Outdoor lighting can completely transform how you view and use your landscape. It can add depths of beauty in entirely new ways, can enhance safety, and can make your space enjoyable not just during daylight hours but long after the sun has set.
But that doesn’t mean that any old landscape lighting will do! There’s more to lighting than grabbing some fixtures from your local big box store and planting them in the ground – or in trees, on bushes, or wherever else there might be a dark space.
Great lighting is, like all design processes, part art and creativity. Sometimes it helps to understand the techniques behind a successful lighting project, and sometimes it’s even more helpful to know what not to do.
These are some landscape lighting mistakes that can derail your vision and leave you with a disappointing, less-than-inspiring, perhaps even irksome result.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
As with most things in life, it is possible to have too much when it comes to lighting. That can mean too many fixtures, which can overwhelm your aesthetic and clutter your serene evening hours, or it can mean lighting that is too bright, glaring when it should be illuminating.
Good lighting is a balance between light and shadow. Not every single square inch of your yard needs to be – or should be – lit. Use lighting to brighten walking areas, patios and pathways. Use spotlights to highlight an architectural feature or focal point. Use tree lighting to create a moonlight effect that casts its peaceful glow on the ground below.
But don’t necessarily use all of them, everywhere! Remember, your goal is not to recreate daylight but to brighten and beautify your space by night. Knowing how much lighting to use is as important as knowing where to place it.
Getting Fixated On Fixtures
Of course you have your own personal preferences when it comes to the aesthetics of lighting fixtures. And of course you can include fixtures as part of your overall design. Some are lovely enough to be art pieces in themselves.
But lighting doesn’t happen with fixtures. It happens with light! Instead of focusing on the fixtures you will use, think about the effect you want to see instead. That, in turn, will guide your decisions about which fixtures you’ll choose.
When lighting your space, the focus shouldn’t be on the fixture itself. Nobody is going to gaze lovingly at a spotlight or swoon over the mushroom capped lighting embedded along a pathway. What they’re going to see is how light brings your blooms to life, and how shadows dance on the exterior walls of your home.
Once you know what you want to light (a patio? front entryway? flower garden?) then you can choose the right type of fixture for the occasion. There are some fixtures you may never see, like those installed high up in treetops or hidden in garden beds. So start with the effect and work backwards from there.
Using The Wrong Fixtures… Wrong
Sometimes the fixture is secondary to the effect, but other times design matters. If a fixture is going to be part of the aesthetic, and if it is going to be noticed, then it’s important to choose wisely.
Pay attention to the architecture of your home and the overall look you want to achieve. An ornate lantern might look at odds with a sleek, modern home. Likewise a minimalistic and modern fixture can create a sense of disharmony in a charming, rustic space.
It’s possible to go too utilitarian, too. A simple overhead light can certainly illuminate your front doorway, but you’d be missing an opportunity to show off a bold chandelier, or some beautiful wall sconces. Sometimes the absence of a great fixture can be just as undesirable as the presence of an overdone one.
Be mindful of scale, too. An oversized chandelier in the entryway of your cozy cottage will look just as out of place as two delicate walls sconces on your sprawling stucco walls.
Mistaking Your Backyard For Newark Airport
It’s an easy mistake to make, especially if you’re on a DIY track. You pick up some pathway lighting from a retail shop and lay it down neatly along your front walkway. And then you can land an airplane on it.
Since that is probably not the aesthetic you’re going for, it’s important to create pathway lighting carefully and artistically. That means spacing lighting properly so that bulbs are not too close together. It also means staggering lighting so it doesn’t give you that perfectly symmetrical and not entirely pleasing runway effect.
Beyond the basics, it’s always a good idea to think outside the lighting box. Consider the purpose of pathway lighting – beyond the beauty of it, it’s designed to make it easier and safer for walking, right? There’s nothing in the rule book that says lines of bulbs are required to achieve that goal.
You can create illumination with lighting embedded in adjacent gardens, or with pools of lights from several asymmetrically scattered fixtures. And speaking of fixtures, why not show off a few that you’ve been dying to use? Stake lights, lanterns, and other unique lighting can be placed along or near pathways to both brighten and beautify.
All Form, No Function
Outdoor lighting should be beautiful, but at its best it should also offer you opportunities to use your space in ways you otherwise wouldn’t have been able. That means that some lighting should be installed not only for how lovely it looks but for how useful it is.
Those tree lights may give you a wonderful evening glow, but will they help you slice a pepper to throw on the grill for your evening dinner party? The spotlight highlighting your favorite shrub may create a stunning bit of natural art, but will you be able to see the table to set your coffee mug down as you sit peacefully on the porch admiring it?
Whatever enjoyment your outdoor space affords, it should be available to you under the sun and stars alike. Light your pond and water features so you can enjoy them no matter the time of day. Include lighting in your pool area for a safe evening swim.
If you love to cook outdoors, make sure you have plenty of task lighting. If you enjoy entertaining, brighten a patio area with lanterns or string lights. Part of a successful lighting project is thinking about the lighting effects you want to achieve – and part of it is thinking about your lifestyle and how you want to use your space.
There are so many ways to beautify and extend the usefulness of your space that it would be a shame to install lighting that you don’t enjoy to its fullest potential. If you’re considering adding landscape lighting and want to plan for your best outdoor space ever, or if you already have lighting but think it can be improved, contact us for a consultation. We’d love to talk with you and design something that suits your vision and lifestyle.