Nothing sets the mood like some good lighting. From candlelight to golden hour, flashlight to tiki torch, lighting confers a sense of place and time that elevates a basic hamburger to a hand-ground steak, charbroiled and served with aioli and brioche. You see what we did there? Light makes a big difference. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of the best outdoor lighting ideas. We hope you brought your dimmers.
Lighting is really about drama. Whether you like to keep it mellow or kick it into high contrast, knowing what, how, and where to put your lighting is crucial to your success in the backyard. “Uplighting,” for example, is when spotlights are used at the base of trees or architectural features in your backyard to create a pillar-like effect. If you have a Japanese maple that you are particularly taken with, investing in some uplighting is a great way to enjoy the fruits of your gardening labors even when the sun goes down. If you’re not an avid gardener but want to go the extra mile for a party, try using one of our Spot lights to try our the uplighting effect.
For something less labour intensive: candles. Candles are inexpensive multi-taskers that bring any table from “take-out for dinner” to “Michelin-starred dining experience” — with the added option of citronella. While we don’t recommend them for uplighting (not enough wattage, fire hazard), candles are a great way to adorn your beautiful outdoor dining table. Just practice safe ambience by properly trimming the wicks, using a hurricane glass, and never leaving your candle collection unattended.
Strong lights are a fast and relatively inexpensive way to add whimsy to your outdoor space. Overhead string lights create a cozy, intimate atmosphere by mimicking the feeling of a “roof.” When well-spaced, globe-style lights don’t compete with the sky but offer just enough glow to enjoy the last few bites of dessert. Smaller Christmas-style string lights give a starry-night effect without throwing too much light: better for city patios, where you’re missing nature but also need to consider your shine, lest the neighbours report you.
If you’re working with a full backyard, get creative: wrap your lightings around the base and branches of your favorite trees for a fairy effect. Have a grand outdoor fireplace that’s too hot for summer use? Arrange a pile of Christmas lights in the hearth for a display that is pretty and cool. If you have kids (or a personal penchant for forts), try setting up a light tent in the backyard to enjoy late into the summer evenings. You’ll be surprised by how necessary lying on a picnic blanket in your strong light forest fort will feel.
Don’t have tall trees to affix your lighting to? A staple gun or a light stand are your best friends. Plus, both are removable. Perfect if you’re a renter but still feel like you need a little ambience in your backyard.
SHINE A… LANTERN?
Lanterns are a great source of outdoor lighting because they are so easy to move. They also come in a wide range of styles: our Bori lanterns bring a mix of airy minimalism and Eastern adornment to your patio. Cluster your lanterns along the dining table, group them around the edges of your patio, lead your guests to a secret dinner spot in the forest, line them up along the fence. Whatever your fantasy dinner party, there’s a lantern to support your vision.
A pendant light is a bit like an exclamation point: THIS is where we hang! THIS is where dinner is served! As such, pendant lights should be hung where you want people to naturally gravitate: above your outdoor dining space, at the center of the lounge. But just because you love a pendant lamp doesn’t mean you have to become a minimalist. Choose a single statement lamp, or create depth by lining up multiples of a single, smaller lamp style. Orbs and spheres come together to create otherworldly patterns, while more angular styles are better suited to clean presentations.
CONSIDER THE INDOORS
Not everyone has the time or the interest in turning their patio into a carefully considered stage. That doesn’t mean you have to sit in the dark — or worse, in the fluorescent glow of a hardware store lantern. Instead of investing money into lighting that you’re not convinced you’ll get good use out of, consider springing for dimmers inside your home. When you’re enjoying a drink on the patio, you can make strategic use of your windows and interior lighting to create an ambient glow for your outdoor space. Even without dimmers, keeping a few strategic lights on (such as your reading lamp, or the light over the stove) can create a low light that is kind of naughty and fun.
Listen: we love lamp. But what we really love is the opportunity to go to our friends place and sit outside until the wee hours of the night. All these creative outdoor lighting ideas aside, what really requires your focus is the snack menu and the wine line up. As long as you can see what end the chip bag opens at, you’re good.