When it comes to adding sparkle to your backyard, patio or outdoor room, portable outdoor lighting really shines. The key to creating your own unique ambiance (backyard bistro, secret garden, tropical paradise) is to layer your outdoor lighting, says Washington, D.C.-based interior designer Kirsten Lytle, NCIDQ. “Layered lighting typically includes ambient light (general, so you can walk around), task light, and ‘sparkle’ or decorative lighting,” Lytle says. “Outdoors, where you need less ambient light, it’s easy to uplight trees or bushes or add perimeter lights (make sure there aren’t any dark, sinister looking ‘holes’ in your landscape).
Task lighting depends on the function outside—sometimes you don’t need it if you’re on the patio to sip a glass of wine and enjoy conversation.
Sparkle is the fun part—that’s where lanterns, Christmas lights, candles, chandeliers and other decorative pieces come in to play,” Lytle says. She suggests highlighting plants with interesting shapes or textures (think winding twinkly holiday lights around a tree trunk or LED rope lights around a cactus). LED rope lights also work well for illuminating safety hazards like steps or the edges of a path. LED rope lights are available almost everywhere. For custom solutions check out companies like EnvironmentalLighting.com.
Make one focal point and keep the rest simple. “I believe less is more,” says Risa Boyer Leritz, AIA of Portland, Oregon. “Accenting a few elements is fine, but it’s important to keep the lighting to a minimum.”
Here's a range of cool summer ideas for adding sparkle and bling to your porch, patio, or gardenscape.
1. String Lights can your backyard from about average to knockout in a flash! Use strands of clear or jewel-colored globe lights; balls (in every material from rattan to clay); and even twinkly holiday lights to turn your garden into a magical retreat. Criss-cross strings of clear globe lights above your entire backyard or patio for an inviting, backyard bistro look.
Group chairs around a firepit and add some beautiful plants in containers (as in this backyard makeover from HomeTalk via TheGardenGlove).
Or take your book club meeting or impromptu gathering to the next level by hosting it outdoors. Place a patio table beneath string lights and set it with chilled wine and a summer salad full of fresh, organic veggies. Your guests will bring lots of lively conversation, making your party a success. In the mood for a romantic glass of wine in a cozy outdoor space? First, create a cozy nest on a sofa or daybed using lots of pillows, a blanket or two and string globe lights above. Add candles and set out a tray of snacks with glasses for two a tray and keep the wine on ice within reach. Voila!
Globe string lights are available almost everywhere from Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target, Crate and Barrel and World Market to amazon.com, partylights.com, and hometownevolution.com (example above from etsy via Gardenista). Prices range around $15 to over $100 depending on what you’re looking for. And don’t forget white twinkle lights--drape them on a trellis or arbor, wrap them around a tree trunk or a bush, or place a strand inside a clear (or colored) glass lantern or mason jar to make a unique lantern.
2. Hang individual lightbulbs from a tree above a picnic table made gorgeous with your best dishes,
silverware, flowers and candles, as in this photo from Emmaline Bride [photo by Jose Villa, lighting by Bella Vista Designs]). Now, you’re ready for anything from a summer dinner party to a wedding party.
3. Mason jar lanterns. Take a page from Sunset magazine and Scottdale, Arizona, artist Jeff Zischke made his own lanterns out of mason jars and antique carriage lamps, placed candles inside them,
and hung them from his ramada. Sunset features a blog that shows you how to make these fun party-brightening lanterns.
4. Paper and nylon lanterns can add flair to your outdoor room. Available in many shapes and sizes, from
eco-friendly paper stars from hometownevolutioninc.com to round like these brightly
colored nylon Soji Solar Lanterns (featured in Sunset), lanterns can take your backyard from average to knockout! Hang them from tree branches or fence posts and let them glimmer and shine at your next barbecue or pool party.
5. Moroccan lanterns cast an elegant glow, lending mystery and an exotic touch to the evening, whether lit by bulbs or candles. Place them on tables, hang them from tree branches, or set them at the edge of steps to light the way for your guests. Moroccan lanterns and lights are available in a wide range of designs. Prices can range from around $20 to
$100 and much more if you want a custom order. Start your research online at Pinterest, amazon.com (source of the lantern shown above) and Pier1 and websites that specialize in Moorish and Moroccan design, such as Moorish Architectural Design.
6. DIY tin can lanterns with candles inside make a cute, affordable way to add some shimmer.
Place them on a fence, coffee table or hang them on a balcony. This tutorial from Grow Creative via scatteredthoughtsofacraftymom.com shows you how to make them.
7. Chandelier, anyone? Add a romantic twist to your next backyard getaway—hang a chandelier outdoors. Find an antique chandelier (or make your own out of seashells, glass beads, crystals, or whatever bling you
like, hang it from a tree branch or arbor (hiding the extension cords) and light up your dinner party (image courtesy Sunset).
8. Candles, Tiki torches and path lights bring a cool outdoor glow. Place candles in clear glass lanterns, stick Tiki (meaning the first man on Earth in Polynesian mythology) torches in planters, and plant solar path lights along your garden paths to add the final touches to your outdoor rooms.
Luminarias are a delightful way to light a garden path at night. Very popular in Mexico and the southwestern United States, these path lights are traditionally used during Christmas and made with lighted
candles set in sand inside a paper bag, but you can also find them ready-made in many materials and use them to dress up any outdoor party (image courtesy Sunset).