Outdoor lighting has come of age. Homeowners want it as much for safety as for artistic effect. By Christina B. Farnsworth
Not long ago, outdoor lighting for homes consisted primarily of a set of 10-light kits purchased at the local home improvement store to line the walkway between street and front door. And maybe a second set ringing the backyard patio. The builder was not involved with much beyond the single porch lamp beside the front door.
Times have changed.
Exterior lighting done right can add to a home's nighttime curb appeal. It can visually expand the interior rooms of a residence making indoor space live larger. "People want to create outdoor rooms for entertaining at night," notes Randall Whitehead, author of The Art of Outdoor Lighting. Not only is the outdoor space more enjoyable to use, but the lit spaces can be enjoyed from inside the house (and that adds perceived and real safety).
Outdoor lighting also visually expands interior spaces beyond the 'black mirror' effect at night--when you see your own reflection in the window instead of the view beyond, says the San Francisco lighting designer. And it can be an attractive builder-added option.
The following examples expand the outdoor lighting vocabulary far beyond inexpensive packaged landscape sets and that single porch light.
$6 to $18 per string
These party lights feature "Nomex" shades, a type of flameproof paper cone, but there are myriad styles available from strings of stars and metal lanterns at Target to strings of Japanese paper lanterns at Pottery Barn to add zest to outdoor living spaces.
$25 to $125 each
Off-the-shelf silk lantern shades can be hung on off-the-shelf damp-rated fixtures strung on a wire across the courtyard. Less expensive Japanese lanterns can do the trick as well. Do not use clear-glass fixtures because the focus becomes the glaring light inside rather than the fixture.
Step Lighting Candles
$8 each or Low-Voltage Step Lighting
$800 range for system
The designers suggest candles as a temporary approach to lighting stairs. A permanent method to accomplish the same thing is a set of low-voltage landscape lights controlled by an electrical transformer.
Approximately $45 each
Two off-the-shelf recessed fixtures rated for damp locations use 50-watt PAR halogen spots to gently wash the front doors with light without over dramatizing the front door.
Rather than being purely a source of illumination, four unobtrusive Nite Star II uplights by B-K Lighting highlight plantings, sculpture, and buildings.
Underwater lighting, such as the Atlantis 1407/1408 from Lumiere creates a focal point, such as drawing attention to a waterfall. Similar lights tucked under stones around the edge of a pond subtly define its edges.
The low-voltage Cambria 203 fixture from Lumiere hidden in the upper branches of a tree gives a soft dappled full moonlighting effect. Fixtures may be mounted under building eaves over landscaping for similar effect. The same light that creates a dappled effect from above, illuminates tree trunks when mounted at their base. Lighting the furthest tree gives depth to the landscape.
Inexpensive Lightscaping Ideas
* Small "Christmas" lights (about $4 and up a string) can be wound around tree trunks to show off their silhouettes.
* Weatherproof low-voltage umbrella lights add a soft glow above the table ($25 to $40).
* Lanterns available from specialty patio furnishing stores attach to umbrella or other poles ($10 to $50); these can be either low-voltage or incandescent fixtures.