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Nights All Aglow: Outdoor Lighting

Martha Stewart Living, December 2007

Holiday memories are imbued with a certain warmth, even though the celebrations occur on the coldest nights of the year. Light also permeates these events, playing a major role in both ritual and decor.

Centuries ago, candles were invaluable not just for practical reasons but also for their ability to enhance moods and cut through the gloom of winter. A Christmas tree bedecked with lighted candles was a treasured tradition, though it could be savored for only a few moments; families couldn't safely enjoy such a spectacle for extended periods until electrical lights designed specifically for trees became available in 1901.

Although interiors have long been radiant with holiday light, illuminating the outside of houses didn't become popular until the late 1940s. Moved by decorating trees in downtown squares, homeowners wanted their own outdoor displays. What better way to share the spirit of the season than to brighten the way of all who passed by?

Ornamental lights have weathered many fads over the years, from chunky multicolored bulbs to tiny twinklers. But no matter the current trend, the neatly illuminated outline of a house and shrubs covered in a maze of strands remains as much a part of Christmas as gifts under the tree.

Whether your holiday is blustery or balmy, it's easy to take this season's decorations beyond the eaves. Inspired by displays in snowy climates from New York to Germany, as well as those devised by lighting enthusiast Brett Laymance in his Southern California garden, these designs will sparkle no matter where you live. Ranging  from simple to intricate, they make use of readily available materials and can be installed year after year. The projects may take a little time to create, but when you gather friends and family for a helping hand, you may start a beloved holiday tradition -- and that makes for the warmest memories of all.

Light Installation Tips
1. Test all lights before beginning a project, and inspect strands for broken or missing bulbs; discard any with worn insulation.

2. Plan the configuration so the plug end is near your electrical source.

3. Keep lights plugged in as you work with them so you can see the effect you're creating as you proceed. Rope lights are also more pliable when they're warm.

4. Check the light strands' packaging to see how many you can safely string together.

5. Take extra caution when using ladders in winter conditions. Do not climb one if it is not securely situated.

6. Buy lights and extension cords rated for outdoor use (Underwriters Laboratories puts green holographic tags on light strings meant only for indoor use; red tags indicate the light strings can be used inside and out). Be sure outdoor outlets are equipped with ground fault interrupter (GFI) switches.

Outdoor Lighting How-Tos
Icicles How-To
Winter Arrangement How-To
Stars How-To
Hanging Trees How-To
Shooting Stars How-To
Edgers How-To

Comments (8)

  • 11 Nov, 2010

    I bought 5 three ft. dowels from Home Depot and the plastic sinches. The star came out great. Now I have to put the rope lights on it. However, I have to figure out how to secure it to the tree. We have a cluster of birch trees a feew feet apart so it will be a challenge. After completing the project, I hope it looks close to the picture. What a beautiful idea. Our house is the smallest on the block, but maybe it will be the prettiest this Christmas.

  • 8 Dec, 2007

    I made the stars from bamboo garden stakes I got at Lowes. They came in 4ft lengths which I cut to 2ft. I duct taped them together using the instructions above (Outdoor lighting how-to's - stars - how to). I then spray painted them silver, covered them with lights (I used the string lights) which I also duct taped down. I went around the outside of the star 2 times. My star's tail has 3 strands of lights. They looked beautiful! I love them.

  • 7 Dec, 2007

    About the star shaped wreath form, you can make it yourself. Just make sure you use some really heavy wire that does not bend very easy. The lights will cover up most of the wire anyway.

  • 4 Dec, 2007

    Chicklette, I had that SAME problem with something in last year's December issue!

  • 25 Nov, 2007

    Where do you find the star shaped wreath form I have looked at both Michael's and Lowe's I looked on Martha Stewart.com and only found a company that Martha uses for wreath forms called OregonPine. When I went there they only had candy cane wreath forms and circular wreath forms. Does Martha have these custom made specially for her. If so, where can we get them? Please, somebody help? I've got my church wanting to put these up in the front of the building but we can't find the supplies.

  • 23 Nov, 2007

    If you click on the "stars" link below you will find a way to make stars of any size out of inexpenxive bamboo stakes.

    Paul

  • 20 Nov, 2007

    Oh that's just great! I hate it when you find a good thing, you want to do it, and the place you find it, (this magazine) doesn't tell you WHERE you can find it. Then you DO find it and they are out!

  • 20 Nov, 2007

    Do you know of a supplier that carries these star shaped frames? The only one I've been able to locate, Maine Wreath Co., is already sold out for the season.