Design professionals share their favorite outdoor lights

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No outdoor entertainment space—even one with quality furniture, beautiful landscaping, and a ready-to-grill grill—is ready to star in an evening event until you add lighting.

“When you walk into a fancy restaurant or a summer wedding and wonder why you feel so magical, lighting is the reason,” says Hilary Stamm, founder of HMS Interiors in California.

You could just throw in some string lights and call it a day, of course. But to make the most of your outdoor space—whether it’s an apartment balcony or a sprawling backyard with a pool and balcony—experts suggest having multiple sources of light. “You’re not trying to create a really bright space, but you need two or three light sources, such as outdoor canisters, candles, or sconces,” says Stam.

Think about the areas, says Jason Jorgensen, owner of Third Spring Landscape Design in Seattle. What will you do abroad? If you’re reading under a covered surface, you can opt for an LED table lamp. On the other hand, “If you’re dining outside, comfortable low light works well,” he says. (Think of candles and string lights.)

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And you’ll want to take advantage of the latest technology. Putting lights on WiFi-compatible timers, for example, will save energy and help you adhere to the Dark Sky Initiative guidelines, says Los Angeles garden designer Stephanie Bartron. They encourage homeowners to use light only when needed, in required areas, and to make sure it’s not too bright, so people can help reduce light pollution.

Here are some of the specific formulations Stamm, Jorgensen, and Bartron recommend.

Stamm loves Threshold’s Corn Candle Holders $20 – $30 USD, target.com) to add texture to your outdoor space. Pair them with battery-operated flameless candles. She suggests arranging them in groups of three for a custom layered look.

Jorgensen likes to use rechargeable table lamps, like the Poldina Pro ($169-$299), zafferanoamerica.com) or country lamp ($197 – $440), lumens.com). The Poldina comes in 13 colors, including dark green and copper, and the Balad comes in eight, plus it can sit on a table or hang on an optional nail holder ($162) lumens.com).

String lights are inexpensive and weather-resistant, making them a great choice in locations that experience severe summer storms. Stamm suggests Feit 30-Foot String Lights for Changing Color LED ($69.99, costco.com).

“I like to run them through a space with a long string of lights,” Jorgensen says, “not around the perimeter of the area.” Use wire ties and zip to hang them. “I wouldn’t hang them on a space without a supporting cable,” he adds, because they can sag or sway during a storm. String lights can also be run along a fence or ceiling fascia.

Stamm loves the outdoor globe string lights from Pottery Barn, which come in 25- or 50-foot chains; Hang them on their own or in groups of up to three with a standing table or poles ($59 – $248, potterybarn.com).

Bartron recommends the Atomi Smart Color Series Lights ($59.99 – $99.99, costco.com), because she can control them using the Atomi app, which can be integrated with Google Assistant and Alexa. “I love that I can adjust the color, white balance, and brightness,” she says. “There is also a timer/scheduling option and a simple on/off button.” Choose from 24, 36, and 48 feet.

When it comes to permanent wired fixtures, Stamm advises customers to buy the best bulbs they can afford, because they’ll last longer. She loves Warwick, the outdoor sconce with aluminum frame and iron finish by Serena & Lily ($348-$598, serenaandlily.com). “This patina over time,” she says. “It can be used well in a pool area or covered porch.”

Jorgensen Loves Kichler Lighting Medium Outdoor Wall Lantern ($144.95, kichlerlightingexperts.com), which comes in black, bronze, aluminum, and white, and the Carson Industrial-Look Wall Sconce ($219, rejuvenation.com), available in 13 finishes.

Lindsey M. Roberts is a freelance writer in North Carolina.

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