Outdoor Lighting Ideas: Knowing When to Break the Rules

A great outdoor lighting plan requires the same amount of design savvy and knowledge as the indoor variety. And tempting as it is, shopping for fixtures makes no sense until a few fundamentals are mapped out. So if you’re a client who has fallen in love with a specific piece, be open to alternatives based on your designer’s recommendation, because here are all the things they’re taking into consideration.

 

Function First

  • How much light does the space actually need, based on how it will be used? An old rule of thumb is to multiply the square footage by 1.5 to estimate wattage, but with CFLs and LEDs in the mix, that wattage needs to be converted to lumens, which measures the actual brightness rather than the electricity the source uses. So if your porch is 100 square feet, you’ll start with 150 watts, which converts to 2250 lumen.

  • What UL rating do the fixtures need to have? Only Wet-rated can withstand exposure to water, rain, snow, or salt air. Some fixtures labeled “indoor/outdoor” are Damp-rated and should only be used in covered areas that don’t get direct moisture.

  • Which of the three major source types (ambient, task, accent) are needed, and where should they be placed?

THE RULES

There are accepted guidelines for sizing and placing outdoor fixtures, but much will depend on the style of the exterior and the skill of the designer. Some of the most spectacular results occur when a designer breaks the rules of scale or placement, but this is definitely a “don’t try this at home” recommendation—you definitely need to know the rules before you break them!

 
CRYSTORAMA Libby Langdon for Sylvan  4-Light Outdoor Chandelier  and  1-Light Outdoor Wall Mounts

CRYSTORAMA Libby Langdon for Sylvan 4-Light Outdoor Chandelier and 1-Light Outdoor Wall Mounts

 

There are accepted guidelines for sizing and placing outdoor fixtures, but much will depend on the style of the exterior and the skill of the designer. Some of the most spectacular results occur when a designer breaks the rules of scale or placement, but this is definitely a “don’t try this at home” recommendation—you definitely need to know the rules before you break them!

CRYSTORAMA Libby Langdon for Sylvan  4-Light Outdoor Chandelier

CRYSTORAMA Libby Langdon for Sylvan 4-Light Outdoor Chandelier

  • The length of a mounted exterior door light should be approximately 1/4-1/3 the height of the door frame it flanks, and the ideal placement height is be 66” from the center of the fixture to the floor.

  • For front door or porch pendants, the most fool-proof ratio is 1/5 the height of the door, with placement height at 6” from the center of the light fixture to the top of the door frame.

  • Dining chandeliers should be about 1/3 (standard) to 1/2 the width of your table, and the measurement from the bottom of your fixture to the top of your table should be between 30 and 34 inches.

  • For a whole-room chandelier, round the length and width of the space to the nearest foot, then add them together. Convert that total to inches. (So 18” for an 8x10 room, 26” for a 12x14 room, etc.) It sounds weird, but it works!

FRESH IDEAS

  • For exterior garage door lighting, instead of the expected carriage lights flanking —or placed between— each door, consider mounting them above the doors instead.

  • Instead of one larger fixture, hang pairs or trios.

  • For multiple pendants, vary the chain heights for a Moorish vibe.

Sandy HughesComment