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Six Outdoor Lighting Tips from Designer Marie Flanagan

Experrt Advise from Top Designer Marie Flanagan:

"Our approach is at once organic and highly disciplined – creativity that flows within a framework."

The beauty of a home should go beyond its four walls and spill over into the outdoors. Spruce up external living quarters with outdoor lighting. Put entryways into clear focus and draw attention to outdoor living spaces by lighting up the night. Whether it’s accenting architecture or drawing attention to a lovely landscape, outdoor lighting creates visual interest while giving a home curb appeal. We asked award-winning interior designer, Marie Flanigan, to share her insight on how to use light to transform the everyday yard into an outdoor oasis.


I believe that through design, we create a connection; thus, interior design should be a holistic extension of the home’s overall architecture. One of my favorite ways to unify interior with the exterior is through a cohesive lighting plan. It’s important to consider exterior sightlines when selecting interior statement pieces. By placing featured light fixtures at an axis point within large windows, a beautiful focus is created that can dramatically enhance the exterior elevation. Just as we intentionally layer several sources of light in an indoor room, we should also compose a thoughtful exterior lighting design that does the same. From soffit lights to accent landscape lighting, outdoor chandeliers to lanterns, and pendants - you can truly transform your outdoor living spaces. By mixing general (i.e., flush-mounts, cans) task (pendants, directional spots) and accent (sconces, chandeliers) fixtures, you can compose a functional and inviting environment that you will love to spend time in.


Begin by anchoring your furniture grouping with a statement hanging fixture. I often center an outdoor chandelier or lantern above the upholstered seating areas, creating ambiance and improving light control. Although there are exceptions to every rule, one trick I use to determine the optimal diameter of an overhead fixture is:


Climate and geography play a key role when selecting light fixtures. Are you located by the ocean with high winds and salty air that require extra-durable materials? Are you up in the mountains where lumens are regulated, and exposed bulbs can be banned to decrease light pollution and promote energy efficiency? Knowing your surroundings and how certain materials will be impacted is vital. Allowing the environment to influence materials over time can be a positive thing! I often use copper lighting and other “living finishes” like brass that will patina with exposure to air and water, giving the home authentic character and depth. I also select finishes and materials that are repeated throughout various architectural details to reinforce the overall language of the home. For instance, the door hardware, gutters, and windows should all complement each other to achieve a consistent palette.


Sconces are a lovely way to upgrade a façade. Employing sconces to flank an important feature announces its grandeur and generates an atmosphere. Try contrasting silhouettes to highlight specific design elements, like linear sconces against an arched entrance. Choose a sconce and duplicate it in different scales throughout the exterior of the house, creating a rhythm and dialogue for the exterior detailing. Don’t be afraid to mix gas and electric fixtures - gas can mark a special spot (like an entrance), while the electric version can be a great energy-saving option in lower priority areas.

The color temperature of bulbs deserves careful consideration. Usually, I specify can lights at around 2700k (for a warm but bright environment), or 3000k (for a brilliant fresh feel). LED bulbs have come a long way in recent years in their ability to provide optimal warm color temperatures paired with incredible energy efficiency and heat reduction.


Often overlooked, even the bulbs chosen for exterior lanterns, pendants, and sconces should be similar in the color temperature range to create a harmonious and effective canvas of light. The visual appearance of construction materials and decorative elements like paint can be drastically altered by the color temperature of our lighting selections. Remember: natural light will always carry a cool, blue undertone, while incandescents tend to cast a warmer yellow hue.

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