Landscape & Hardscape Ideas

Light it up! How to choose outdoor lighting

All the world’s a stage

Hollywood and Broadway people know the secret of a scene-stealer is all in the lighting. The impact lies in how everything is illuminated. In his 2002 book Stage Lighting Revealed, lighting designer Glen Cunningham tell us, “An effective lighting design is like a beautiful painting.” He goes on to explain how a lighting designer uses light and all its colors to bring the viewer to “an emotional state he or she would not achieve at that moment without your art.”

Your outdoor landscape and hardscape should be lit well. We spend time creating “moods” with our indoor lighting, and we should design our outdoor lighting with the same emphasis on form and function. All too often, we install flood lights and porch lights and call it a night. But with a little imagination and the many options available, you can add substantially to your home’s visual impact and comfort (and without sacrificing security).

Get in the zone

First determine which parts of your home and patio you want to light. The three common zones to light are porches, Hardscapes and landscapes. Your home and land may have something special to showcase, like a sculpture in the garden or a big, beautiful oak tree. You’ll want to consider these features individually as you design your outdoor lighting. For now, we’ll concentrate on the more common areas.

Next determine which type of lighting you need for each zone. The 3 “S”es of lighting are Safety, Showcase and Salon. Safety lighting is installed to light pathways and door steps, as well as any dark spots around your house’s entry points (including windows). The main point of safety lighting is to secure the well-being of the residents and guests as they travel in and out of doors at night. Showcase lighting is used to attract a viewer’s eye to special elements. Common features to highlight with showcase lighting are architectural lines of the house, designed landscaping, or a intricately-laid paver stone driveway. Showcase lighting is meant to bring out the dramatic impact of your outdoor scenes. Finally, salon lighting is “mood lighting” for the outdoors. Candles, portable LED lamps, even fire pits can be employed as salon lighting.

It’s important to install the appropriate type of lighting for the specific zones. For example, no one wants to sit under flood lights on a warm summer night. You want to be able to see the stars and hear the crickets when you’re sitting out on the patio. Flood lights don’t serve those purposes well.

The right place at the right time

The last step to great outdoor room lighting is to install the lights in the right positions. One trick to keep moths from slipping in your door at night is to use light projection techniques. Porch lights don’t have to actually be on the porch. When you use projected lighting, flying pests like moths and gnats stay around the light’s source and not your screen door. Safety lighting can be cast upward on the house from a more remote spot on the landscape. Salon lighting is best when it is portable or adjustable. Battery operated lanterns can be carried from table to bar to hammock. A dimmer on a string of bulb lights is a handy way to control your outdoor bar’s mood.

Dream a little dream

You don’t need a degree in stage lighting to maximize the emotional impact of your Hardscape. Just as you ask yourself how you want your visitors to feel when in your guest room, ask yourself what emotional impact, function and form your lighting should bring to your outdoor areas. Let imagination be your guide, and paint your scenes with all the colors of light.


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