Lighting for the Exterior

Lighting for the Exterior

Not strictly speaking (or actually in any way at all) interior design…however, I get asked a lot of questions about lighting for exteriors / gardens – particularly where the inside space opens out on to the garden. Clients are often looking for a flow and don’t want their newly refurbished interior to be spoilt by the exterior.

I am not a garden designer – and I can definitely not advise on planting – but I do believe that you if you are looking to create an additional room or space in the exterior then you can apply similar rules as to lighting your interior. I stand by ready to be corrected by all the garden designers out there…

One very important difference is, of course, that all lights need to be fit for purpose – so make sure they are specifically for exterior use (check their IP rating or ask your electrician). Secondly, there are (potentially) more trip hazards outside so make sure that if you are using lighting on steps or the edge of patios that you are lighting the way – as opposed to blinding the person trying to navigate the area – just think about the direction that the light is facing and how bright it is (avoid lights that point up straight into your eyes)!

In terms of similarities to interior lighting I would always advise on different layers of lighting. Firstly, task lighting i.e. to guide your way down a path or up stairs, or perhaps security lighting to come on if any movement is detected. You may wish to have a light on a sensor that comes on at dusk (for instance at the front door or back door) – or if you BBQ after dark then you may want decent lighting near the BBQ so you can see what you are grilling!

Just as in an interior you may also wish to have a focal point which is well lit – so if you have a water feature, a bridge, a particularly lovely tree or piece of sculpture this could be lit up.

Lastly, you will likely want to create some ambience, so include some lighting hidden in the planting or around decking or seating areas which just adds to the mood and is more subtle. Garlands of warm white string lights can add a really pretty feel. You can also use candles and lanterns which you can change out with the seasons.

It is lovely to be able to look out beyond your patio doors into your garden. At night, large panes of glass have a ‘black mirror’ effect – meaning you see the reflection of the interior space rather than the view beyond. If you have lighting beyond the glass, in the garden, then it prevents the black mirror effect and also draws your eye out from the inside and into the garden beyond. A well lit garden can therefore extend the sense of space from the inside, giving you the feeling of having gained an extra outside “room”.

You need to consider how the lighting will look (and work) from within the garden as well as how it looks from the house (upstairs and downstairs). It is the plants and features you want to see not the actual lights themselves (unless they are the pretty ambience creating type). Not all of the lighting will need to be electrical as there are some great solar options which you can also use to layer up the lighting in the space. Lastly, remember that a little light tends to go a long way in an outside space so you do not always need a lot to create an impact.