Tips for lighting your backyard patio

3 February, 2015

Illuminating your backyard patio properly is important for setting up a versatile space that can be used at any time of day or night – and for any occasion. The best way to think about lighting any space inside or outside your home is in layers: Using multiple types or layers of lighting makes an area feel much more three-dimensional, whereas using just one type of lighting can make the same space feel flat or dull. The three layers that are most important when lighting any space are ambient, task and accent. Here's how to use these three types of lighting for your patio:

The main type of lighting in any room is ambient, which is the all-over illumination. In indoor rooms, ambient lighting typically comes from a main light fixture in the middle of the ceiling. Light fixtures are a great idea for covered patios as well because there are a ton of options in various sizes and styles. You can even use a rustic chandelier or hanging lanterns for an extra dash of elegance. If your patio isn't covered, ambient lighting could come from strings of lights running above the patio or around a deck, or from a bright light fixture placed on the wall of the house. Even outdoor fireplaces could provide practical ambient lighting along with being decorative and useful in other ways.

The second layer of illumination is task lighting, which, as the name suggests, illuminates further any areas where you or anyone using the space will be doing any activities. In a bathroom you'd find task lighting around a mirror or in a shower, but on a patio, task lighting can be used to illuminate the area around any outdoor seating or patio bistro sets, along with paths and doorways. Use tabletop light fixtures like lanterns, candles or other lit centerpieces on your outdoor dining or coffee table to brighten up the area. Small light fixtures that follow paths or light up a pond or pool area are good for the overall aesthetic of the backyard, but they're also important for keeping yourself and your guests safe. 

The final layer of lighting in your patio area is used for accent purposes. Accent lighting is less practical and more decorative than the other two, since it's used to illuminate artwork or other pretty backyard features. Small decorative lights in your patio planters or lights directed at wrought iron artwork on the wall or in the landscaping make for a lovely third layer of brightness that draws the eye toward the patio's best features.

Mood lighting
It's possible that on certain occasions, you won't want your entire patio and backyard to be well-lit, so it's a good idea to consider mood lighting when designing your patio lighting. This is another great reason to use layered lighting – consider how your space will look with only the task and accent lights being used. Or, if you'd prefer, you can also try installing a dimmer switch on your ambient lighting fixture, which will give the whole space a soft glow.