As outdoor rooms continue to blossom, with comfortable but dressed-up furnishings that easily can pass for pieces designed for the indoors, homeowners are beginning to see the light. There’s a need for the perfect finishing touch — outdoor lamps to light up warm evenings.
Lighting, after all, is an element that can significantly enhance a room. In addition to providing overall illumination, a variety of light sources can spotlight art or create a mood with as simple a device as a dimmer switch.
Considering an entire landscape, with its shrubs, trees, flowers and fountains, is a daunting task. After all, a comprehensive light plan for a home’s interior requires professional expertise. Technical and artistic know-how will benefit the landscape and exterior architecture as well. But some solutions are certainly within reach of the innovative homeowner.
There are plenty of places to start. Even simple upgrades can make a big difference.
For security, lighting makes sense at your front and back doors and at the garage. It’s a natural intruder deterrent. Decorative solutions include a symmetrical pair of sconces flanking the entry (perhaps a single sconce if space is limited) or a pendant light that hangs from a porch ceiling. Once limited, options have expanded to include designs that suit a variety of architectural styles — and checkbooks -- in a selection of sizes and finishes, beyond basic brass to nickel, brushed steel, copper and a variety of weathered patinas.
It’s clear from catalogs and Web sites that decorative concerns are catching up with functional aspects of selecting outdoor lighting. One Web site, Shades of Light, shows lanterns that can dress a farmhouse or a hacienda, with federal, mission, lodge, contemporary and even retro styles also available.
Smith & Hawken, for example, features a galvanized steel lamp and pendant with scalloped shades based on industrial lights common in factories in the 1930s. Another copper fixture, which looks like a bulb wearing a hat, was inspired by lighting along the Seine River in Paris.
Gardeners Eden sells fixtures crafted in solid brass with an aged copper finish that reflects Arts and Crafts styling. Fitted with amber-colored glass panes, these fixtures emit a soft yellow glow.
Expect to spend as little as $12 (off the shelves from stores such as Home Depot) to more than $500, depending on the finish and construction of the lamp. With a huge range in styles and sizes, it’s apparent that you’ll need to do some homework, perhaps studying examples in magazines and books, to get a sense of scale. The wrong size will detract from the intended effect.
Small sconces will look like postage stamps in a tall space, and conversely, large lamps can dwarf an average-sized door. Post lights also are available in more styles, sometimes matching wall-mounted counterparts. Often set along paths, the low-voltage posts stake into soil on spikes or can be set in concrete. There also are styles that resemble floor lamps.
That brings us to the outdoor room. The phenomenon of the outdoor room, creating inviting layouts with the equivalent of sofas, chairs and tables, has expanded to all types of housing, says Jackie Hirschaut, vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.
"People want to bring the personality within the walls of their homes outdoors," Hirschaut says.
Outdoor lights as sophisticated as surrounding furnishings are a natural segue. To be sure, candlelight dinners are as romantic as the stars in a midnight-blue sky, but sometimes the occasion may call for a little more than moonlight.
Susan and Guy Morter, who design lamps for their company, Shady Lady, found that out when they were entertaining guests at a cookout last summer at their home in Cedarburg, Wis.
"We were having a barbecue," Susan says, "and I wanted to create some ambiance outside. Our whole house is filled with lamps, so I rigged up some extension cords and brought some out. It was so beautiful. As day turned to night, the lights became the focal point of conversation.
"Most people just have lights on the house. And candlelight is nice, but you end up pretty much sitting in the dark," she says. "We started to think, wouldn’t it be nice to have outdoor floor and table lamps that you don’t have to move?"
Guy, an engineer, worked on designs and technical requirements. Designs include bases of nautical roping, faux bamboo and a wickerlike product that matches outdoor furniture. Shades are made from Sunbrella, a weather-resistant fabric. The lamps have a heavy-duty outdoor cord and high-low dimmer switch.
Last year also saw the introduction of a special lamp designed to clip to the grill. Some grill manufacturers have integrated lights into their designs, including halogen lamps built into stove hoods. That’s because outdoor kitchens demand more substantial lighting than porch lamps or candles.
Not surprisingly, more attention now is being focused on what’s in the landscape. Beautiful gardens that engage us by day can become black holes at night unless they have the benefit of outdoor lighting. If you light only the deck area, you’ll feel like an actor looking out at a faceless crowd.
Besides the types of lights that spotlight shrubs or wash buildings, there are lights that can be used to illuminate paths as well as plantings. Some are whimsical, such as a copper light from Doner Design that resembles a mushroom with a single, double or triple stem, depending on how much light you want.
Others even seem magical. Lighted spheres the size of bowling balls are charming when spread across a lawn. The award-winning European manufacturer Moonlight has designed a waterproof and impact-resistant globe that withstands cold and heat. Inexpensive filters add color, if desired. Like colored-glass orbs favored by the Victorians because of the way sunlight danced on them, these globes are enchanting.
These and other options light up outdoor spaces that extend our home sanctuary. And that means homeowners can enjoy them to the fullest, even after the sun goes down.
• Doner Design: (717) 786-8891
• Gardeners Eden: (800) 822-9600 or www.gardenerseden.com
• Moonlight, available from Helten Best of Design: (866) 443-5836 or www.helten.com
• Shady Lady Outdoor: (800) 343-1954 or www.shadyladylighting.com
• Smith & Hawken: (800) 776-3336 or www.smithandhawken.com
• The Horchow Collection: (877) 944-9888 or www.horchow.com
• Arroyo Craftsman: (800) 400-2776 or www.arroyo-craftsman.com