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Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Gardens & Exteriors » Lighting for Porch & Patio

Lighting for Porch & Patio

Landscape lighting starts at the front door, and extends to garden paths, garage, and driveway. By Mary Ellen Polson

    Low bell lights add atmosphere and safety to terraced steps. (Photo: Chris Considine)

    The front entry is the focal point for a collected suite that extends to the porch, garage, walks, paths, driveway, and back door. Period-style choices run from authentic colonial tin and seed-glass lanterns to mid-century modern sconces in aluminum and frosted glass. You don’t necessarily have to choose fixtures from the same suite, but each selection should be related to the others in terms of overall style, metals, and finishes.

    The Door

    A pendant or pair of sconces at the front door should be the grandest fixtures on the façade. A common mistake, many experts say, is choosing fixtures that are too small. Sconces should be roughly 20 to 25 percent of the door height (up to 24″ for an 8′ door). If you’ve chosen just a single dramatic sconce, mount it on the same side as the doorknob and lock for visibility and safety. Mount lights slightly above average eye height, between 5’6″ and 6′ above the threshold.

    Rejuvenation’s ‘Morris’ wall brackets hang on either side of the entry.

    Single overhead or pendant lights work especially well for tall or double doors under a covered entry. With a statement pendant, go bigger—up to 30 percent of the door height or a little more. For a grand 12′-high door, that means choosing a pendant 42″ to 48″ high, and perhaps as much in diameter, especially if the entry is double. Consider a back door light slightly smaller in scale but in the same style as the front. Sconces on either side of glass or French doors keeps them from looking like empty mirrors at night.


    If the garage is attached, take care that any lighting is secondary to the lighting at the front door in terms of scale and impact. Because single garages are nearly as wide as they are tall, paired brackets near the top on either side are symmetrical and useful. For separate garages, you have leeway to install a projecting fixture, like an industrial gooseneck style, over the top at the center. For double garages, use multiples—say, three goosenecks or down brackets. The more bays, the more care should be taken to keep lighting functional without creating a neighborhood light show.

    Utilitarian outdoor fixtures look appropriate almost anywhere; this is Rejuvenation’s ‘Carson.’

    Deck & Patio

    Use footlights (installed at about knee height) for a subtle, low-impact look that still helps you see where you’re going. Compact and usually shielded by cups or mini overhangs so light isn’t directed upward, they tuck unobtrusively against walls, columns, or posts.


    Post lights are traditional, but a single tall light can cast shadows that leave parts of the walk in darkness. Consider using two or more posts, or a series of lights. Space path lights 3′ to 6′ apart. Low-voltage fixtures run off a transformer that plugs into a standard wall outlet. Solar-powered lights tend to be cheaper, but many require long pre-charging times (12 hours of initial solar exposure, for example). Hard-wired systems go just about anywhere: along walls, at ground level, or mounted on a column. They’re also a good choice for decks and patios.

    Tone It Down

    More communities are passing “dark sky” ordinances. Here are tips to keep lights on low without sacrificing style or function.

    • Use compact fluorescents (CFLs) to save energy, but disguise them in a period-friendly way by trimming fixtures with seeded, frosted, translucent, or art glass.
    • Instead of using a brighter bulb in a too-small fixture, replace it with a larger fixture that makes the most of a low-wattage bulb. To light a large area, install two or three lights with low-wattage bulbs.
    • Shield or direct light downward to minimize glare and light pollution. (Path lights and footlights work best when facing downward, as does much ambient lighting.)
    • Use architectural lighting with deep overhangs to minimize the amount of light cast skyward.
    Published in: Old-House Interiors July/August 2013

    { 1 comment }

    lauri lombardi May 16, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    let me just take this opportunity to implore you not to go contemporary, as a few of my favorites have. I subscribe to Old House Journal and Old House Interiors because i love old houses. This Old House is still a good magazine, but has really started leaning toward ‘trendy’–which i do not care for. Victorian Homes, as of late, has been featuring contemporary decor, and Cottages and Bungalows–which used to be about bungalow charm, is now all girlie/cutesy.

    So please don’t change. Stay old! You’re doing a great job!

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