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The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

Patio String Lights for Beauty [How to Hang Bistro & Cafe Lights]

It can be challenging to find a solution for lighting your outdoor space. How do you create a functional light source that doesn't sacrifice ambiance?

This challenge is one of the reasons why string lights have gained such popularity in recent years. They are a highly versatile lighting solution that provide functional light to see, while also accommodating our need for beautiful ambient light to set the mood.

It doesn't matter if you call them string lights, cafe lights, bistro lights, or some other name, this style of lighting has found its hold in the world of outdoor lighting. This is perhaps why they have also become popular with many of our clients.

The other day a client asked me about finding a creative way to add some cafe lights for her backyard. She was in love with the idea but just wasn't sure how to where they should go. When I stepped into her backyard, I could see her dilemma. Her space didn't have any obvious place or way for cafe lights to be easily incorporated.

We did eventually come up with a creative solution. 

This problem of where and how to add string lights prompted me to write this blog. Its my hope that it will help those getting ready to start a lighting project better understand some general design concepts concerning string lights. 


Why String Lights?

Its true that string lights can transform your outdoor living  space into something truly magical. However, problems often occur when concept meets reality. I've seen countless well meant DIY string light projects fall short of their intended mark.  The real challenge can be figuring out how to incorporate string lights in a way that will work for your unique outdoor living space. 

I'm sure you have lots of questions. 

How should the strands be arranged? How high off the ground should they hang?

How will I keep my string light concept from turning into a sad Pinterest fail?


Lighting Question

My question for you, dear reader, the question I want you to ask yourself, is why string lights? 

In the world of professional outdoor lighting design, my first job is learning more about the outdoor space, the client, and the relationship between the two.

There are two questions I always ask my clients when we first meet: why light, and how do you enjoy spending time in your outdoor living space?

People have said to me that they want outdoor lighting for the beauty it adds to their home and landscape. Some want lighting for added security, while others want it for entertaining guests.

People's answers help direct me in my approach to illuminating their outdoor living space. Its important I ask so my design can balance their desires and how there space is going to be used. 

This is why I want you to first ask yourself the same question: why string lights?

Why do you want string lights? How do you use your outdoor living space? What are string lights going to contribute to the way you enjoy spending time out on the patio?

There are countless ways a space can be lit. Be sure that cafe style bistro string lights are the right one for you.

Looking to add beautiful light to your patio without string lights? Click here for more on what moonlighting can do for your patio space. 


Rules of Thumb for Effective String Lighting Approaches

Here are some guidelines for stringing bistro lights over your outdoor living space. These are the kinds of things that set amazing string light displays apart. 

  • Be Purposeful in Your Application

String lights are meant to be strung up above/over a space like a patio or deck, or larger entertaining space to provide functional lighting while also providing a sense of occasion. This is why string lights are so great for entertaining, and why dinning establishments use them so readily over their outdoor patios. If you're going to add string lights, be sure they are used for their intended purpose.

I've seen bistro lights used in some pretty interesting ways. While I commend creativity, sometimes people do some pretty odd things with string lights. 

Just the other day I saw bistro lights woven through half the lattice work of the fence at the back of someone's property. I'm not exactly sure what the purpose or intention was. Perhaps they were trying to define the boarder of their property at night? 

If you aren't stringing bistros over a space that is used for entertaining, enjoying a meal, or lounging around with friends and family, then there is probably a better lighting solution out there for what you are trying to create. Don't try and fit a square peg in a round hole.

  • Don't limit yourself to pre-cut lengths

There are bistros that can be purchased at local big box stores. However, these lights are limiting. These lights can work for quick solution, but they come in pre-cut lengths. This can be a problem if the display you have planned requires more or less cord length than what the box provided. 

If you[re looking for a custom fit, something that will be beautifully tailored to the space the way you want it, keep away from pre-cut lengths. 

Have you ever seen when someone's bistro lights have a 7 foot tail  hanging limp at the end of the run? Or perhaps the cords all dipped too far down in their swag?

I'd caution people to be selective with what kind of bistro strands they choose to use.  I recommend choosing something that will last for the long term. 

  • Straight or Swagged?

This is an excellent question, should the light strands be straight or swagged? Should they be pulled taught or allowed to dip in large bows?

With the exception of certain commercial or contemporary projects, the swagged look is a must.

In addition to looking great, it is also more practical for long term use. The swag allows the strands to have some give, which in a wind storm, is a good thing. Bistro lights need to have some give so they don't pull or place stress on their anchoring points. 

The hurdle many face with swagging string lights is trying to make them even so they all look uniform.

When the strands aren't evenly swagged, even stand out for the wrong reason. Even if they are only off by a little, it appears skewed. When it comes to swagging string lights, it really is best to take the time to be sure they will all look even.

  • Balance

The balance and composition of string lights can be tough to figure out. The challenge isn't just figuring out a pattern, or deciding how far apart to have the light strands spaced. 

Also consider how the lights are going to fit or blend into your outdoor living space. For example, if you have a beautiful view of the salt lake valley from your back patio, then be sure your bistro lights aren't going to obstruct your view looking out the back window. 

Outdoor lighting is enjoyed 90% of the time from inside the home. 



Remember, bistro lights are meant to instill a festive atmosphere, so have fun with it! If you are struggling or not sure how to approach a string lighting project, dont be afraid to get in contact with your local outdoor lighting designer. They have to knowledge and tools at their disposal to ensure your project turns out as great as you could have hoped. They'll love hearing your ideas and learning about your project. After all, lighting is all they do. 


Landscape Lighting Makes All The Difference

At Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah, the art of outdoor illumination is a real passion we work to perfect. Designing elegantly bespoke landscape lighting systems is simply all we do. For over 15 years, our award winning team of designers and craftsmen have striven to bring the best outdoor lighting experience possible to people's homes and businesses across the Wasatch Front & beyond. 

Located in Midvale, Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah installs, maintains, and repairs lighting systems throughout Utah's residential areas, including Salt Lake City, Park City, Draper, Davis, and Utah Counties.

If you have an upcoming project you'd like help with, call (801)440-7647 for more information, schedule a free consultation, or feel free to simply fill out a contact form on our website, www.utahlights.com

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