Outdoor Lighting – Lighting Designer Tips & Tricks

Maybe you have a green thumb and don’t want to see your efforts go to waste after the sun sets. Perhaps you’re a design fanatic and want to highlight the architectural features of your home. Or maybe, you have a difficult-to-navigate walkway with stairs that challenges even the best when it’s dark.

Outdoor lighting can add more than beauty, but also security and safety to your home. Christina Brown, a +25 year lighting designer veteran and founder of Studio Lumina, shares her expert advice on how you can improve the beauty, security, and safety of your home with exterior lighting.

It’s important to note that when highlighting architectural and landscape features of your home, Brown recommends you first understand two lighting techniques and their purposes:

Highlighting architectural and landscape features

UPLIGHTING: By uplighting vertical elements in your landscaping, it will be more “eye-catching” and “give life to your yard,” according to Brown. Uplighting is known as the “powerhouse of lighting,” she says. Whether it be a tree, shrub, or water feature, make sure the item you are lighting is taller than 3-feet. Objects shorter than 3-feet can look awkward when uplit. Things to consider uplighting include:

  • LANDSCAPING: Large or sculptural trees such as oaks, palms, olive, or Japanese maples.
  • ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES: Columns, facades, extended overhangs, or stone walls.

BROWN PRO TIP: When uplighting your landscape or residence, place the fixture in front of a plant where you get “dapple” light through the leaves, this can soften the lighting and prevent it from appearing too harsh.

DOWNLIGHTING: This is the “workhorse of landscape lighting,” says Brown. It shouldn’t be the primary source since your eyes perceive light on the ground last. An all downlight scheme can appear dark and unwelcoming. Things to consider downlighting:

  • LARGE TREES: Anything 13-feet or higher can be downlit to provide a “moonlight” effect when done correctly.
  • ENTRIES: Entrances into your home can be improved dramatically with proper downlighting along with an ambient source.
  • CARPORTS: Downlighting, either side of your vehicle, will place the light where it is most effective.

BROWN PRO TIP: “Moonlighting” is most effective when it is a blue-green light color. Many LED sources are blue, so by adding a green theatrical filter (get these online), you can more closely resemble professional “moonlight” inexpensively.

Security and safety with exterior lighting

Exterior lighting can do more than amplify your home’s architecture and landscaping. The right lighting scheme can also help create a more secure home and make it safer for anyone when it’s dark outside. Now that you understand these two techniques, there are different ways they can be applied.

SECURITY: According to Brown, you can create security lighting with motion-sensor mounted floodlights. These fixtures tend to be 6-feet above the ground and aimed at eye level, creating a glare bomb. These types of fixtures can help deter would-be burglars. The other benefit of this type of lighting is that they are environmentally friendly and can lower your utility bills. Also, since the lights do not remain on full-time, you won’t have to replace the bulbs as often.

BROWN PRO TIP: If you have these lights in a high foot traffic area, consider moving them right below your eaves and point them more down. By positioning the height of your fixture and aiming the light down, you will have the same level of security lighting but it will be kinder on your visitors’ eyes.

SAFETY: Pathway lighting is one of the most useful types of landscape lighting since it provides shadow-free, lower light levels that are glare-free. Besides being functional, these fixtures can also have personality and be decorative (there are various styles available) or architectural and made to disappear. Step lights are the preferred fixture. They are recessed into a stair riser or on the side of a tread. Recessed lights are the preferred method because they create a shadow-free pathway. Walkway lighting usually has a stake allowing you to place them along paths and surrounding planting beds and lawns. Walkway light fixtures offer a low light level and are glare-free.

BROWN PRO TIP: Use warm-colored lighting for pathways unless you’re illuminating a lawn. By lighting your yard with cool colored lights, your grass will appear greener.

Understanding exterior lighting techniques and how they can highlight your home’s architecture and landscaping while assisting with safety and security puts you in an excellent position to start planning your lighting project. Here are some additional things to keep in mind when thinking about exterior lighting.

BROWN PRO TIP: Pay attention to color temperatures. When planning your landscape lighting, think about the colors of what you’re lighting. For example, trees appear alive with cool colored lighting, while warmer colors can make them look brown or dead. When uplighting a stone wall, if it’s a warmer color, then use warm-colored filters to accentuate the stonework.

BROWN PRO TIP: Use 2-3 types of lighting techniques to accomplish a balanced, softer, professional light scheme. Decorative lighting should always be a technique used, while downlighting should never be the only source.

BROWN PRO TIP: Test your ideas before committing. Solar lights are inexpensive fixtures and simple to install. They are great when testing positioning, and since they have no wires, you can move them around until you find the perfect position. Also, you can find cool and warm-colored solar lights on Amazon.

BROWN PRO TIP: Proportion is critical. Always test the size of a new fixture before committing. The wrong scale or fixture size can create an unbalanced lighting scheme.

ABOUT CHRISTINA BROWN:
Studio Lumina is committed to providing quality design and customer service to help clients increase their project potential through lighting design. Working with residential clients throughout the U.S., Christina utilizes her interior design and architectural background to provide a well balanced and thoughtful approach to her lighting designs. Learn more about Studio Lumina.

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