Outdoor lighting is often an afterthought in exterior facelifts and landscape designs, something not remembered until the plants are dug, the deck is built and the house is repainted. If you find yourself in this kind of dark spot, don’t despair: We talked to professionals for some simple ideas that will make a big, bright impact.
First, a few basic rules:
1. Take your home’s architectural style into account: If you have a formal brick Colonial, for example, says David Benton, an architect at Maryland’s Rill Architects, stick with traditional porch pendants and wall sconces. “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, or even funky or farmhouse style.
2. 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.
3. Think about the big picture. Once you’ve got the front lighting set, think about how much total lighting you want to do. “You want to err on the side of subtle,” says Mark Oxley, president of Outdoor Illumination in Bethesda. “It’s better to start with less. Then you add to it if you think it’s not enough.”
●It’s important to take into account your house’s style, especially when looking for front-entry lighting, says David Benton, an architect at Bethesda’s Rill Architects and the lead architect for the 2014 D.C. Design House’s facade. For a Colonial, rambler or mid-century modern house, Benton likes the Lakehouse wall-mount lantern in Americana Bronze. “It’s a utilitarian fixture that can go either contemporary or traditional. Perfect for over a garage or mudroom door.” ($390, www.barnlightelectric.com)
●Karen Olson Weaver, who specializes in exterior and landscape lighting as principal lighting designer of Olson Weaver Lighting in Alexandria, uses gas lamps in her projects in older neighborhoods such as Georgetown and Kalorama. Plow & Hearth’s Old Brooke light, in three colors and sizes, is inspired by early gaslight design but uses a bulb. For sizing, Benton says that a good rule of thumb for lights flanking a front door is that they should each be a quarter of the size of the door. If you only have one, it should be a third of the size of the door. ($44.95-$84.95, www.plowhearth.com)
●Put candles in Terrain’s copper Mansard 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, Olson Weaver suggests. “At some point, things have to be practical,” she says ($68-$98, www.shopterrain.com).
●Benton likes retro-inspired string lights, such as World Market’s Edison-style 10-bulb string lights, for creating a “party atmosphere” that you can leave up all summer. “These are really fun on a deck, crisscrossed overhead. It’s a nice general light, and they’re festive as well,” he says. ($24.99, www.worldmarket.com)
●“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.” She likes NotNeutral’s Season metal lantern (in four colors and three sizes) and says that it would be a good lantern to hang on shepherd’s crooks around the garden or next to a grill ($54-$162, www.allmodern.com).
●Pendants look nice 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, she says, but Design Within Reach’s pendant barn lamp would be pretty safe to order on the Web because it’s a pretty basic design — hard to go wrong ($315, www.dwr.com).
●Like the look of a pendant but don’t have a porch ceiling? Olson Weaver also hangs pendants from archways, pergolas and even trees (for instance when the tree limbs extend over a bench). “From the terrace looking out, it creates a visual focal point,” she says. “It draws the eye out there.” Bocci’s cast-blown glass 14 Series outdoor pendant seems elemental in nature — ideal for creating an idyll in the garden. ($370-$385, www.lumens.com)
●Before ordering a light fixture for the outdoors, make sure that it’s designed to withstand the elements, Olson Weaver says. The Superior Moravian Star hanging light in clear, rippled glass or white glass is rated for a damp location (meaning it can be outdoors but not exposed to water — on a covered patio, for example). “Just one of these fixtures would make any outdoor space heavenly,” Benton adds ($455, www.shadesoflight.com).
●Mark Oxley, president of Bethesda outdoor-lighting firm Outdoor Illumination, seconds Olson Weaver’s recommendation to see and touch fixtures in showrooms before ordering. He also recommends buying a brand known for quality and dependability, such as Hadco or Kichler. Kichler’s cast-brass deck light would add sophisticated safety lighting to stairs and decks ($76, www.kichlersuperstore.com).
●String lights make a big impression without a complicated installation. Pottery Barn’s cafe string lights in bronze or galvanized metal would be a great tool to define a patio or seating area in a larger outdoor space ($39.50-$89, www.potterybarn.com).
●Path lights are a pragmatic way to create ambiance outdoors. “There are a lot of different styles that can be really functional but also be fun,” Oxley says. “But if you’re doing something fun, you want to be careful because that cute little acorn light can look great one or three times, but if you put 12 of them along a walkway, it can get out of hand.” Kichler’s copper path lights make for a subtle style statement ($184).
●Solar-powered fixtures might be best if electricity is a challenge. Soji’s hanging solar lantern is made of heavy-duty nylon and 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 ($19.99, www.allsopgarden.com).
●Benton, Oxley, and Olson Weaver all love string lights for a festive option that works no matter the season. The star shape of Luna Bazaar’s white organza string lights is a fun twist on the standard string lights. But make sure to bring them inside after a party; they shouldn’t get wet ($33.50, www.lunabazaar.com).
Roberts is a freelance writer. She can be found at www.lindseymroberts.com.