As the daylight hours stretch longer, so do outdoor activities that can turn into late-night gatherings. For security, safety and a decorative touch, well-appointed exterior lighting is a homeowner’s best friend. Owner and principal designer of The Lighting Gallery, Michael Lichtenstein, talked us through the process of this priceless home feature.
How do you assess exterior lighting needs?
First and foremost, look for safety issues. Identify steps, turns, trees, dark areas… Then, look for task areas, like that space where the kids play basketball or a play set or tennis courts. Third, look for specific accents like that beautiful magnolia tree, or flowerbed or stack-stone façade—any architectural or landscaping features. All lighting design is about layers and it has to be done with a specific approach.
What about LED lights?
LED is by far the biggest game changer in outdoor lighting. It excels in cold-weather environments, is super energy efficient and has extra long life. The bulbs are completely controllable in terms of beam spreads and color temperatures. Also, the way they’re built, there are internal regulators—everything looks the same, even if it’s a hundred yards long. And because of their lifetime performance, anything that’s inaccessible should absolutely be LED, like outdoor soffit lights or floodlights up high or in a tree.
What about different colors of LED light?
The biggest misconception of LEDs is people think, “Ugh, it’s gonna look like those car headlights, that ugly blue.” That’s not that the case at all anymore. Typically, decorative bulbs will be 2700–3000 Kelvins; the lower the Kelvin number, the yellower the light and the closer to incandescent. 3000K is considered a pure white. At higher levels, 4000–5000K, it becomes cooler [colored], but also a stronger intensity, which people like for security reasons. A floodlight might be 3500–4000K. But to really scare whoever is in the backyard, go as high as 5000K. There’s no mood to those at all. Those are the “Whoa! Stop-you-in-your-tracks.”
What’s the best way to choose fixtures?
While the premise of outdoor lighting is layers, it’s not just about the type of bulb, but also the fixture. It’s a mixture of lighting that creates visual interest. A decorative wall sconce blasts light straight out whereas a path light shoots light straight down and floodlights can give a nice, tight beam spread on some stacked stone. You want to vary. Less is more. And with accents you want to be selective. A major consideration is how close the home is to the water. Think about materials because salt wins over everything. Solid brass, castings, the really tough metals…or, this sounds silly, but plastic, which does great. It might not look the prettiest up close, but it will hold up. Plastic is non-corrosive. And there are some companies, like Hanover Lantern, that have lifetime guarantees.
Know what you like and bring pics and measurements when seeing a lighting designer.
“I can’t tell you how many times we end up doing couples therapy,” Lichtenstein said. Don’t get hung-up on industry lingo, just be able to point out styles and have photos that show the areas that need lighting with corresponding dimensions.”