6 lighting ideas for creating cosy ambience outdoors

Cast outdoor zones in the best possible light.
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Outdoor lighting trends have come a long way and there are many chic options available that allow you to think more creatively when designing outdoor spaces

More than ever, we’re enjoying our outdoor spaces to the max, but there’s no need to head indoors when the sun goes down. With the flick of a switch (or tap of an app – we’ll get to that later), you can illuminate your garden and continue into the night, creating extra space for entertaining or providing sanctuary. Exterior lighting can also highlight all your hard work in garden beds and create a dramatic entrance to your home, as well as safely light the way.

Here, we shed some light on the best designs, ideas and advice for lighting up your exterior.

Planning your outdoor lighting design

When choosing outdoor lights, make sure they’re in-keeping with the style of your home and complement the space architecturally. Scrolling the internet can bring plenty of ideas, but can also be overwhelming. Keeping it simple is a good rule of thumb. 

“We often take cues from the architecture [of a home] to ensure the garden, and in turn the lighting, is cohesive with its surroundings,” says Anthony.  

“We’re seeing a desire for clean, uncomplicated designs that reflect a simple, minimal aesthetic. Hidden lighting effects are also huge right now – carefully placed ribbon lights and compact spike light spots buried in foliage help create a stunning feature,” says Scott.

Front door outdoor lighting
A black, minimal wall light balances the assymetrical entrance of a contemporary Melbourne home. (Credit: Photography: Alex Reinders | Styling: Sarah Elshaug)

Most durable outdoor light fitting materials

When it comes to the materials you choose, it can be dependant on your location. “If you are lucky enough to live in a coastal area or have a swimming pool, you’ll want to be sure your fittings are made from ‘marine air’ safe materials,” says Scott.

To avoid rust, corrosion or deterioration, Jade suggests choosing fittings in “316 stainless steel, copper, brass, polycarbonate, concrete or glass”. All of which are popular at the moment, along with resin and fibreglass.

“We’re seeing a growing trend towards modern designs, but in materials that would normally be perceived as ‘traditional’,” explains Scott.

Are outdoor lights worth it?

Aesthetics aside, lighting up your garden is incredibly important for safety, says Scott Robinson, exterior lighting designer at Beacon Lighting

“The first step is to create a safe space by installing security lighting for added protection and step lights to help mitigate any trip hazards,” he advises. Then map out where you plan to locate your lights, as this will affect the type of fittings you can use.”

Best outdoor lights and accessories

Outdoor light IP ratings and voltage

“IP rating is something to look for when selecting any fitting around your home,” says Scott. “If fully exposed in a garden, only use products that feature a minimum of IP44.”

It’s wise to engage an electrician if you’re using high-voltage lighting. Low-voltage (12v) lights can usually be connected yourself.

Centralised control options for outdoor lights

Anthony Wyer, landscape designer and creative director of Wyer & Co agrees. “First we identify the functional requirements of the space to ensure it is safe and practical, then we consider how each zone will be used and plan multiple switch patterns or, at times, a control system that engineers flexibility,” he says.

There are many smart options available now that allow you to set timers, including in-built security cameras with two-way communication or different colours and effects, even voice command, all via an app.

Coastal style garden with festoon and spot lighting
Festoon lights gently lead the way to this Gold Coast home. (Credit: Photography and styling: Louise Roche)

Solar-powered outdoor lights

If you are renting or you need to light areas further away from the home, such as a long driveway or garden shed (that don’t always have access to power), solar lighting may be a good solution.

“If you are in a rental, solar lighting is a great option as it still creates ambience in your outdoor area and it doesn’t require any power,” explains lighting designer Jade Peterson of Lighting Collective. “Another option, which is becoming increasingly popular is portable outdoor lighting, which is USB charged. This allows any area of the garden to be illuminated without the need to rely on the power provisions of the sun.”

6 fun outdoor lighting ideas

1. Highlight a focal point in the garden

“We look to the feature or focal point of the garden where, for example, we may highlight the curve of a palm or other feature, while introducing background light for depth, and to create atmosphere,” explains Anthony.

“Add spike lights throughout the garden to up-light some key feature trees as well as bollards to wash over small shrubs and even festoon lights woven through the garden bed can create a strong sense of depth and help bring your outdoor space to life.”

2. Create ambience with string lights

Amping up the ambience in your garden can be as simple as a few fairy lights or festoon lights strung through shrubs or a favourite tree, but why stop there? “Having a variety of different fittings with different beam angles and spread help create a sense of drama,” says Jade.

Whether you’re entertaining a crowd or just relaxing under the stars after a long day, lighting up your outdoor entertaining or dining area is an absolute must. “Indirect lights can help create a holiday vibe,” advises Scott.

Coastal outdoor fire pit with festoon lights
Once the sun sets, this garden, designed by Denise Staffa of Outside In by Denise, takes on a whole new ambience, with festoon lights and the firepit creating a party vibe. (Credit: Photography and styling: Louise Roche)

3. Make an entrance

“In the front yard, path lights draw the eye up the path and are a practical addition while creating a warm welcome,” says Scott.

“As visitors walk through the garden, they’ll be greeted by feature lighting that highlights key elements and creates visual interest. Lastly, your home’s entrance will be well lit by a decorative porch light that hints at the lighting design choices inside your home.” 

Front gate outdoor lighting
Two minimalist lights flank the custom-made rosewood gate at this coastal home on Sydney’s Lower North Shore. (Credit: Photography: Jacqui Turk | Styling: Alanna Smit)

4. Add drama with wall lights

“Wall lights are still the number one element included in exterior lighting as they are easy to install and can emit a great amount of light. While spike and step lights are easy to incorporate as they are low voltage and can be placed almost anywhere.”

White house with deck and gold wall lights
A pair of wall sconces from Alpha Lighting illuminate this outdoor deck in the evenings. (Credit: Photography: Natalie Hunfalvay | Styling: Lisa Burden)

5. Don’t forget task lighting

Task lighting is an important consideration, especially in outdoor kitchens and dining areas. “My ideal set-up would be a mix of task and ambient lighting,” says Jade.

“Making sure that you have adequate task lighting for cooking and dining while also having the option to either dim this down or turn it off completely, allowing your ambient lighting to take over. This is easily achieved with some indirect wall lights, uplighters both in the entertaining area or up-lighting a tree, then low-lighting with the use of deck lights and strip lighting.” 

Outdoor kitchen wall task lighting
Task lighting is an important consideration, especially in an outdoor kitchen or dining area. Here, a wall light illuminates the outdoor kitchen prep space. (Credit: Photography: Chris Warnes | Styling: Melinda Hartwright)

6. Statement outdoor lights

For a showstopping entertaining area, you can be more playful.

“We’re starting to see options for outdoor lighting that were once exclusively available in interior applications, such as sculptural pendants, and freestanding floor and table lamps,” shares Anthony.

Outdoor dining area pendant
Outdoor lights don’t have to be boring. Find durable statement outdoor fittings that suit the overall style of your home. (Credit: Photography: Chris Warnes | Styling: Fiona Gould)

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