16 Outdoor Lighting Designs to Brighten Your Night Life

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    Let There Be Light

    outdoor lighting at house
    Astronaut Images / Getty Images

    If your outdoor activities end when the sun goes down, it’s time to get out of the dark. Well-designed lighting can literally show you the way when it's pitch-black outside. Extend the time enjoying your pool, garden, and outdoor room with lighting that is well planned and placed.

    Lighting is as important to a successful landscape scheme as plants, hardscape, and outdoor structures. Besides providing safety and security, the right fixtures placed throughout a yard can transform the night into a beautifully illuminated masterpiece. If you have the do-it-yourself skills, research the best types for your needs. Or consult a lighting or landscape designer to help you create a scheme that is functional, safe, and attractive. You can find a lighting pro through the Association of Outdoor Lighting Professionals (AOLP).

    Think Before Buying

    Prior to choosing lights, contact your city or regional building department for local codes or guidelines that may dictate lighting types or levels. Then pPay around with light strands or clip-on lamps and extension cords in different areas of your yard, positioning them at various levels near trees, shrubs, rocks, or outdoor structures, like gazebos or along the edges of retaining walls. Enlist the help of a friend of family member in moving lights throughout the yard to experiment with various effects. Just remember to practice basic safety tips and not to submerge any plugged-in lights in a pool or another body of water.

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    Things to Consider Before Installing Outdoor Light

    Discover how to maximize the beauty and potential of your property with different types of lighting and why it's an essential part of the outdoor environment. Lighting is a smart investment that shouldn't cost much and can reap great rewards.

    Assess features in your yard to emphasize. Naturally, the pool, spa, and steps need to be illuminated, not only for necessity but for safety. Besides plants, also consider highlighting statuary, architectural features, and outdoor rooms. Evenly spaced uplights shining on an ordinary block wall can make it appear more interesting and even dramatic.

    Form vs Function

    Sure, looks are important, but don’t choose a light because it’s your signature style or you just like how it looks. Decide what you want the fixture to do and how it will illuminate the area or object to be lighted. Do you want it to silhouette shapes, perhaps create shadows, add uplighting, or cross-lighting? Purpose dictates what type of fixture to select.

    While planning an appealing nightscape, also think about incorporating plants that smell especially sweet in the evening.

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    Twinkling Backyard Lighting

    Garden and pool lighting can create certain moods or atmospheres. Twinkling fairy lights in trees are playful and lighthearted, perfect for a family gathering or party. Creating contrast adds mystery and drama to landscaping at night, which is perfect for romance or for viewing from a house. However, if people will be walking in the yard at night, contrast can leave too many voids and even be dangerous.

    Soft lighting can focus on soothing water features and effects, like this Arizona pool landscape designed by Robinette Architects. Evening effects can also create a feeling of romance, like moonlight filtered through trees and reflected in calm waters of a pool or pond. This can be achieved with downward-facing lights under eaves or in trees. It’s also flattering on faces--think of all the songs written about romance under the soft glow of moonlight.

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    Illuminated Pool With Water Features

    Light water features in and around a swimming pool. Areas to focus on include waterfalls, water walls, scuppers, sheer descents, and spa spillovers. At night, they look magical if artistically illuminated and can provide entertainment for parties. 

    Lighting from beneath the water’s surface creates the most dramatic effect. Droplets resemble sparkling diamonds when the light catches them from below. Illuminating water from above can be challenging, because water reflects rather than absorbs light from this position. Experiment with angles and locations until you find the perfect spot for your water feature or setting.

    A slide waterfall and water wall are illuminated along with beautiful Glasshues tile. The pool is located in Laguna Hills, California.

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    Lakeside Carriage House

    The bluestone steps of a carriage house in North Carolina are illuminated to create a spectacular entry and also provide safety. Designed by W. J'Nell Bryston Landscape Architect in collaboration with Jim Phelps Collection. Located in the woods near Lake Norman, the sprawling property also features lighted stone walls.

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    Estate with Pool Pavilion

    While the poolside pavilion is a detailed work on its own, a view of the entire yard shows how lighting integrates each element of this spectacular landscape at a 1.5-acre estate in Woodside, California. Dotter & Solfjeld Architecture Design remodeled and renovated an old barn on the Silicon Valley property using heavy timber, stone, and concrete. The WPA-inspired pool house remains open, offering views of the sprawling property and surrounding hills. Vera Gates of Arterra Landscape Architects designed the pool and landscaping.

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    Modern Pool House

    The travertine patios and pool house of a home in Vienna, Virginia, can be enjoyed in the evening thanks to the expertise of Howard Cohen's design for Surrounds Landscape Architecture, Among Cohen's techniques:

    • Uplighting was placed at the bases of pool area trees to illuminate limb structure
    • In the pool, underwater lights project diffuse beams that spread toward the pool's center for a softening effect
    • Sconces inside the pool house bounce light off the high ceiling
    • Downlighting (under-counter lights) on the outdoor kitchen's exterior bring out the texture of the bar's stone facade
    • Riser lights delineate steps that lead to the pool deck
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    Sydney Waterfront Home

    A deep and narrow lot in Sydney's Balmain East proved a fun challenge for Bell Landscapes. Smart lighting was essential for the multi-level home, which features outdoor staircases and a multi-platform deck. Fixtures were placed strategically for safety and attractiveness, allowing the residents to move indoors and outdoors and downstairs and upstairs with ease.

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    Focus on History

    The Louisiana city of Thibodeaux was settled by French and Spanish Creoles from New Orleans. Several old buildings remain, like this two-story charmer in the historic district owned by architect Stephen P. Arceneaux. In addition to painting the brick, Arceneaux added gas lanterns on the front columns, crape myrtle trees to help shade the west-facing porch, and installed LED landscape lighting throughout the property that focuses on the home's architectural and landscape elements.

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    Outdoor Lantern Golden Lighting

    A single, magnificent wall lantern with one Edison bulb casts beautiful shapes on the off-white wall of a home project from Rela Gleason Design. The golden hour refers to that period of time before sunset when lighting redder, warmer, and softer than when the sun shines directly overhead. Unfussy succulents in terra cotta pots are perfect landscape plants that enhance the home's architectural details.

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    Outdoor Southern Bluestone With Lighting

    The new carriage house and grounds are concealed in the woods and yet have expansive views of Lake Norman and beyond. In collaboration with Jim Phelps Architecture, lighted stone walls, steps and large bluestone slabs envelope the home, grounding it in a modern aesthetic. The slab stones, surrounded by native ornamental grasses, flow towards activity centers, weaving together architecture and landscape.

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    Dramatic Desert Forms

    Spotlights offer focal glow on a neat row of cactus, a palo verde tree, earth-toned walls, and the house number of this clean-lined home in Phoenix, designed by Link Architecture, PC.

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    Edison Chandelier

    Whitten Architects artfully drape Vintage Light Strings from Restoration Hardware over stainless steel cables that stretch above the deck of this property in Portland, Maine.  The lights are the ultra popular Edison bulbs with clear glass that reveal squirrel-cage filament for a fabulous vintage look.

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    Evening Patio

    Orange County, California, landscape designer Mike Pyle turns the focus on columnar, sculptural cactus that are especially striking in the evening hours with accent lighting.

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    Kensington Courtyard

    A tiny courtyard in Kensington features flooring of Vestra limestone slabs and black pebbles, surrounded by lush green walls that provide soft color and a sweet, fresh scent. Lights were creatively positioned to make the courtyard especially intriguing in the evening. Designed by The Garden Builders, the atrium is focal point that lures the owners and their guests to enjoy the atmosphere.

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    Bel Air Villa

    A rectangular garden bed is outlined with inset lights that frame the space, blending the landscape element with the home's Modernist lines. Designed by Farhad Ashofteh Architect, other outdoor lighting fixtures emphasize structural details like the frame of the pergola and the dining and bar areas.

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    Lighting a Detroit Deck

    Elin Walters of Exactly Designs added a partition wall to block the view of her next-door neighbor. The lines of her home's roof are continued with a pergola ceiling made of pipe, which is illuminated with a small globe at each end.  

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    Illuminated Steps and Path

    Oregon Outdoor Lighting custom-designs LED systems that are energy efficient for residential and commercial clients. Discrete safety lights illuminate the steps and path in a busy side yard at a home in Oregon.