No outdoor entertaining space — even one with quality furniture, beautiful landscaping and a barbecue-ready grill — is ready to take a star turn at an evening event until you add lighting.
“When you walk into a great restaurant or a summer wedding and you wonder why it feels so magical — lighting is why,” says Hillary Stamm, founder of HMS Interiors in California.
You could just throw up some string lights and call it a day, of course. But to get the most of your outdoor space — whether it’s an apartment balcony or a sprawling backyard with a pool and gazebo — experts suggest having multiple sources of light. “You’re not trying to create a really bright space,” Stamm says, “but you do need two to three sources of light, such as outdoor can lights, candles or sconces.”
Jason Jorgensen, owner of Third Spring Landscape Design in Seattle, says to think in zones. What are you going to do outside? If it’s reading under a covered deck, you might opt for an LED table lamp. On the other hand, “if you’re dining outside, cozy low lighting works well,” he says. Think candles and string lights.
And you’ll want to take advantage of the latest technology. Putting lights on Wi-Fi-compatible timers, for example, will save energy and help you adhere to the Dark Sky initiative guidelines, says Los Angeles-based garden designer Stephanie Bartron. They encourage homeowners to only use light when needed, on the areas needed, and to make sure it’s no brighter than necessary, to minimize light pollution.
Here are some specific fixtures that Stamm, Jorgensen and Bartron recommend.
Stamm likes Threshold and Studio McGee’s Maize Outdoor Lantern Candle Holders ($20–$30 at target.com) to add texture to your outdoor space. Pair them with battery-operated flameless candles. She suggests arranging them in groups of three for a custom, layered look.
Jorgensen likes using rechargeable table lamps, such as Zafferano’s Poldina Pro ($169–$299 at zafferanoamerica.com) or the Fermob Balad Lamp ($197–$440 at lumens.com). The Poldina Pro comes in 13 colors, including dark green and copper. The Balad comes in eight colors, and its handle allows it to be hung where ever you need it.
String lights are inexpensive and weather-resistant, making them a great option in places that get severe summer storms. Stamm suggests the Feit 30-Foot LED Color-Changing String Lights ($83 at walmart.com).
“I like to run them through a space with a long string of lights,” Jorgensen says, rather than around the perimeter of an area. Use wire and zip ties to hang them. “I wouldn’t suspend them over a space without a supportive cable,” he adds, because they can droop or swing during a storm. String lights can also be run along a fence or the fascia of a roof.
Stamm likes Pottery Barn’s Globe Outdoor String Lights ($59–$99 at potterybarn.com), which come in 25- or 50-foot strings. Hang them alone or connect up to three sets to create longer strands. Table and standing posts are also available for easier install.
Bartron recommends the Atomi Smart LED Color String Lights ($60–$100 at costco.com), because she can control them with the Atomi app, which can be integrated with Google Assistant and Alexa. “I love that I can adjust the color, white balance and the brightness,” she says. “There is also a timer/scheduling option and a simple on/off power button.” Choose from 24, 36 and 48 feet.
When it comes to more permanent, wired fixtures, Stamm advises clients to purchase the best lights they can afford, because they will last longer. She loves Serena & Lily’s Warwick Outdoor Sconce ($348–$598 at serenaandlily.com) with an aluminum frame and iron finish. “These patina over time,” she says. “They can be used well in a pool space or screened-in porch.”
Jorgensen likes the Kichler Lighting 2-Light Medium Outdoor Wall Lantern ($145 at kichlerlightingexperts.com), which comes in black, bronze, aluminum and white, and the industrial-looking Rejuvenation Carson Gooseneck Wall Sconce ($219 at rejuvenation.com), available in 13 finishes.