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Using Light to Make the Most of Your Outdoor Living Space

Down lighting

Lighting highlights the foliage of favoured plant materials.

Sometimes called ‘moonlighting,’ this is my preferred lighting style. In areas with large trees, this effect provides a subtle, dappled look that makes path lighting often unnecessary. For the result to be successful, I specify the fixture be installed 9 to 12 m (30 to 40 ft) high in the tree to achieve the most natural look and to keep it hidden.


Grazing is a lighting effect used most often to wash the front of the house with illumination by accenting interesting textures, structural elements, and roof lines. It also works well in conjunction with the next two effects.


By shining a light on the front of the tree, a shadow is created on the house behind. However, care should be given to keep the shadows from looking grossly distorted to avoid creating a spooky effect.


Opposite to the shadow effect is the silhouetting technique, where the light is placed behind the tree, making only its dark outline visible.

Spot lighting

The use of outdoor lighting to graze the front of your home makes a large statement from the road.

Spot lighting is appropriate on any focal point, such as an arbour, garden art, statue, or fountain. However, your landscape designer should avoid placing spot lighting in such a way that they do not shine directly in the eye from all common vantage points.

Hardscape lights

Hardscape lights can be used in several different ways. Placing lights under the overhanging cap of pillars, seating walls, and stairs provides an indirect way to accentuate them. When using hardscape lights on a staircase, it is best to avoid lighting every step. Instead, lights should be placed in an alternating pattern (i.e. one side then the other), leaving at least one step unlit in between.

For the patio space, small flush-mounted lights can be inlaid randomly to create a subtle lighting choice. Although they don’t create any functional illumination, these lights can add just the right amount of sparkle. All hardscape lights must be installed when doing your stonework and cannot be retrofitted easily, so do select wisely when presented with options.

Utility lights

It is almost impossible to integrate functional light for cooking or other tasks into the artistic side of a landscape lighting plan, as the strength of light necessary is simply too bright, thus ruining the effect. Therefore, your designer may suggest a better option is to simply add a switch and brighter light combination that can be turned on and off as necessary.

Exterior fixtures and novelty lights

The exterior light fixtures have a huge impact on the way your home presents. Bigger fixtures are often better and create a feeling of grandeur. Other novelty lights, such as an exterior chandelier, fan, or lamp, lend to the current trend of dressing your outdoor space as you would your home’s interior. Whether solar or traditional, large lanterns are also a welcome touch to any space.

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