So far this summer, we’ve talked about decorating your backyard with furnishings and accessories, but one of the biggest ways you can impact your outdoor space is with lighting.
We know outdoor lighting provides invaluable security, guidance and safety at entrances and along pathways at night, but not many people consider it as an element of after-dark decorating. Whether purely practical or to highlight special features and create ambiance, outdoor lighting illuminates your life with style, safety and colour.
Planning a lighting scheme
To create a visual wow-factor when spending time outside in the evenings, plan a lighting scheme by layering your light sources. Consider various levels of purposeful lighting, such as path lights, a work light near the barbecue for night-time grilling, and safety lights around water features (pools, ponds and hot tubs). Add a variety of low-level ambient lights, such as spotlights to illuminate porches and rope lighting to add a glow to gardens, fountains and seating areas.
Lighting for safety
Ground-level path lighting should create overlapping pools of light — think Olympic rings — to ensure consistent, shadow-free light for safety and guidance. Ensure the light isn’t directed upward into the eyes of those walking along the path, since the contrast between artificial light and darkness will be overwhelming and reduce visibility. Avoid placing pathway lights in a straight line; it will create a runway look. Instead, stagger the lights for a softer, meandering effect. Motion lights for rarely-used side doors and back gates increase safety without the constant glare of bright lights. They are also a great option for above an entrance to increase visibility when unlocking the door at night.
Lighting to highlight features
Add drama and style to your outdoor space by using spotlights to highlight a special tree, fountain or garden sculpture. Be sure the spotlights don’t shine toward windows, so as not to irritate neighbours.
Outlining the perimeter of your patio, a plant bed or fence with rope lighting is an easy way to illuminate with subtle drama. The secret is to cover the front of the rope lighting with a valance or hanging plants to provide a discrete, hidden glow of light; otherwise, the rope lights will be distracting. Exposed rope lighting only belongs inside party limos.
Your main entrance should be stylish and well lit from a variety of sources. Choose light fixtures that illuminate the front steps, the sides of the front door and the standing area in front of the door. The fixture style should match the design of the front door, no matter the home’s architectural style. I recommend installing matching motion-detector lights above or to the side of the garage door — it’s not an area you need to highlight all night.
Outdoor stairs deserve special attention. Consider integrated lights that are built into each step on the front porch or backyard deck for safety and to create glare-free ambient lighting. Placement and wiring for integrated stairway lights need a lot of pre-planning, so this feature is best designed before decking or stairs are built.
Lighting to decorate
Decorative outdoor lighting comes in many shapes and forms, giving you lots of simple ways to replace everyday glaring, bright white lights with features that establish a mood-enhanced outdoor evening environment. From LED bulbs that change colour to candle lanterns and inexpensive string lights, these smaller lighting features personalize your outdoor decor and create ambiance.
Creating special effects is easy with coloured bulbs operated by a downloadable phone app or with a programmable LED lighting system. You can also play with soft lighting to create a candlelight effect. Use decorative lanterns to line a walkway, run them along the top of a fence or install them in planter boxes to create a soft glow all around your entertaining spaces.
Want to make a big impact with minimal effort? Roll a set of battery-operated string lights into a ball and display them in a large glass jar for a twinkling centrepiece. It’s so simple anyone can make it, and there’s no worry of candles blowing out.
Light up your (outdoor) life with these smart tips:
• Always use exterior-rated light fixtures and extension cords.
• Make use of lights inside the house to create a soft glow that spills outdoors — this might be all you need to create ambiance close to the house.
• LED lights don’t attract as many bugs or heat up, making them an excellent choice for outdoor illumination.
Got a decor dilemma or want to give feedback? You can contact Karl at instagram.com/karl_lohnes or on his Facebook page, Karl Lohnes Designer.
Karl has worked as a home decor expert and product designer for 25 years. He appears Thursdays during the 8 a.m. hour on Global News Morning Montreal.