plant; that eventuality must be planned for.
Cappuccio encourages clients to think about lighting up front and, if they can afford it, have lighting done at the same time as the rest of the landscaping because the trenches for the wiring are more easily dug at this phase, resulting in a less expensive price for the lighting. If he has to come in later and dig up a finished landscape, he has to charge more.
Sales of outdoor lighting can be difficult until a company gets a nice portfolio. Most of Green Giant’s sales are from word-of-mouth. Cappuccio does some online advertising, and he maintains a Web site that features his completed lighting jobs. He had a professional photographer take the pictures for his site.
“Some projects are $1,000, and some are way beyond that. Most of our work is upper scale.” Talking to prospective clients up front about lighting can lead to add-ons to the plant materials and hardscapes.
“They want to see your work. You have to have a referral list,” he says. He also speaks fluent Spanish, learned in his early years on farms, which is helpful not only for his crew, but also when explaining projects to the Spanish-speaking clientele in this area.
Cappuccio has found that in the last six years or so, outdoor lighting has really caught on along the Eastern Seaboard. He is building more outdoor kitchens, fire pits and pergolas, and those are used more often when lights are installed and homeowners can recreate outside at night. They really do make the backyard usable 24/7.
Outdoor lighting is also an enterprise that can be fun for the landscaper with a creative bent, because it can add a whole new dimension to projects.
Don Dale resides in Altadena, Calif., and is a frequent contributor to Turf. He has covered the green industry for more than 10 years.