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Using Light to Make the Most of Your Outdoor Living Space

By Melanie Rekola

Subtle path lighting leads the way.

Outdoor lighting is a crucial yet often forgotten component to many beautiful alfresco living spaces. Luminosity tells the story after dark by providing a visual harmony between the home and landscape. Plus, current studies show outside leisure areas are used most often in the evening, thus proving a well-thought-out lighting plan can provide not only a magical world of drama and mystery, but also extend the use of your outdoor living area.

Illumination artistry

Landscape lighting is an art unto itself. Commonly seen failings in many lighting designs is the use of just one type of lighting method or luminosities that are too bright, too dim, or use too few lights. A successful lighting plan considers all these areas and incorporates a variety of landscape lighting fixtures, levels, and techniques. Although a good landscape designer will be well-versed in the nuances of lighting, it is worthwhile for homeowners to be aware of the options and design considerations.


Up-lighting can be installed to illuminate a tree’s canopy.

Installing up-lights is the most common landscape lighting method. Up-lights are best used sparingly on trees with interesting branch structure, leaf texture, or bark. They can be installed closer to the trunk of a tree or farther away and shone up into the tree’s canopy. Another option is to add several up-lights around the same tree so that illumination can be viewed from all sides. However, it is best to avoid the lure of up-lighting every tree in a grouping.

Rather than having a lot of lights clustered close together that will appear too bright, light just three evergreens in a group of seven, for example, to create an enigmatic night-lighting effect.

Path lighting

The second most commonly used fixture is the path light, and it’s rarely done well. In general, path lighting should provide gentle hints for where to go next. However, path lights should be placed equal distance from one another, rather than as an outlining tool. Less is more, thus it is best to incorporate path lights cautiously.

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