The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

Avoid Bad Outdoor Lighting [The Secret to Achieving Timeless Style]

Timeless style: Its something we're all looking to achieve. But what does timeless style have to do with avoiding bad lighting?

Bad lighting comes and goes, but a timeless look will always read as elegant and bespoke.

When we're building an outdoor lighting system, we want the system to stand the test of time. And by stand the test of time we aren't just talking about how the lighting system is engineered. The lights also need to stand up aesthetically. 

The lighting design, what we actually see and experience at night, needs to look as beautiful 20 years from now as it does the very first night the lights turn on. A timeless look is important because it will ensure your lighting design will age gracefully and be appreciated throughout its lifetime.


Avoid bad lighting

The best advice we can give is simple: avoid bad lighting. However, avoiding the strange lighting fads and chintzy fixtures that come and go can be a challenging. This is especially difficult if you're not an outdoor lighting designer. What looks great now might look awful in a few short years. 

Don't select flashy fixtures

Picking out the right fixtures for your landscape is critical. During the day, your landscape lighting fixtures stand out. Path lights in particular will be noticed by everyone who visits your home, day or night.

Path light selection should be approached with great care. We highly recommend choosing something with an elegant silhouette that blends into the landscape.


Fancy path lights with frills and odd shapes can be tempting. But remember, that 30" tall path light shaped like your favorite flower will be the first thing everyone notices when they visit your home.

A path light with a lot of color or an unusual shape will make a lot of visual noise. There is nothing wrong with wanting the neighbors to look over at your landscape when they pass by. It takes a lot of work to keep your property maintained and looking beautiful. However, lets be sure the neighbors are looking at your home for the right reasons! Don't let your landscape lighting fixtures turn your yard into an eye sore. 

If your struggling to find the right path light, try and opt for a fixture that looks dignified yet unassuming. A path light with timeless style will blend into the landscape and be appreciated for its simple refinement.

Light with purpose

Light fixtures should be used for their intended purpose. Lighting with purpose really can't be understated enough.

Nothing ages / looks worse than a fixture attempting to perform a job it isn't intended for.

For example, path lights are meant for lighting paths. There is rarely a reason to attempt to use path lights for anything other than path lighting. 

There is a saying we use quite often: we design with light, not fixtures. When we are designing, we ask ourselves what it is we want to see illuminated, then prescribe the right kind of fixture to necessitate the appropriate lighting effect.

Do not design with fixtures

I've seen so many examples of fixtures used where they shouldn't be. Whenever I see these odd lighting applications, I can see how whoever installed the lights or designed the layout had good intentions. Unfortunately, awkward lighting choices can be unforgiving. 

Here is a quick list of real world examples I've come across where fixtures were being used in odd ways that contributed to a poor design.

  • Directional up lights are not path lights. Do not try shooting a directional up light across a path way. It will not look cool and modern.
  • Path lights are not rail lights. I once saw a string of path lights zip-tied to the railing of a staircase. It did not look pretty.
  •  Under cap lights are not up lights. Under cap lights are meant to accent walls and pillars, not trees. The photo below is a great demonstration of what I mean.


Please don't misunderstand me. I am all for experimenting and learning how to create different lighting effects. We get to have fun playing with different lighting effects in our office all the time. After all, lighting is our companies only focus.

However, I do think its important to maintain some perspective. Your home's lighting shouldn't be an experiment. Don't leave your home's lighting in the hands of just anyone

When it comes right down to it, if there isn't a good way to light something, its OK to leave it alone. Don't ever feel like you need to have every single element in your landscape captured. In fact, we often leave things quite in our lighting designs. Shadows add contrast and drama. The shadows and dark areas in between the light are just as important to the lighting design as the light itself. 

The design

The lighting design is the most important aspect when you're working to create an outdoor space that will be enjoyed for the years to come.

If the lighting design isn't working for us here, then whats the point of doing outdoor lighting at all?


The single biggest piece of advice I can give to help you achieve a timeless outdoor lighting design is to focus on lighting around the areas where you spend the most time. This is where your lighting will be enjoyed the most. 

If you want to know where to get started with your own lighting project, I'd recommend the back patio. Do yourself a kindness and be sure your lighting is always appreciated where you'll be enjoying. The front yard we light for everyone else. However, the backyard we light for us and our own enjoyment.

The back patio can be a place for a romantic evening, for gathering with family and friends, or for quite personal reflection. Your outdoor living space is your escape, its your own personal haven. If your going to do outdoor lighting, this is the place to do it right. 

Functional lighting

Functional task lighting is a must. A light to see by can make all the difference when you're trying to enjoy your evening. Down lighting is a great solution for a quite night. Down lighting is done by fixing a fixture called a down light in high up place (in a tree or under the soffit of a home).

Down lighting casts a soft light over the whole patio area. Bathing your outdoor sanctuary in soft subtle elegance with down lighting can be, aesthetically, quite effective.

Keith Patio Water Mark

The best outdoor lighting is an aesthetic joy to be around. In fact, you know your lighting is working when you start to forget about it. Tranquil lighting never takes center stage, its there to accent and help bring your living area to life. If you want to avoid bad lighting, just remember, less is more. 

Want to avoid bad lighting with your lighting project? 

If you are located in Utah and have an upcoming project you’d like help with, call us at (801)440-7647 to schedule a free consultation. 

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 and beyond.


Landscape Lighting Design | Outdoor Living Space