As anyone who has delighted in a glorious sunset will vouch, lighting is a big mood setter - especially in summer, when the warmer nights inspire after-dark outdoor social gatherings. But while hurricane lamps, patio lanterns or good old-fashioned candlelight have characterized al fresco lighting past, today's options have become much more high-tech, with solar- and LED-powered technology illuminating everything from furniture to planters.
The trend toward turning outdoor spaces into open-air living rooms is expanding lighting choices to the point that it's as common to see a floor lamp or even a chandelier on a deck as in a dining room. If it glows indoors, in other words, chances are you'll also find it outdoors.
"Great technological improvements have been made in LED technology, allowing for more diverse applications of outdoor light fixtures," says Charles Lyall, founder and owner of Eurolite in Toronto, where all of the company's indoor options are now being customized for outdoor use.
LED lighting uses about 75 per cent less energy than halogen fixtures, while solar lighting does away with electricity altogether, accounting for its rising popularity among consumers.
"Solar power is especially on trend," Lyall says. "When [run by]solar power, much of the new outdoor lighting products are capable of producing wonderful light year round."
The idea, Lyall continues, is not to flood an outdoor space with light, but to create a dim, romantic glow. "Outdoor lighting should be no more offensive than a full moon," says the retailer, an advocate of the dark-sky approach to outdoor lighting design, whereby unnatural light is kept to a minimum to allow for clear views of the stars and a reduction in light pollution, a low-voltage, environmentally friendly practice that today is the standard in Europe.
As a rule, artificial light is best used outdoors to highlight an object of interest, such as a specimen tree or garden art, suggests Steve Nadell, president of Troy Lighting Inc., a California-based company whose outdoor lighting is available to Canadians through select distributors across the country (visit www.troy-lighting.com for retailers).
"Outdoor lighting is an effective way to showcase architectural elements," he says. "There are now a variety of environmentally friendly options - such as LED path lights and LED deck lights - that allow consumers to design beautiful outdoor spaces while also being eco-conscious."
In particular, illuminated outdoor furniture and accessories, some even serving as their own light source, are hot market draws. The new President's Choice Solar Illuminated Planter, designed like a pot but as luminous as a lamp, is among the latest mass-market examples.
"Illuminated planters are hot in Europe right now and we were so impressed with a version we found in Italy that we had to recreate it ourselves," says Peter Cantley, vice-president of the lawn and garden category at Loblaw Companies Ltd. "We love the versatility of this piece: [You can]use it to house simple, contemporary boxwood plants or fill it with ice to chill bevvies on the balcony in style."
Also coming out of Italy right now, as evidenced at this year's instalment of the Salone del Mobile international furniture fair in Milan: luminous outdoor sofas, armchairs, daybeds and loungers.
A case in point was the LED-powered outdoor bench by Portuguese designer Nini Andrade Silva, whose creation combines sinuous, organic shape with urban style - a bright idea indeed.