No outdoor entertaining space — even one with quality furniture, beautiful landscaping and a barbecue-ready grill — is ready to take a star turn at an evening event until you add lighting.
"When you walk into a great restaurant or a summer wedding and you wonder why it feels so magical, lighting is why," says Hillary Stamm, founder of HMS Interiors in California.
You could just throw up some string lights and call it a day, of course. But to get the most of your outdoor space — whether it's an apartment balcony or a sprawling backyard with a pool and gazebo — experts suggest having multiple sources of light. "You're not trying to create a really bright space," Stamm says, "but you do need two to three sources of light, such as outdoor can lights, candles or sconces."
Jason Jorgensen, owner of Third Spring Landscape Design in Seattle, says to think in zones. What are you going to do outside? If it's reading under a covered deck, you might opt for an LED table lamp. On the other hand, "if you're dining outside, cozy low lighting works well," he says. (Think candles and string lights.)
And you'll want to take advantage of the latest technology. Putting lights on Wi-Fi-compatible timers, for example, will save energy and help you adhere to the Dark Sky initiative guidelines, says Los Angeles-based garden designer Stephanie Bartron. They encourage homeowners to only use light when needed, on the areas needed, and to make sure it's no brighter than necessary, so people can help minimize light pollution.
Here are some specific fixtures that Stamm, Jorgensen and Bartron recommend.
Stamm likes Threshold's maize outdoor lantern candle holders ($20-$30, target.com) to add texture to your outdoor space. Pair them with battery-operated flameless candles. She suggests arranging them in groups of three for a custom, layered look.
Jorgensen likes using rechargeable table lamps, such as the Poldina Pro ($169-$299, zafferanoamerica.com) or the Balad lamp ($197-$440, lumens.com). The Poldina comes in 13 colors, including dark green and copper, and the Balad comes in eight, plus it can sit on a table or be hung on an optional spike stand ($162, lumens.com).
String lights are inexpensive and weather-resistant, making them a great option in places that get severe summer storms. Stamm suggests the Feit 30-foot LED color-changing string lights ($69.99, costco.com).
"I like to run them through a space with a long string of lights," Jorgensen says, rather than around the perimeter of an area. Use wire and zip ties to hang them. "I wouldn't suspend them over a space without a supportive cable," he adds, because they can droop or swing during a storm. String lights can also be run along a fence or the fascia of a roof.
Stamm likes the globe outdoor string lights from Pottery Barn, which come in 25- or 50-foot strings; hang them alone or in groups of up to three sets with table or standing posts ($59-$248, potterybarn.com).
Bartron recommends the Atomi smart color string lights ($59.99-$99.99, costco.com), because she can control them with the Atomi app, which can be integrated with Google Assistant and Alexa. "I love that I can adjust the color, white balance and the brightness," she says. "There is also a timer/scheduling option and a simple on/off power button." Choose from 24, 36 and 48 feet.
When it comes to more permanent, wired fixtures, Stamm advises clients to purchase the best lights they can afford, because they will last longer. She loves the Warwick, an outdoor sconce with an aluminum frame and iron finish by Serena & Lily ($348-$598, serenaandlily.com). "These patina over time," she says. "They can be used well in a pool space or screened-in porch."
Jorgensen likes the Kichler Lighting medium outdoor wall lantern ($144.95, kichlerlightingexperts.com), which comes in black, bronze, aluminum and white, and the industrial-looking Carson gooseneck wall sconce ($219, rejuvenation.com), available in 13 finishes.