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Outdoor Lighting Options Abound

Many Americans have embraced outdoor decorating, filling their yards with fluffy sofas, gleaming end tables and even outdoor rugs. But what happens when the sun goes down?

Chris Lambton, landscape designer and host of HGTV’s Going Yard, advises his clients to give as much thought to the lighting of their outdoor space as they do to the furnishings.

Forget yesterday’s glaring porch light, he says. You can now choose from a wide range of much subtler lighting options. Many are inexpensive and stylish enough to quickly turn a basic patio into a chic entertaining space.

Here Lambton and two other outdoor decorating experts — Los Angeles-based designers Jeff Andrews and Brian Patrick Flynn — offer advice on the newest, most attractive and safest options for outdoor lighting.

Indulge Your Indoor Style

Many indoor furniture designs and fabrics are now available as outdoor items, Lambton says, and the same goes for lighting. Companies are creating outdoor versions of their most popular indoor lamps and fixtures.

Flynn is a fan of outdoor chandeliers on patios or decks that are covered: “They’re an excellent way to make any humdrum outdoor space feel like an actual room.”

But, he says, choose wisely: “To get them right, you’ve got to take scale and proportion into consideration. Install one that’s too small, and it will look like an afterthought. Install one that’s too big or hangs too low, and it will completely overwhelm the space.”

Flynn also recommends using floor lamps and table lamps designed for outdoor use. Prices vary widely (from more than $1,000 to less than $100), so he suggests hunting online for deals and the perfect style.

Another option: Create your own outdoor fixture. Many electricians can rewire your favorite indoor lighting to be safely used outside, Lambton says. “Search for whatever fixture you like,” he says, “then put an outdoor conduit in and attach it to a switch.”

Go Vintage

“Vintage is always a key to good lighting,” Andrews says, “indoors and outdoors.”

“Recently I got these really cool, inexpensive Moroccan lanterns” with a vintage look. Rather than simply displaying them on a table, he hung them from outdoor branches. “I had them wired for outside and hid the wires in the trees,” he explains.

When the vintage lanterns glow from the tree branches at night, it gives the yard a “romantic and kind of European feel.”

Forget the Flood Light

Rather than one or two bright porch lights, all three designers suggest using a variety of softer lights.

Lambton has used faux stone blocks with LED lights hidden inside, alongside traditional lighting. Flynn has done the same with illuminated planters. “Sneaking in ambient light in unexpected ways is something I love to do,” Flynn says. “In Los Angeles, I turned the middle of a family’s Los Feliz backyard into a full-fledged family room, comfy sectional sofa and all. To bring light to the space, I used modern, plastic planters that light up. They have cords on the back of them, and connect to exterior outlets. Once turned on, a light bulb inside the transparent plastic illuminates and the entire area glows softly. This is so genius because it requires no electrician whatsoever.”

Even simpler options: thin strips of lights that can be attached along the underside of deck railings, or strands of lights in the shape of everything from simple bulbs to stars, hearts or jalapeno peppers strung overhead.

No matter which style of light you choose, Andrews says, add dimmers to your outdoor light switches. “Everything in the world,” he says, “needs to be on a dimmer.”

Go Beyond Deck or Patio

Don’t forget to light the far reaches of your yard, Lambton says. It will make your property feel bigger and banish the feeling of being enveloped by darkness when you entertain outside.

It costs little to place a few small, solar-powered lights at the bases of trees and shrubs. He also suggests attaching a few to tree branches. “And I love to uplight ornamental grasses,” Lambton says. “It adds nice depth to the yard.”

Don’t Forget the Fire

Fire pits of all sizes — from huge outdoor fireplaces to small tabletop containers — provide golden, flickering light for your outdoor space.

Display a collection of pillar candles in varying sizes (battery-powered or real), either clustered on their own or tucked inside large, glass lanterns to “add a bit of sparkle” to your yard, Andrews says.

Or create an outdoor chandelier with candles: “I tend to try my hand at rustic do-it-yourself ideas,” Flynn says. “In my own outdoor dining room, I suspended a candelabra made from reclaimed pine planks, rope, mason jars and tea lights above the dining table. When my family comes over for pizza night, it creates the perfect ambience.”

Combine Safety and Beauty

Home improvement stores and websites offer a huge array of options for lighting outdoor pathways and deck stairs, adding beauty while making your space safer.

And what about the safety of leaving lighting out in all weather? If it’s outdoor-rated, Andrews says, it should be fine. But keep your climate in mind.

Flynn prefers not to leave “most lighting sources out year-round unless an outdoor space is covered,” he says. “The only type of lighting I’m worry-free about for the outdoors is festival-style string lights. They’re pretty much the same thing as holiday twinkle lights. My favorite styles are strands with mini-lanterns; they really help light the perimeter of a space.”