Outdoor lighting can greatly improve the curb appeal of your home and how you use your garden. Extend the time you can use outdoor gathering places by hanging twinkling cafe lights and placing lanterns around your deck or patio. Increase safety by adding lights for stairs and pathways. Place entryway lights by the front door for an attractive view from the street and to provide a warm welcome to visitors.
Whether you’re looking to illuminate your entire yard or add ambience for an evening party, here are three general lighting design tips as well as a dozen specific lighting ideas to make your outdoor space glow.
Keep outdoor lighting subtle. Soft glows and warm washes of light are much more inviting than overly bright spotlights. Ditch the harsh area lights and replace them with understated, warm-toned lights.
Outside this Southern California cottage, a light hung from the tree overhead illuminates an outdoor table, an uplight casts a glow up the side of the house, and a pair of floor lanterns provides an inviting glow.
Use a variety of lights in your landscape. Mixing up the types of lights and their placement creates interest in a nighttime landscape. Consider ways to use wall-mounted lights, low lights for walkways, washes along walls and hanging lights for the best effect. There’s no need to go over the top — keep it subtle by using soft lighting.
Consider safety. Grade changes, walkways, uneven surfaces, garden structures and water elements can present a potential safety issue in the dark. Lights placed to illuminate these areas can all but eliminate this danger and allow you to use your garden after dark without the risk of tripping on stairways. For example, a row of stair lights provides just enough illumination to light up the steps from the deck to the lawn.
12 Subtle Outdoor Lighting Ideas
Perhaps the most common of outdoor lights, pathway lights come in all shapes and styles. When selecting lights for your garden, consider the width and length of your walkway compared with the size of the pool of light cast by the fixture. Placing lights on either side of a pathway at intervals of 6 to 8 feet is often adequate to light a walkway, though dimmer lights may need to be placed closer together. For curving paths, place a light at the farthest left and right sections of the curve rather than the midsections to emphasize the shape of the path at night.
Accent Lights of Art
Place lights to highlight outdoor sculptures to add interest to the evening garden. Wall-mounted art can be illuminated with washes of light, while free-standing sculptures can benefit from uplights and subtle spotlights. Here, a hollow metal orb sculpture is lit from within for a particularly magical glow.
Create a warm welcome with lights chosen to illuminate your entryway. For an integrated look, select light fixtures that are in keeping with the style and materials of your home. For example, the simple Craftsman-style lanterns mounted on either side of the front window are well-suited to this Craftsman cottage.
If you have a seating area under a large shade tree, hang a few outdoor pendant lights from large overhanging branches. Allow enough rope and wiring to bring the lights down to hover just above an outdoor table or chairs — a height of about 8 to 10 feet. This will help define the seating area while making it feel more intimate.
Spotlights for Trees
Placing a few spotlights on large specimen trees can have a big impact in creating interest in your garden at night. Hide ground spotlights behind boulders or shrubs and tuck midtree lights behind large branches.
Nothing is quite as inviting as the twinkle of a few strands of overhead cafe lights. Set the mood for an outdoor party by stringing lights diagonally a few times across an outdoor terrace, deck or patio.
Tip: It’s well worth the effort to track down industrial-quality cafe lights designed for being outdoors. Often used for restaurants, industrial-grade lights resist water, come in longer strands and last much longer than standard home store cafe lights.
For an unexpected flicker in the kitchen garden, hang a string of cafe lights from a pergola or trellis. The cafe lights will look inviting from the house and light your path if you’re picking herbs after dark to add to dinner.
In addition to preventing trips and falls, stair lights can be an attractive garden feature. Place lowlights on the stair treads themselves or on adjacent walls and structures that will cast pools of light across the steps.
Accent Lights for Architecture
Up your nighttime curb appeal by accentuating your home’s architecture with outdoor lighting. Select the types of lights to highlight your home’s most interesting features. For example, warm light shining through the wooden slats of this interior courtyard creates an interesting banded pattern from the street.
Lighting for Fences
This fence is built from horizontal wood slats, staggered to allow light and air to pass through. Lights on the inside of the base of the fence lend a beautiful glow, highlighting the interesting striations of wood.
Adding light to water features at night can have a particularly peaceful effect and save you from accidentally stepping in water after dark. The soft gleam of submerged lights in combination with the gurgling of water in this narrow water feature creates a tranquil evening ambience.
Light Washes for Walls
Use more diffused lights to create washes over walls, the sides of buildings and clipped hedges. In this sunken courtyard, warm pools of light cast against the concrete walls and trellised vines make this an appealing outdoor room after dark.
A scattering of glowing orbs creates a whimsical setting for an evening party. These particular glass orbs are blown by hand, each with a different pattern. During the daytime, the orbs would be just as interesting catching rays of sun.
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