Outdoor lighting is a necessity around our homes, promoting security and safety as we navigate nighttime pathways, driveways and entries. Beyond its functional contribution, however, lighting can add a valuable aesthetic element to our external living spaces, from directing the eye toward a particular landscape feature to creating ambiance ideal for a festive evening on the patio.
Residential owners can learn from companies whose business is creating a nighttime vibe, like Commellini Estate, an elegant venue with numerous indoor and outdoor event sites. The patio, for example, is lovely during the day; at night it becomes the stuff of fairy tales, transformed through twinkle lights along the railings and throughout trees.
Michael Paul, Commellini Estates' general manager, employs a combination of string lights, and solar and motion-sensing lights in the backyard of his Mead-area home for a variety of effects.
"Interesting things and plants deserve a little respect in the night as well as the day," says Paul, who restructured his modest yard to create levels "so that it adds dimension and a feeling of space."
Paul uses light to add focal points, such as a wicker peace sign under the eaves of his roof or to cast shadows on his Japanese maple.
"Mine is cast on a wall approaching the steps to the front door. It's awesome," says Paul, who likes the shadows cast by assorted cacti around his yard, too.
Lights can be used to promote safety, such as on or near stairs where hardwiring makes them more reliable.
"We cannot always depend on the sun to give us enough light to energize these things either," Paul says. "That is why I have placed battery-powered motion sensor lights here and there," such as behind his garage.
Blend Outdoor Design often includes outdoor lighting packages in its design projects, such as the outdoor living space for the HDG Architecture remodel of revered local architect Moritz Kundig's 1971 South Hill rancher.
"Our two most popular applications are 'downlighting' on a pathway or driveway surface and 'up-lighting' on existing or new tree canopies to create some ambient light reflection on the surrounding area," says Collin Schweikl, who co-owns Blend with Chris Sothen.
The lighting they do, explains Schweikl, is hard-wired to a transformer installed somewhere on the exterior of the home. Amenities include sensors that "automatically turn lights on and off at dusk and dawn, (and) Wi-Fi capable transformers that allow you to manually control your lighting from inside," he says.
The other advantage of higher-end systems, explains Schweikl, is that light fixtures are less likely to suffer from weather damage. "If water can get in, then the freeze-thaw cycle we get in the Inland Northwest can damage the fixture."
Removing portable lighting fixtures like string lights or staked solar lights at the end of the season is one way to get around this, of course, but that's more work and you're missing out, says Schweikl.
A permanent system "allows you to enjoy and see your outdoor space longer into the shoulder seasons," he adds, while also maximizing the safety features outdoor lighting can provide.
Assess your needs. Are you motivated more by safety, like lighting pathways, or aesthetics, like increasing curb appeal by illuminating the evergreens in your front yard?
Decide whether you want to go with a larger transformer now so you can add on to the system or just deal with additions later as needed.
Check out lighting styles, finishes, colors and options and have some fun daydreaming how this might look in your yard.
Get help with the parts you're least knowledgeable about, whether that's design, installation or both.