First, a few basic rules:
Take your home's architectural style into account. If you have a formal brick Colonial, for example, says David Benton, an architect at Maryland's Rill Architects, stick with traditional porch pendants and wall sconces. “I think it's always key to keep things simple,” he says. “They look more elegant that way.” If you have a house that's a bit more modern, you can play with something contemporary, or even funky or farmhouse style.
Don't undersize your lights. Do you have a large front yard? Make sure your light fixtures are large enough that they can be seen from the street. Benton says he tends to go “just a little bit larger” than he thinks he'll need to.
Think about the big picture. Once you've got the front lighting set, think about how much total lighting you want to do. “You want to err on the side of subtle,” says Mark Oxley, president of Outdoor Illumination in Bethesda, Maryland. “It's better to start with less. Then you add to it if you think it's not enough.”
Here are some suggested lights:
Plow & Hearth's Old Brooke light: Karen Olson Weaver, who specializes in exterior and landscape lighting as principal lighting designer of Olson Weaver Lighting in Alexandria, Virginia, uses gas lamps in her projects in older neighborhoods. Plow & Hearth's Old Brooke light, in three colors and sizes, is inspired by early gaslight design but uses a bulb. For sizing, Benton says a good rule of thumb for lights flanking a front door is that they should each be a quarter of the size of the door. If you only have one, it should be a third of the size of the door. ($44.95-$84.95, www. plowhearth.com)
Terrain's copper Mansard lantern: Put candles in Terrain's copper Mansard lantern and you'll get the comfort of flickering light. If you prefer to avoid the mess of fire and wax, try battery-operated LED candles, Olson Weaver suggests. “At some point, things have to be practical,” she says ($68-$98, www.shopterrain.com).
NotNeutral's Season metal lantern: “When you bring lighting outside, people are drawn to that,” Olson Weaver says. “It's an inexpensive way to create another space in your house. You could have no chairs on your terrace, and you could put a little lantern out there, and the whole party will move out there.” She likes NotNeutral's Season metal lantern (in four colors and three sizes) and says it would be a good lantern to hang on shepherd's crooks around the garden or next to a grill ($54-$162, www. allmodern.com).
Kichler's cast-brass deck light: Mark Oxley, president of Bethesda outdoor-lighting firm Outdoor Illumination, seconds Olson Weaver's recommendation to see and touch fixtures in showrooms before ordering. He also recommends buying a brand known for quality and dependability, such as Hadco or Kichler. Kichler's cast-brass deck light would add sophisticated safety lighting to stairs and decks ($76, www.kichlersuperstore.com).
Kichler's copper path lights: Path lights are a pragmatic way to create ambiance outdoors. “There are a lot of different styles that can be really functional but also be fun,” Oxley says. “But if you're doing something fun, you want to be careful because that cute little acorn light can look great one or three times, but if you put 12 of them along a walkway, it can get out of hand.” Kichler's copper path lights make for a subtle style statement ($184).
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