Expert Tips for a Well-Lit Landscape

Lighting Designer Randall Whitehead shares his tips for creating an outdoor lighting plan that adds beauty, safety, and convenience to a home.


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steps & front door
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Look to the Moon

    For a naturalist lighting design, blend a number of light sources to emulate the effect of moonlight. Drape lights along pathways and low-level plantings. Mount luminaries in trees that point both up and down. "The effect is as if the area were being illuminated by a full moon," Whitehead says.

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Make a Plan

    Will the back porch double as an eating spot? Is the front walkway just to welcome visitors? "The lighting should relate to the way the outdoor spaces are going to be used," Whitehead explains. Knowing how the areas will function will help you think through switching and transformer locations, power lines, conduit, and outlets.

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Assemble a Team

    Make the most of your investment in a beautiful landscape by assembling a lighting team that includes a designer, landscaper, and contractor. Gather all the players to ensure a cohesive design.

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Keep It Simple

    Pick one style of adjustable, shielding exterior fixtures for downlighting, accent lighting, and wall-wash lighting. "Don't mix fixture types," Whitehead says. "It draws too much attention to the fixtures themselves."

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Include the Basics

    Always start with the basics -- entry and garage lights -- and install additional lighting later. "You'll keep your windows from becoming nighttime black mirrors, and you'll also make your interior spaces appear larger," Whitehead says.

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Ditch the Dimmers

    If an incandescent light is dimmed, it becomes amber and casts a sickly pall on green plants. Instead, use a daylight -- a blue color-correcting filter on outdoor lights -- which eliminates the yellow tones. "The whiter the light, the more healthy the plants look," he says.

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Plan for Switches

    Think about how you enter your home -- through the front door, through the garage, or through the mudroom -- and include a set of switches at those entry points. Also, include a switch in the master bedroom for convenience and safety so you don't have to run downstairs to turn off outdoor lights.

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Space It Out

    Whitehead's rules of thumb on spacing:

    1. Space lights far enough apart to provide safety without overkill.
    2. Light paths with luminaries under 2 feet in height that project downward.
    3. Use spotlights judiciously. Be sure to shield any in direct view to avoid glare.

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Add Layers

    A good outdoor-lighting design should consider two layers of lighting: one for when you are inside looking out and one for when you are outside.

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