Outdoor Lighting Concepts

Think about it: Most of your guests (and if your home is on the market, many would-be buyers) see your home only in the evening, when its best features may be lost in the shadows.

Well-executed outdoor lighting enhances architectural detail and plays up landscape features, casting your home in the best possible light and adding an abundance of curb appeal.

Outdoor lighting also adds value. In upper-bracket homes, an investment in outdoor lighting can yield a 50% return. “When you pull into a driveway and see a gorgeous home, you’re going to pay more for it,” say appraisers. “In all price ranges, lighting for security is important” — to protect against both intruders and falls. Here are the elements of successful outdoor lighting.

Mimicking Moonlight

Much of the success of exterior lighting hinges on its design. Hang around lighting designers long enough and you’ll hear a lot of talk about “moonlight effect.” That’s a naturalistic look that features light no more intense than that of a full moon, but still strong enough to make beautiful shadows and intense highlights.

Other techniques outdoor lighting designers use:

  • Highlight trees. Whether illumined from below or given presence by a light mounted in the tree itself, trees make stunning features.
  • Use uplights. Uplighting is dramatic because we expect light to shine downward. Used in moderation, it’s a great way to highlight architectural and landscaping features.
  • Have a focus. The entryway is often center stage, a way of saying, “Welcome, this way in.”
  • Combine beauty and function. For example, adding lighting to plantings along a pathway breaks up the “runway” look of too many lights strung alongside a walk.
  • Vary the fixtures. While the workhorses are spots and floods, designers turn to a wide range of fixtures, area lights, step lights, and bollards or post lights.
  • Stick to warm light. A rainbow of colors is possible, but most designers avoid anything but warm white light, preferring to showcase the house and its landscape rather than create a light show.
  • Orchestrate. A timer, with confirmation from a photocell, brings the display to life as the sun sets. At midnight it shuts shut down everything but security lighting. Some homeowners even set the timer to light things up an hour or so before dawn.
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