16 Outdoor Lighting Ideas That Won't Break the Bank

Stay outside all day and night with these illuminating fixtures that are easy to install and enjoy — no expensive rewiring required.

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May 13, 2020
By: Amanda Lecky

Photo By: Martin Cox Photography; Design By: June Scott, June Scott Design

Photo By: Howard Roberts, Liquidscapes

Photo By: Patricia Chang; Design By: Miyuki Yamaguchi, Miyuki Yamaguchi Design Studio

Photo By: Studio H Landscape Architecture

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Jennifer Cheung; Design By: Mark Tessier, Mark Tessier Landscape Architecture, Inc.

Photo By: Coreen Schmidt Photography

Photo By: LGB Interiors

Photo By: CB2

Photo By: Plow & Hearth

Shining Example

Layers of light are as important to designing a welcoming outdoor living area as they are to indoor spaces. So, just as you might include recessed overhead lights, lamps and wall sconces in your living room, outdoors you can plan to brighten walls, landscaping elements and even overhead. In this project, landscape architect June Scott installed small directional lights in a large tree to create what she calls a “moonlight” effect. Additional fixtures graze the walls, “creating shimmering patterns.” She supplemented with candle lanterns around the perimeter — an easy and affordable option that works in any space, no wiring required.

Magic Lanterns

Decorative lanterns, vintage or new, are one of the easiest and most attractive ways to add lighting to an outdoor space. Cluster them on the dining table, group them at points around the edges of the space or line them up on a wall — the options are many and varied. You can use real wax candles or outdoor LED "candles."

Buy It: Target, $40

Fine Dining

There’s nothing like a chandelier to create an elegant dining atmosphere. But wiring for an outdoor fixture can be complicated, and wet-rated styles are somewhat limited. One solution is to hang a candle chandelier from the beams of a pergola or covered patio, as designer Howard Roberts did here. Use battery-operated LED “candles” for easy operation. Add string lights radiating from the chandelier’s mounting to create a magical canopy of light above diners' heads.

Step Lightly

Lighting on steps and walkways is a smart safety measure — and, fortunately, one that won’t require you to call an electrician. Just mount these solar deck lights to any flat surface with screws included (or just place them on the ground); they’ll charge when the sun is out during the day, and turn on LED bulbs at dusk.

Buy It: Wayfair, $20.99 (Set of 4)

Instant Romance

“To create a warm, soft and romantic glow, I used pillar candles in a few spots on this front porch. The candlelight offers just the right amount of lighting, not to take away from the breathtaking view of the sunset over the hillside vineyard,” says designer Miyuki Yamaguchi. “Use battery-operated pillar candles — they’re a much safer option to enjoy from dusk till dawn,” she adds.

Vintage Charmers

A string of twinkling lights will add a little something special to any outdoor space, but vintage-style lights with exposed filaments go the extra style mile. These Edison string lights add a fun party attitude to decks and patios and look great wrapped around an outdoor umbrella.

Buy It: The Home Depot, $49.97

Holding Court(yard)

Overhead string lighting positioned at regular intervals across this verdant courtyard creates the illusion of a “roof” of light, but adds illumination without competing with the starry skyscape. “We also used copper DSE uplights for the trees, shrubs and pottery,” says landscape architect Warwick N. Hunt.

String Light Solution

Café lights add a gorgeous glow to an outdoor living space, but they can be tricky to hang if you don’t have trees or other tall objects to string them from. This freestanding solution for hanging lights uses planters and wood posts. It’s totally temporary, so it’s perfect for renters.

Flower Power

Vessels for spectacular blooms by day, lighting elements by night: These solar illuminated planters are powered by the sun, so you can display them anywhere without worrying about outlet placement. Choose color-changing mode or select a single color to complement your plantings.

Buy It: Gardener's Supply Company, $99.95

Work and Play

For a multifunctional outdoor living room that would serve as a family gathering space and a meeting area for the owners’ clients and colleagues, landscape architect Mark Tessier created an accordingly varied lighting scheme. Traditional outdoor lighting illuminates the area without making a statement, while style enters from above and below, via a flickering fire pit and paper lanterns of various sizes hung randomly throughout the space. “After dusk, these lights cast a warm, inviting glow festive for simple or elegant gatherings any time of the year,” says Tessier.

Bright Thought

Lamps aren’t only for indoors. Electric table lamps approved for outdoor use are ideal decorative accents that extend your outdoor time. This indoor/outdoor lamp takes a regular 60-watt bulb and comes with a cheery basketweave shade.

Buy It: The Home Depot, $130.28

Smart Solution

Landscape architect Mark S. Garff recalls that his client’s new patio space was poorly lit, only illuminated by a sconce next to the front door. “By installing low-wattage overhead string lights, we added ambient light on the ground plane that, rather than shining into eyes or creating hot spots, blankets the site with a warm, soft glow at night,” he says.

Firefly Effect

Here’s a fun project for kids and grownups alike: Upcycle empty bottles to create solar garden lighting. This solar bottle lantern kit consists of a rubber stopper with LED light strings attached. Just insert the light strings into a bottle of your choice and place the stopper in the top of the bottle. A small solar panel on the top charges the battery so that when dusk falls the twinkling LED lights begin to glow. Display the weatherproof project anywhere you like, year-round.

Buy It: Amazon, $14.99

Reflect on This

If you have a pool or water feature in your outdoor living area, don’t forget to take advantage of the reflective qualities of water at nighttime. String lights, as shown here, rows of lanterns or solar-powered fixtures along the edges of the pool will cast a subtle light that will appear to dance across the mirrorlike surface.

Sleek Spotlights

Candles aren’t your only choice for impromptu outdoor illumination. If you prefer a more modern look, consider these saucer-shaped oil lamps. They're made of poly/resin/stone for a modern take on midcentury terrazzo. Filled with mineral oil or citronella oil, the lamps will burn for up to eight hours.

Buy It: CB2, $19.95

Safety Counts

Highlight your deck railing, posts or stairs with these solar deck accent lights. They turn on automatically at dusk and add an attractive amber-hued ambiance for approximately eight hours after a full day of sun.

Buy It: Plow & Hearth, $39.95 (Set of 4)

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