Outdoor living areas have become a huge trend and it's easy to see why. This is where we spend a lot of time. Why not extend the personality and comfort of our decor and personal style to the outdoors?Gone are the days of a small cement porch with a single gas barbeque and a few rickety lawn chairs. Outdoor living is in!
Since a lot of activities take part after dark it is important to make sure that the lighting is perfect, first of course, so we can see , second for aesthetic reasons. It's a good idea to actually create a lighting plan for your outdoor living space, just like you would do it for your living room or kitchen. Think of all the different activities the space is used for and plan with that in mind: Grilling and cooking, reading in your favorite deck chair, enjoying a romantic meal al fresco or having everyone over for a neighborhood party.
All these activities require different kinds of outdoor lights. Just like an interior room outdoor spaces profit from the use of multiple smaller light sources instead of a few powerful ones. The same "layers of light" we are talking about indoors. An overhead outdoor light can be complemented by a few sconces and a table or floor lamp for task lighting in the seating area.
Some manufacturers like Kichler Lighting have come out with" chandeliers as well as floor and table lamps rated for exterior use. This makes it possible to bring a feeling of "home" outdoors and extend the hours you can enjoy your patio or deck.
Limit bright lights to high activity areas such as the entrance and your outdoor kitchen and use softer decorative overhead lighting in your outdoor dining and living area. Keep in mind that great contrasts in lighting, especially outdoors can be trip hazard. As we age, the eye's ability to adjust from dark to light surroundings slows, which makes it harder to move quickly from a well lit to a darker area. So, if you are a baby-boomer or older, just plan your outdoor lights accordingly: Avoid sharp contrasts by using multiple light sources. Use soft ambient lights to fill the completely dark areas with a touch of light, especially at the perimeter of brightly lit areas around doorways and stairs.
A little light goes a long way outdoors
Please, please (did I say it pretty enough?) limit the use of flood/spotlights!! Sure they are cheap and functional, but they are also extremely glary, a nuisance to your neighbors and a source of light pollution. Of course they have their place: for safety, like at the garage with a motion sensor and at the barn, so you can check that all the critters are safe and tucked in.
Evenings on the porch are for relaxing. Fire pits are immensely popular these days. One of the many reasons is the warm, amber glow of the light (and then of course the fragrance of the burning wood – and the marshmallows!) A fire pit doesn't throw a lot of light, but it creates a very unique atmosphere of intimacy and warmth.
You can create this feel with the right patio and landscape lighting. We spend most of the time at home in summer outside. We eat all our meals outside and sit and read or visit with friends on the deck every night. We had the dilemma that it was easy to illuminate the deck close to the house under the portal (we live in New Mexico where houses have portals), but further out on our big deck it was pitch black – and we do love to sit and read and that is our favorite spot. Solution: a commercial light string with regular bulbs in the tree branches above reading/dining area. 25W bulbs on a dimmer. Works like a charm and looks so nice, for parties, too! String lights are ideal for small outdoor spaces.
If all this seems overwhelming, keep in mind that it's not necessary to illuminate everything in your yard. Just decide which areas are the highest priorities for you and your family. Begin closest to the house, since that is where most activities take place.
A few well-placed, low-voltage path or accent lights can have a huge impact on your landscape. Again, follow the principles of indoor lighting: illuminate only what you want to highlight and create focal points. Looking at the lights at my own walkway down to the horse barn I cringe, since our wonderfully creative and rambunctious dogs have destroyed every single one of them. My project to keep me busy for a weekend ASAP, I guess. After this experience, I can't stress it enough, how important it is to buy the quality that can stand up to the (ab)use your yard gets. In my quest to find affordable high quality fixtures I chose some that obviously didn't stand the test and now have to do the job over. Should have looked for bollards like these I saw in the Swedish magazine Hus o Hem. They look indestructible! Outdoor kitchens have gained popularity. I definitely have one on my wish list!
Even if your outdoor space is not large you can definitely create atmosphere by treating it like a special little room with cozy furniture and lighting.