To show off your outdoor spaces to greatest advantage, you need to consider lighting design. You’ll want to enjoy evenings outside, so let’s talk about how to start planning for outdoor lighting.
Consider Various Viewpoints
When you’re investing in a major makeover of your yard, you want to get the best results. You don’t want to overlook the “crowning touch” that lighting design provides. Try this easy and fun planning exercise of considering your outdoor space from a variety of viewpoints.
- Stand in different outdoor locations and view your yard. Check out what you see from different vantage points. What do you see from the patio, back end of the yard, and both sides? If your yard changes in elevation, check out the viewpoints from the higher portion and lower portion. Do this in daylight, but also do it in the evening. From the various viewpoints, think about what could be illuminated. Where could light be used to add to your experience?
- Do the same thing from inside your home. Look out the various windows and think about being able to see specific features or vegetation during the evening. The view from the kitchen window is a specific example. A bit of planning could add a special nighttime view for someone in the kitchen at the end of the day.
Walk The Entire Property For An Overall Viewpoint
Take a bold approach and look at the possibilities to reclaim “unused” land.
- In our local area, it’s fairly common to have a steep back yard with a spectacular view only available from the top. With the right lighting, you could safely navigate to this area and relax to take in the city lights and gaze at the stars.
This steep hill at the back of the property becomes an asset rather than wasted space.
- Consider every part of your property, not just the obvious (patio, back yard, front yard, street view). Look for unused areas that could be transformed into an inviting conversation space or a perch to enjoy a particular sight line to a view. Or a spot to quietly enjoy morning brew or nighttime drink.
This intimate seating area was completely wasted before the redesign and lighting design. Now the homeowners love to quietly connect over an evening cocktail in this special spot.
- Look for areas that are hidden in gloom at night that could come alive with lighting. You could add dramatic impact by framing a steep back yard or showcasing changes in terrain elevation.
Here you can see how a focused spotlight shows off the colors of the vegetation and shines on the tree trunk. Note how the bronze color of the fixture blends into the earthy tones.
Treat Each Area As Its Own
Think of your outdoors as a collection of separate areas that can be visually “treated” with light. These are the general areas that you need to consider when designing a lighting plan for your new outdoor living spaces.
- Back yard
- You’ll have seating areas, a dining area, and likely some sort of outdoor kitchen. You may have ornamental rock work, masonry, a fountain, pool, or hot tub.
- Lighting design turns those features into warm and inviting settings.
- Lighting effects create an ambiance that makes you and guests want to linger and to connect.
Deck lights clearly define the steps of the hot tub. Downlights wash the left fence providing an expansive and safe feeling. The uplights shining up on the planters (on the right) provide big pools of light and show off the lattice at the back.
This combination of lighting effects creates the feeling of an outdoor room. When you can see the perimeter of your yard, it’s reassuring and gives a feeling of security and wellbeing.
This layered lighting effect shows off the elegant lines of the tree trunks. The vegetation and shadows of natural shapes add interest to the visuals. The different colors, textures, and shapes pop once the lights go on in the evening. During the day, they are mere background, but become focal points in the evening.
- Front yard and street view are very similar, but slightly different based on the viewpoint. The front yard view is what you see walking up the path to the home. The street view is the “curb appeal” experienced by someone driving up to or in front of your home.
Notice how this lighting effect emphasizes the texture of the fence. It adds visual interest to something you would not notice in day time.
- Front yard: You may want to use lights to highlight unique features of your home. If you have texture or form that doesn’t stand out in the daylight, light can emphasize it at night. Showcasing specific trees, vegetation, or color beds with light adds personality to the yard. Definitely though, you want to be sure that the path is illuminated so that it’s safe at night.
This pathway is well lit at night with no glare on walk or steps.
- Street View: There are two areas of lighting design to consider with the street view. Where do you need to use light to increase safety and security? And, how can you use light to increase the WOW Factor of your home’s curb appeal? For safety, you might use light to illuminate the street number. Or, use downlights to light any steps or edges that could be hidden in the shadows. For the WOW Factor, you could use a combination of lighting techniques to create effects with vegetation, trees, or hardscaping.
This hillside home is well lit for safety at night. Notice the lighting on the left outlining the edge of the driveway. The large, lit house number and uplights on the trees makes it easy to find this home in the dark on a curvy street.
- Side yard: A side yard doesn’t have to be a visual wasteland good only for garbage bins and junk. Look at your side yard with an eye to see possibilities.
- How could you use light to make the side yard feel safe for nighttime navigation?
- Could you make a utility area more usable by adding light in a specific area?
- Is there anything that could be lit to create a beautiful peek of view from indoors?
This side yard is well lit with uplights. It gives an example of how to use lighting design to make the most of every scrap of your yard.
- Driveway: When thinking about light and the driveway, safety is the primary consideration. Where do you need to add light to make the driveway easier and safer for both you and your guests? You especially need to consider the use of light to illuminate the general areas where people get in and out of vehicles.
Notice how these downlights illuminate the edge of the driveway. The driveway is elevated from the street and curves downward. This lighting ensures that anyone driving in or out can clearly see the edge.
- Garage: When using lights on the outside of the home, typically you also add lights to the garage exterior. You also want to consider what lighting is needed around the garage to satisfy any safety concerns.
Consider Unintended Consequences
Sometimes, lighting can unexpectedly cause a problem. For example, if you’re using spotlights and they cause glare to neighbors or to someone driving into your driveway, that’s problematic.
- When you’re using lights to light up the entire front of your home, be sure that light placement doesn’t inadvertently shine into a bedroom. It may make the outside of the house look dramatic, but if the light will disturb sleep, reconsider the option.
- You never want bright lights shining into the eyes of anyone on your pathways. At night, that can cause them to temporarily be unable to see where to step.
- The same is true for the driveway. Be sure that there is no glare shining into a driver’s eyes creating an unsafe situation.
- Be considerate of neighbors too. Ensure that your lighting isn’t going to shine into their yard or windows at night. Proper shrouding of the lighting fixtures keeps the light where it’s needed.
Include Lighting Design With Outdoor Space Design
We’ve only touched on a few possibilities. Lighting design is such an integral part of planning an outdoor space. We recommend you think about the lighting design from the beginning of your project. Designing how your outdoor space is lit at night truly is the “icing on the cake”.