Lighting is one of the easiest (and least-expensive) ways to cast an enchanting spell on any outdoor space. Try these ideas when you want to illuminate a setting and create a distinctive mood.
Cocktails at sundown are more memorable when you supplement the waning daylight with Asian-inspired lanterns. These tabletop versions consist of colorful sheets of vellum paper sandwiching tall votive candles in glass holders; chopsticks hold the paper in place.
You can use oversize shells to bring a touch of the seashore -- and a bit of romantic atmosphere -- to an evening at home. We used "lion's paw" shells (Lyropecten nodosus), available inexpensively from online auctions and souvenir shops. Fill a shallow tray with sand, arrange pairs of your prettiest specimens, and place a votive candle at the center of each pair (leaving room for the flames to flicker safely). Set the tray on a low table, and enjoy a quiet drink on the patio.
Bars and buffet tables must be adequately lighted, but they're often located far from electrical outlets. An easy, inexpensive solution is to gather clear apothecary bottles and fill them with lamp oil and wicks. Arrange the bottles under a large hurricane for protection; we set these on a sturdy glass cake stand (make sure the bottles are evenly balanced on the stand).
Holiday strands trace every slat of a porch trellis; the bulbs are covered in shades made from chartreuse and turquoise vellum. The table is lighted by pillar candles, each protected by two vases (one inside the other); blue-tinted water fills the space between glasses.
Geometric "topiaries" inspired by the paper sculptures of Isamu Noguchi stand on both sides of this swimming pool. A few white plastic beach balls tied to weighted lines float in the pool like pearls cut loose from a giant strand (for safety, never cover the surface of a pool with a large number of balls).
To create this illuminating centerpiece, place a glass vase inside another that is slightly larger (secure them with floral adhesive), and then pour tinted water in between them. Pillar candles are best for this project; not only are they pretty, but their weight will further anchor the interior vase. For added light play, make a series of these centerpieces in different shades of the same hue (a few extra drops of food coloring will yield the desired contrast).
Light up a table with this sand-and-shell centerpiece. Use candle adhesive to secure slender tapers to the bottom of a clear glass vase. Carefully pour in a few inches of sand, then arrange shells on top. Besides refracting the candlelight for added ambience, the vase will protect the flames from breeze.
Flowers and candlelight are nothing new, but together they create tabletop decorations fit for relaxed summer entertaining. Place votive candles in tall glass vessels, and attach a flower (dahlias are shown here) outside each, trimming the stem to fit and tying with raffia that matches the flower. Set each display in a saucer of water to keep the flowers fresh.
No need to bring the party indoors after the sun goes down, even if your yard isn't lit. String up lights to illuminate the festivities. Don't have a place to hang them? Wooden poles anchored in flower buckets filled with garden gravel can be set up anywhere there's level ground, and they help define an outdoor gathering place.
Cast a warm glow from above. A midsummer night's meal is served on the lawn under tall maple trees strung with lanterns hanging on chains from strong branches. Small and large, these lamps hold ivory tapers, their bases disappearing in a thick layer of fresh, fragrant rose petals.
Your guests will love seeing their names in lights. These glowing place cards are votive holders wrapped in paper, inscribed on opposite sides. This way, others can read the names from across the table -- helpful if people are meeting for the first time. Cut a piece of parchment to fit around a votive holder. With a ruler and pencil, mark two guides for the names, and then write them on with a felt-tip pen. Erase pencil marks. Wrap paper around votive, and secure with double-sided tape.