From flickering gas lanterns at courtyard fetes to the twinkling pageantry of Celebration in the Oaks, many of our city's outdoor festivities boast lovely, creative mood lighting. With new technology and a little ingenuity, it's possible to pull that ethereal atmosphere into the most mundane backyard barbecues. A good lighting scheme can bring intimacy, excitement and exactly the right atmosphere to a party, says Jamie Larson, an event planner with NOLA Renaissance. "Outdoor lighting keeps the mind alert and interested in what's going on," she says. "It can pretty much create whatever mood you're looking for."
LED lights are at the eco-conscious forefront, as they use 75 percent less energy than traditional bulbs and have much longer lifespans, meaning that for many homeowners, the initial installation is the only upkeep required. Otis Alexander, vice president of Lighting Inc., says LED lights have developed significantly in recent years as a feasible outdoor lighting option. "The big complaint with LED lighting was that the colors were off; for example, white lights had a kind of bluish tint," he says. "Nowadays, the technology is such that the color rendition is perfect."
It takes more money and effort, but Alexander also offers a special installation in which the bricks in a patio, walkway or wall are replaced with similarly shaped LED lights, creating a mosaic lighting effect similar to that of Champions Square next to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Because LEDs last so long, "you're not going to be up there screwing in light bulbs on a hot August night," Alexander says. "The whole point of lighting and entertaining is so you can enjoy a leisurely weekend."
LEDs gradually fade in brilliance as they reach the end of their lives, meaning you generally can anticipate when a new one is needed instead of having it suddenly burn out in the middle of your family's twilight bocce ball tournament. LEDs are replacing candlelight in traditional vessels like classic tiki torches and floating votives for pools and fountains. However, traditionalists may prefer outdoor fireplaces and lanterns like those by EcoSmartFire or Brasa, which burn eco-friendly bioethanol.
Lighting also can highlight home and garden features that might otherwise fade into the background. "We can position ground lamps so that they cast light upwards against a house to show off interesting structures and texture," Alexander says. One popular option is RGB tape, a thin, flexible strip studded with LEDs that can make walkways glow, bring festive detail to the base of a backyard bar or provide backlight for an outdoor TV. Resistant to water and weather, RGB tape boasts the long life of traditional LED lights and can be programmed to change colors, "effectively bringing a lot of the same elements of a fancy hotel to your backyard," Alexander says.
A well-planned color scheme can be instrumental in creating the desired vibe. "Soft, amber tones make for a romantic, candlelit feel, while oranges and reds create excitement," Larson says. She encourages the use of more than one lighting scheme to "add depth to the mood." This effect is more easily achieved with pre-programmed lighting.
LEDs are quickly finding their way into traditional holiday light strands and festoon strip lighting, which Larson touts as tried-and-true methods for incorporating drama. "People use this to bring 'the sky' in," she says, referring to the lights' similarities to twinkling stars. PAR can lights (often used in stage productions) are another popular choice for her clients. They come with simple color gel overlays and can draw guests' attention to an important section of the party, like a food or gift display, creating what Larson calls a "focus wall."
For parties and events with a specific theme, she is partial to Gobo lighting as a wallet-friendly option. Gobos are colored projector lights that display a customized image or message on whatever surface or structure they're aimed toward.
In addition to bringing aesthetic improvements, outdoor lighting also has safety benefits. Motion-activated lights in doorways, corners and carports are an easy, energy-conscious way to bring visibility to your home's perimeter. Because they turn off when not in use, they conserve more energy than a bulb linked to a switch and double as a security feature by alerting residents to outdoor activity.