Light The Stage For Outdoor Fun

One of our readers recently asked about extending her living space into her backyard through lighting options. She didn’t have any lighting and was interested in creating a space her family could use at night. Here are some of our thoughts and recommendations for lighting your outdoor space.

The first thing to know about outdoor lighting is that it should function in the same way interior lighting is designed to work. This means you need to provide general lighting, task lighting and accent lighting in order to offer the best luminous environment.

General lighting

General lighting, also known as ambient lighting, provides illumination to the space as a whole. For outdoor spaces, this might be overhead lights in a pergola or roof extending out over a deck. It may also include general lighting such as post lighting. These light sources should be adequate to light the area as a whole and are different than directional lighting.

Task lighting

Generally, this type of lighting is installed in order to provide illumination of a specific area for a specific purpose. In the home, this might be a reading lamp or directional light for cooking in the kitchen. Outdoors, it may mean lights at your hot tub to be able to converse with others in the spa or lantern lighting in a seating area. Lights in foliage or planters, such as spot lights, can also be really helpful in illuminating areas of the yard and deck. Some of this lighting resides in the gray zone between task and accent function, which we will discuss next.

Accent lighting

To me, this is the most exciting aspect of designing lighting. For accent lighting, you really have unlimited options. First, you might consider putting low voltage lighting in your deck to illuminate the edges or stairs of the deck to prevent tripping and other hazards. We did our deck with lighting on the skirt boards of the deck to illuminate the ground surrounding the deck and in the stairs to both illuminate a portion of the deck and to mark the stairs going into the home.

Another option for accent lighting is particularly fun. Recently, it seems string lighting has taken on a popular role in outdoor lighting. There are so many options for string lights now including lights shaped like pineapples or lanterns. Others are less whimsical, but still create a party-like feel in an outdoor space. This makes them great for entertaining.

Also, consider lighting areas or items in your yard that might not initially jump out at you as an option for lighting. For example, you can hang lantern lights in a tree or light the tree, as is shown in the picture above. Take a look at your yard at night and think about what areas you would like to light up. Then, check out structures, living plants or trees and even fences in the general area to see if you can identify options for mounting your lighting.

As I mentioned before, some lighting can drift between task and accent lighting. One of my favorite ways to use lighting outdoors is by providing directional light on specific natural specimens such as large trees. Using a spotlight in an upward direction on a tree can highlight a canopy effect of the overhead foliage while lighting the space at the same time.

No matter what options you choose to light your outdoor space, be sure that you keep safety in the heart of your decisions, making sure your new lighting marks hazards such as stairs and deck edges. And, of course, HAVE FUN!

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