outdoor lighting

Unique Outside Lighting Ideas


Unique Ideas for Lighting your Landscape.

Outdoor lighting sometimes feels like it is all the same. For some of us, outdoor lighting means one thing- the sun. However, there are many options to add personality, light and clarity to your landscaping, whether it is a pitch-black night or misty morning. There are certain maxims we hear very frequently: sconces add drama, string lights and lanterns are cozy. But there is a whole world of theatrical, playful, personalized lighting that can transform your landscape into a glowing wonderland.



Footlights are the standard in marking walkways and drives. Small, recessed lights are gorgeous breadcrumbs to have embedded in the ground along a path, leading the way to a front door or common area. With landscaping beds on either side of the path, recessed lights can be placed to shine through plants like pheasant tail grass or pampas grass, giving off an otherworldly glow rather than betraying their mundane source. Lighting within water features also gives a beautiful, diffused ambient light. If placed under a waterfall feature, the light will appear to crawl upwards to the edge of the waterfall, casting a glow out rather than up from the pool. For something truly unusual, small metal cutouts can be added to give the effect of a lively pond without the maintenance. Whether it is the outline of a koi fish, a monk under the waterfall, or a mythical creature, silhouettes cast by small figures in front of a light are not like any other. Small lights recessed into retaining walls can highlight niches in stone that hold plants or garden art, and draw the eye up away from the masonry. In outdoor common areas, warm-colored footlights around the edge of the foot well in a sunken outdoor conversation area can give a wonderful campfire glow to sit around, without the hassle and smell of lighting a fire pit. Footlights can also lend a sparkling highlight to accents in a bar area, drawing focus to custom details like brass rails and kick plates. Equally useful along railings for safety, choice of reflective or translucent railing materials can add a frosty glow to the perimeter of a communal space.

wash lights


Wash lights will set your walls aglow. Meant to evenly spread light across a surface, wash lights can brighten your house and pull focus towards the dwelling as you cross the property. A warmer-neutral color temperature will emphasis the daytime coloring of your house, while cooler lighting will give a hint of the dramatic. House colors take on a less gloomy tone with a simple wash of light on the facade. Wash lights give the area surrounding your house a bit of light, casting an ambient glow and softening shadows cast by more focused lights. Wash lights look equally beautiful when cast over delicate paths or manicured lawn, and can bring more striking and intense lights into harmony with a larger lighting landscape. These types of lights can give a wonderful, unique look when set up to light just the crest of a hill or a rock outcropping on your property, or highlight the living ceiling formed by a well-planted pergola or other garden shade. They are also an excellent choice for extending night lighting up to a second story or rooftop balcony without being too bright at windows or illuminating unwanted areas. Wash lights are also an excellent lighting option for small-leaved hedges like privet or boxwood. A wash light will cast an even, delicate glow over the fine leaves of a well-maintained hedge without being focused enough to be seen on the other side of the hedge.

spot light


Spotlights in outdoor lighting are at their best when up lighting. Spotlights are wonderful for highlighting boundary trees, with a single small spot at the foot of each tree you wish to highlight. This works especially well for tall, upright evergreens, like pine and spruce. Gnarled, older trees with a spreading habit benefit from two-point or three-point lighting, to illuminate underneath the whole canopy simultaneously. Conversely, unique boulders, trellises or pergola, can be lit with single lights, especially when they are likely to be viewed from a single vantage point. Diffuse lighting softens harsh areas, but spotlights highlight the structural detail of climbing roses and espaliered trees. Daytime shade structures become welcoming stopping points after dusk, inviting use of the garden well after the sun goes down. Spotlights also shine when used to add brighter areas of contrast over an existing ambient light. This is a great way to brighten the look of tall columns or add some standout flair to a second story. The sharp light of a spotlight is also excellent for any landscaping with unique foliage or unconventional shapes. The crisp shadows will show the delicate foliage of a flowering dogwood or Japanese maple in perfect relief, ensuring the texture and variation of your landscaping is on display well into the night. Outbuildings, gates, or fences that would typically be outfitted with security lights all benefit from spotlighting. Anywhere that traditional fixtures do not make sense, spotlighting can add architectural style as well as illuminating problem areas for cameras or homeowners to observe. Spotlighting is also a wonderful arrangement for fountains, allowing the architectural features of the fountain to be highlighted as falling water glistens in the light beam. Whether the fountain follows baroque stylings or natural forms, the sharp relief of a single point light will make it a standout of your landscape.

fixtures 2


Fixtures cannot be forgotten for unique lighting arrangements. Even ceiling fixtures have a place in outdoor lighting, whether lighting a gazebo from within, or on the ceiling of an open pool house or porch. Gazebos looking out on a view benefit greatly from a moveable and controllable lamp that will light the gazebo from the center out. Swag lamps are a wonderful choice for adding vertical depth as well as illuminating, or a gas or carriage lamp can add old-school charm. Small exterior up lights at each column can highlight the gazebo from a distance, but make it more difficult to see out to a view in a dark night. Sconces and carriage lamps add great vintage visual interest to long paths adjacent to a wall, or in more enclosed common areas. And although we laughed at the maxim, on a pool house or other small-scale outbuilding, sconces do in fact add drama and elegance. For safety, we’ve already mentioned footlights along railings, but fixtures like handrail lights and faux streetlamps can add a personal touch to tricky walkways.

Other Accessories

Many more unique effects can be achieved with accessories rather than lights themselves. Shining lights through glass objects gives truly unique, shapely light effect that can be altered just by moving the object. Adding small mirrors or lenses to garden art will add sparkling reflections and cast light in ways usually inaccessible to single point lighting setups. Fine fairy lights on wires can be fed into jars, bottles, and vases for a glowing objet d’art. A series of lit glassware on a high shelf makes a wonderful accent for entertaining spaces. Even paper luminaries can add a personalized touch to otherwise utilitarian lights. Unique lights in themselves will further add to the decor of your outdoor spaces, whether it is day or night. Some of these are familiar to us, but can be used in unique ways. Fairy lights make a statement when strung across the top of a shade structure. Rope lights can be recessed into trim for a similar lighting statement without visible wires. Purpose-built raceways can also be attached to disguise wires while still allowing for strings of hanging lanterns or other novelty lights.

What makes a space truly unique is not each of these techniques, but how they recombine with each other. A small spotlight is a utilitarian choice for a bar area, allowing the tender to see what they are doing, but adding strings of warm Edison light bulbs or small, recessed bar top lights will give a two-dimensional sparkle to metal bar fixtures and glassware, for a truly upscale feel. Cooler, brighter lights on porches or in communal areas can be tempered with warm, low lights to transition from communal spaces to a private walk or balcony. Soft, diffused footlights are a welcome complement to crisp spotlights on textured landscaping, whether it is a boulder or a wispy, delicate tree. Funky lights made with colored glass or bulbs can be used to draw the eye to a distant point in an otherwise warm-lit setting. Decorative details like sconces or hanging cloche lighting can be the unifying factor between indoor and outdoor décor. Even choosing a single lighting style, and using it sparingly, can be a striking statement that revolutionizes your landscaping.


No matter what your landscape looks like, lighting can help transform it into a truly individual paradise for all hours of the day. Finding the right lighting for you can make dreary or forbidding yards into an inviting, enchanted garden. With any luck, this article has given you some lasting ideas to create a personalized retreat that will light up your life.


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