With endless outdoor lighting options now available, it’s time to consider lighting up your outside living space. Find out what is on offer, what is possible and what you should consider at the planning stages.
The trend for vast expanses of glass in homes often means looking out into a mass of darkness at night, which sometimes feels rather sinister. This can be easily mitigated by lighting the adjacent outside space or even inserting low-level lighting around ones garden boundary, offering a subconscious secure feel. The good news is, laying low-voltage cable is easy and inexpensive as it doesn’t have to be deeply buried or protected (go through it with a spade and it wouldn’t hurt a mouse), so introducing subtle light fittings isn’t a big deal.
Safety and security aside, lighting really can transform a space. With the continued development of LED lighting, which allows you to use less expensive, tiny and discreet light fittings that don’t imitate Runway Two at Heathrow! Ideas about outdoor lighting are fast changing.
LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs (called lamps in the trade), are not only more cost-efficient to run, but they last far longer than halogen (roughly about 5-10 times!) with some lasting about 50,000 hours. The light quality and colour is now warm, white and similar to halogen, although halogen lamps give out more heat that can discolour nearby foliage.
Several manufacturers make tiny fittings (around 50mm / 2 inch diameter) with a one-watt LED, which provide a particularly efficient light output for their size and are beautifully discreet to use. When choosing your lamps and fittings, do check your chosen lamps are replaceable, as with some (usually less expensive) fittings you have to jettison the whole thing when the lamp goes.
So, do you employ a lighting designer or do you go it alone with an electrician? We strongly recommend using a designer. You can often tell if a designer has been used; the effects are subtle and there isn’t a chance of stumbling into something you’d rather not!
When you start to contemplate your exterior lighting scheme, the first priority is determining the core reason behind your lighting. Security, access, theatre and activity are the main functions. For instance, the fittings by your entrance may be proximity lights alerting you of someone coming and will provide safe access. At the same time, you might want to focus on the house walls by the entrance to enhance an attractive elevation and to add a bit of lighting ‘theatre’. Down lighters fixed in the pergola over your outdoor dining area will increase the time that you spend in your garden each year. Don’t forget about zoning the lights too, so some come on every night and others only when you flick a switch.
Deciding on the fittings is the fun part. If you are lighting a garden path, you might go for jazzy flush aluminium or slick stainless-steel circular lights just 50mm (2in) in diameter to recess into your paving. If your path is already built (making retrofitting a little complicated), you could place them in the adjacent border.
Another option for a path may be to up light the trees on either side using a spiked light or a spot. The angle of light the lamp throws can vary; a 60o angle will flood a wide area (such as a busy shrub), whereas a 15o angle produces a slim, narrow beam – perhaps to highlight a narrow pencil cypress. In between, a 30o lamp (a popular choice) will throw a pronounced medium beam of light. Another approach would be to create a moonlit effect by mounting a luminaire high up in a tree near the path, giving a smooth and gentle light wash to wash the surface. Highlighting steps is also important, small flush circular lights set into an adjacent wall always works well.
As for theatrical effects, apart from spotlighting gates or other features you could consider shadow lighting; which is throwing light onto trees or sculptures to cast a shadow onto a wall behind to add drama. Subtler but as effective, mirror lighting can look spectacular; it is created by illuminating a far off object, such as a tree or sculpture, which is then reflected in the adjacent pool.
If you have a favourite feature, such as a bench or urn, installing cross lighting, by placing two spot lights in front to either side works well too. Back lighting, created by lighting behind the focal point, makes the items silhouette stand out.