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When adding lights to the inside of our homes, there are a wealth of well-known golden rules to follow to make the most of a space, but when it comes to illuminating our outdoor areas, there aren't as many strict guidelines to follow.
In one way, this is great, as it allows us to get experimental and let our imagination run wild, but in another, it’s quite daunting, as you have to figure everything out for yourself… or do you?
Today, I’m guiding you through 11 stunning outdoor lighting ideas to get your creative juices flowing and help you chase away the shadows in your yard with style!
1. Reflected Lights
Once, while vacationing in Montenegro, as I walked the bay, I noticed that the streetlamps and the facades of stores and restaurants were so close to the water, that every single light was strung into the sea like an open necklace, creating a truly breathtaking photic symmetry that I’ll never forget.
As soon as I arrived home, I purchased some lights to stake into the earth behind the pond in my backyard so I could enjoy a similar view every single night of my life. I chose these Anordsem solar lights because they created a wonderful blur of modulated light on the water’s surface, but you could go with whatever suits you.
This idea works best on a sloped bank so you can set the lights up in tiers and create a dynamic display in the water.
2. Layering Lights At Multiple Levels
You know what’s better than a single layer of lights? Two layers of lights, that’s what! I always try to introduce at least two layers of lights wherever possible, so, for the back of my house, I have some ambient floods just below the eaves, and a string of ambient floods lower down, creating a multi-altitude feast for the eyes.
Many people think that eaves are for task-lighting exclusively, and while that might be the case out front, out back, you can work some ambient lighting into the fold as well.
If you can thread in some smaller lights that interlink these two levels, even better! For instance, if you have exterior stairs, some recessed staircase lighting will be the perfect little embellishment.
3. Lighting The Way Home
If you want to start small and classical with your outdoor lighting, I’d highly recommend getting the ball rolling with some simple wall lights on either side of your front door. People often go for a single over-door light, but two lights emphasize symmetry and give you more light overall to show off your garden and make navigating your front yard easier and safer.
This is an especially good idea if you have a lot of floral plant life around your doorway — There’s nothing more beautiful than pink roses by porch light!
But before you purchase your lovely new lights, a warning… the more lights used in a space, the more low-key they should be. Choosing two extravagant fixtures may take attention away from your yard, which is antithetical to our goal here. I’d choose something classic like this Pia Ricco wall light.
4. Hammock With A View
I’ve yet to hang a hammock in my yard, but it’s top of my to-do list, along with loosely draping festoon lights through the branches and structural elements above it to provide a faux constellation of my very own design. In fact, I have already ordered the lights, and when payday rolls around, it’s hammock city, baby!
My lights will be transitioning between sheltered and unsheltered areas, but don’t feel that you have to take the same approach. Keeping them in a sheltered chill-out zone helps to separate your outdoor space into discrete sections, which can be both practical and eye-grabbing.
5. Light As Boundary
Speaking of discrete zones, why not take the principles of what we just discussed and apply them to your entire outdoor space? Got a pool? Frame it with some lovely recessed lights.
Got a fire pit, create an ambient glow around its perimeter with colorful LED strip lighting.
Got a patio? Mark its boundaries with a string of attractive Edison-style hanging lights. Got a wooded area? Beautify the darkling branches of your trees with twinkling “meteor shower” lights.
6. Statement Pendants
A lot of what we’ve talked about thus far has been quite ambient-leaning, but that’s not to say you can’t introduce some thoughtful task-oriented lighting to your outdoor space! To this end, the first thing I would do - yard permitting - is hang some statement pendant lights over a table and chairs.
All too often we find ourselves sitting at shadowy outdoor tables only partially lit by the glow of interior light traveling through the windows of a home, but with, say, two sizable pendant lights hanging above, all shadows disappear.
I find this particularly useful for parties of all kinds, as guests will inevitably end up in the yard to find a quiet spot to talk or cool off. Not having to do so in the dark is a thoughtful addition to their experience, helping to keep outside revelers visible and connected to one another.
However, such lighting is only made possible by a sturdy structure above the table. It can be a tree if the branches are thick enough, but most will choose to install these lights in a sheltered area, perhaps from a central beam.
Personally, I’d go for something rustic like these Log Barn pendants, but feel free to go with whatever elevates your established exterior aesthetic.
7. Fire Pit Accents
Fire pits naturally produce a lot of warm lighting, so it’s not always worthwhile introducing lights that shine against the seating area of the installment. But some small, bright recessed accent lights fitted in the outward hardscaping offer a very sleek prospect, increasing the rustic appeal of low-plant life areas with some modern appointments without undermining the overall style.
Installing them on the vertical lines of the structure is preferable to installing them on the horizontal lines of the structure as up lights, as they shine all the brighter in the shadows cast by the light of the fire.
8. Light As Participants
For a concrete or decked social area with a sleek modern aesthetic, I’d suggest getting a little more conceptual with your lights. Choose varying-height minimalist designs with lots of straight lines and a soft glow, then station them around the social area almost as if they’re guests at a gathering in your yard.
This adds a naturalism to the modern feel of the space, forming a not-so-stark juxtaposition of structured and unstructured elements. They should be positioned as rocks are around at the foot of a mountain — Orderless perfection!
9. The Twinkling Canopy
If you have a pergola in your yard and you haven’t yet woven string lights between the beams of the canopy, I suggest doing so right away, as there’s no easier way to take the visual appeal of your outdoor social space up one million notches!
This look works especially well if you already have a ceiling of greenery making its way across the beams, as lower hanging leaves are illuminated, creating the ultimate fairy grotto to luxuriate under with a glass of wine (or four).
Throw a bunch of cozy cushions on the seating area below to make this magical scene all the more enticing for yourself and your guests — It’s sure to be the most desired hangout at all your future parties!
10. Beams For Beams
Looking for something subtle to add some nuance to your covered patio area? Why not shine a light (literally) on the beams overhead with some covert accent lights that sit just within the inner perimeter of the roof structure?
You won’t be able to see the fixtures themselves, but a lovely soft accent light will stretch out against the base of each beam, which, rather surprisingly, intensifies the shadows between the beams, creating a subtle, yet dramatic play of contrast.
This is final touch lighting at its absolute best, an indirect layer that introduces an entirely new dimension to a pergola with a cathedral-style ceiling. You’ll want warmer lights for this job, about 3000K. Multiples of this Maxim cove fixture might be just the ticket.
11. Rustic Courtyard Glow
A concrete courtyard may not sound great to the green thumbs out there, but with a central dining area and a thoughtfully curated lighting profile, it can radiate the rustic charm of the Italian countryside.
If your courtyard walls are particularly plain, feel free to busy things up a bit with some dramatic sconces, but my favorite approach is to install bright, low-temperature recessed lights into the wall at about head height, then shade them with slates held by wooden mounts.
This transforms their glare into a hearty glow that orbs out against the wall on either side of the shade. In conjunction with some warming candle lanterns at the table, this creates the perfect atmosphere for an intimate dinner party beneath the stars.
I hope these ideas have helped give you an idea of what you want to do with your outdoor area, or at least inspired you to bite the bullet and move ahead with plans you already had in mind.
No matter what size or style your exterior space is, a few thoughtfully chosen and placed lights can completely transform the landscape and make magic of every single evening.