Good lighting can elevate any area of your home—including its exterior.

By Caroline Biggs
March 19, 2020

Like any other area of your home, lighting can have a big impact on your patio. "It's so important to add design-savvy lighting to a patio to create ambience during the evening hours," says designer Becky Shea. "Ambient lighting gives the feeling of warmth in an otherwise dark space, while enhancing the experience for pre-dinner cocktails, dinner, or laying low."

So how does one go about forging a stylish and ambient outdoor space with lighting? For starters, make sure all of your fixtures supply plenty of attractive, outdoor-friendly illumination. "It's crucial that they're certified to be used outdoors in wet environments and that they provide sufficient illumination at night," says designer Elizabeth Cooper of Elizabeth Cooper Design. "They should also relate to the overall aesthetic of the house's interior and exterior." Looking for more advice on how to pick out the right patio lights? Ahead, here are five more designer tips for choosing yours the way a professional would.

Related: Ways to Beautifully Upgrade Your Front Porch

Measure Accordingly

Our designer experts say the first step to the best-possible patio lighting is making sure everything fits properly. "Always measure the area that you're creating your setting in," Shea says. "If your fixture is the centerpiece, make sure it's the right diameter for the area of coverage you want the light to cast. Always measure the height of the fixture with the overall ceiling height so you know the fixture isn't hanging too low. The last thing you want is a light that can knock someone over the head!"

Consider LED Alternatives 

"If you are not able to run electricity outside, do not fret: There is a cornucopia of LED options out there for you to choose from," designer John McClain says. "A few LED lanterns placed on walls or posts will make for great perimeter lighting, while using the same lanterns on the outdoor dining or café table will achieve a more intimate feel." Attempting to light your patio's pathway? Good news: Many options are either entirely solar or battery-operated LEDs, says McClain. "Most of these options are very budget friendly and can be changed out periodically, allowing you to make changes whenever the need, or desire, arises depending on the occasion taking place."

Dimmers Matter 

"Just like interior lights, patio lights should be bright and then put on a dimmer so you can change the mood at different times of the evening," says Jessica Davis of Atelier Davis. "You don't want a ton of glare and you want to make sure if you're using LEDs that they aren't too white, and instead create more of a warm light."

Layer Your Lighting

McClain says that layering your outdoor lighting is critical. "Think of your space as containing three different planes," he says. Start with the lower plane: This may be those lanterns you love placed along the edge of the patio, or small lights that light your stairs and pathways. The next would be at body height: Lights on posts or tables. Up-lighting into trees also provides a gorgeous beam which can span from the lower plane all the way to the top level of lighting—which comes from overhead. "Lighting all three planes will give you the best effect," McClain explains.

Mix Things Up 

Your patio is rife with design potential, which is why our experts suggest using yours to experiment with different sizes and styles of lighting. "If your home has tall ceilings and doors, you can go with larger exterior lights to balance the grandeur, or incorporate contrasting silhouettes to let architectural elements shine," says Marie Flanigan of Marie Flanigan Interiors. "Patio lights with interesting finishes play off the design elements found in the rest of the home. For example, we love using copper to match gutters or an oil rubbed bronze to coordinate with door hardware."

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