Back in the Stone Ages, cave dwellers used fire created by rubbing two sticks together to see in the dark. Home lighting has come a long way since then, and seemingly, so have caves. Carved into the hillside of this 5-acre property on California’s central coast is a cave that completely belies its outward appearance. For an inside peek, check out the video.
Integrated within the stone, steel, concrete, and other natural materials that make up the custom-built, underground structure is a sophisticated architectural lighting control system that responds to a tap of a finger on the screen of a smartphone. Together a Lutron HomeWorks QS system and Lutron control app illuminate the interior of the cave beautifully, thanks to a thoughtful lighting design by Pasolumination, of Paso Robles, Calif., the natural elements of the space, as well as some of the owner’s most prized possessions are showcased beautifully.
Dubbed the Vertigo Cave, the subterranean space serves as a quick getaway of sorts for its owner, where a 15 minute drive from his main residence in Santa Ynez, Calif., deposits him and his friends to a mysterious destination where fine California wine, unique pieces of art, and an amazing light show await. “The cave was inspired by one of the owner’s favorite places as a kid, Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, explains Pasolumination lighting designer and system programmer Kevin Mikelonis. “It blends in with the surrounding landscape and expresses his love of nature and the importance he places on preserving it.” reasons for carving a hangout into the hillside, but the construction of something as unique as this hidden high-tech wonderland was launched partly as a hobby; “something fun for the owner to do in his spare time,” adds Mikelonis. “He was very involved in its design to make sure it would appropriately reflect his personality and passions.”
Using nature, art, and wine as their inspiration, the owner and Mikelonis collaborated closely to devise an elaborate lighting scheme that could be easily controlled via the Lutron HomeWorks system that was installed by the electrical contractor, DL Electric, of Los Alamos, Calif. “The main goal of the lighting design was to incite drama and intrigue–to build anticipation and excitement as you walk through the space,” says Mikelonis. LED fixtures tucked within stonework, ceiling coves and other structural elements spill pools of light in a stepping stone-like fashion to lead guests through two tunnels stretching more than 300 feet and into two different circular gathering spots: The “Big Kiva,” which measures 28 feet in diameter and the smaller 16-foot-diameter room, the “Little Kiva.” Along the way, lighting accentuates photography, concert posters, illustrations and other works from famed Surfer Magazine artist Rick Griffin. As eye-catching as the lighting effects are, the technology behind the magic goes completely unnoticed. “There are more than 120 sources of light, and not a single fixture’s light source is directly visible when touring the cave,” Mikelonis explains. He and his team of lighting designers even went so far as to hire a local blacksmith to fabricate a rustic-looking steel “lighting tray” that could be suspended from the ceiling and serve as a hiding spot for LED fixtures overhead.
Mikelonis also designed the 7-foot-round fixture in the Big Kiva, which was fabricated by local blacksmith Hans Duus of Solvang, Calif. Although large in diameter, the fixture provides soft accent lighting in order to enhance the effect of the wooden spokes on the ceiling.
Also remarkable about the lighting system is that it requires only a touch a single button on a smartphone or a Lutron seeTouch keypad mounted in the vestibule to control every light in the place. An appropriately labeled “Spelunk” button triggers a lighting scene, which was programmed into the HomeWorks system by Pasolumination. This scene ramps up the lights over the course of 37 seconds in a carefully choreographed sequence, leading the owner and guests to the Big Kiva, where blue, red, green, and amber LED lighting sprays over the ceiling from the spokes of a 20-foot wooden wagon wheel overhead. While socializing in the Big Kiva, guests can watch the sun set by peering through a huge glass door or stepping through it to admire nature’s own light show from the patio. Mikelonis also added LED lighting to this outdoor area, and tied it to the Lutron HomeWorks system so that there would be no worries about breaking the area’s “Dark Sky Ordinance.”
The ordinance prohibits the use of artificial lighting after the sun has set for better star gazing. As the owner and guests reach the vestibule, a tap of the “Away” button on a Lutron keypad signals the lights to fade, the fountain to silence, and a ventilation system to activate. The latter pulls the cool night air into the cave to help nurture the bottles in the extensive wine collection.
As the lights fade inside the Vertigo Cave, exterior lights strike a pathway to the driveway and deactivate automatically after a certain period of time. The cave maintains a low-profile thereafter, springing to life only when the owners are ready to “Spelunk.”