Outdoor lighting is too often an afterthought. Sometimes planning doesn’t start until the plants are dug for a landscape design or exterior facelift. The new deck may be finished before someone complains he can hardly see the stairs.
So maybe you’re ready to replace that single fixture hanging over the porch before fall arrives with its earlier sunsets? The cook standing at the grill on the dimly lit patio will surely thank you.
We talked to professionals who offer simple ideas for making a big, bright impact the next time you entertain outdoors.
The basics• Take your home’s architecture into account. If you have a formal brick Colonial, for example, stick with traditional porch pendants and wall sconces, says David Benton, an architect at Maryland’s Rill Architects.
“I think it’s always key to keep things simple,” he says. “They look more elegant that way.”
If you have a house that’s a bit more modern, you can play with something contemporary, funky or farmhouse style.• Don’t undersize your lights. Do you have a large front yard? Make sure your light fixtures are large enough that they can be seen from the street. Benton says he tends to go “just a little bit larger” than he thinks he’ll need to.
• Think about the big picture. Once you’ve got the front lighting set, think about how much total lighting you need. “You want to err on the side of subtle,” says Mark Oxley, president of Outdoor Illumination in Bethesda, Md. “It’s better to start with less. Then you add to it if you think it’s not enough.”
1 Design Within Reach’s pendant barn lamp: Hang pendants in multiples over a dining table on the porch, Olson Weaver says. With a more unusual design, you’ll want to see them in person to check the dimensions and material quality before buying. ($315, www.dwr.com)
2 Superior Moravian Star: Before ordering, make sure the fixture is designed to withstand the elements. The Superior Moravian Star is rated for a damp location. (It can be outdoors on a covered patio, for example, but not exposed to water). ($455, www.shadesoflight.com.)
3 Bocci’s cast-blown glass outdoor pendant: Pendants can hang from archways, pergolas and even trees (when a tree limb extends over a bench). “From the terrace looking out, it creates a visual focal point,” Olson Weaver says. “It draws the eye out there.” ($370-$385, www.lumens.com)
4 Soji’s hanging solar lantern: A fixture that produces its own electricity might be best if electricity is a challenge. Soji’s lantern collects sunlight in the day to create a glow at night. It also comes with LEDs, a battery and a base-unit accessory to convert it into a tabletop lantern. ($20, www.allsopgarden.com)
5 Terrain’s copper Mansard lantern: Put candles in this lantern and you’ll get the comfort of flickering light. If you prefer to avoid the mess of fire and wax, try battery-operated LED candles. ($68-$98, www.shopterrain.com)
6 Kichler’s copper path lights: Path lights are a pragmatic way to create ambiance. Kichler’s design makes a subtle style statement ($184).
7 NotNeutral’s Season metal lantern: “When you bring lighting outside, people are drawn to that,” Olson Weaver says. “It’s an inexpensive way to create another space in your house. You could have no chairs on your terrace, and you could put a little lantern out there, and the whole party will move out there.” NotNeutral’s lantern could hang on shepherd’s crooks around the garden or next to a grill. ($54-$162, www.allmodern.com)
8 Pottery Barn’s cafe string lights: These cafe lights would be a great tool to define a patio or seating area in a larger outdoor space. ($39.50-$89, www.potterybarn.com)
9 Lakehouse wall-mount lantern: “It’s a utilitarian fixture that can go either contemporary or traditional,” Benton says of the design. “Perfect for over a garage or mudroom door.” ($390, www.barnlightelectric.com)
10 Luna Bazaar’s white organza string lights: The star shape is a fun twist on standard string lights. Make sure to bring them inside after a party; they shouldn’t get wet ($33.50, www.lunabazaar.com).
11 Plow & Hearth’s Old Brooke light: Gas lamps fit well in many older neighborhoods, says Karen Olson Weaver, a lighting designer in Alexandria, Va. The fixture is inspired by early gaslight design but uses a bulb. ($45-$85, www.plowhearth.com)
12 World Market’s Edison-style string lights: Retro-inspired string lights can create a “party atmosphere” that you can leave up all summer. “These are really fun on a deck, crisscrossed overhead,” Benton says. ($24.99, www.worldmarket.com)