The beauty of being creative with deck lighting ideas is that it means you can design an entirely different look for your garden at night. Soft, subtle lighting is easy to design and casts a warm glow around the contours of your outdoor space to give your deck an enchanting feel that transforms it at dusk.
Alternatively you can opt for more dramatic deck lighting and play with shadows to draw attention to your deck's key features and let them take center stage by using spotlights to create a magical night-time experience.
Whatever you decide, deck lighting is key to your backyard lighting ideas and you'll want to get it right. Our inspirational ideas will show you the way.
Deck lighting ideas
When you are first gathering deck ideas, draw up plans for deck lighting, taking into account the type of lighting required for each area, such as recessed lighting for deck edging ideas, uplighting to enhance plants at night time, directional spotlighting for key features you want to draw particular attention to, and backlighting for an outdoor kitchen area or barbecue.
1. Create a soft diffused glow for a subtle look
Discreet lighting can be used to create a showpiece deck with a welcoming ambience that perfectly sets the scene for entertaining in the evening garden. Deck planting ideas take on architectural qualities when up-lit, the angled lights enhancing the shape of leaves and creating interesting shadow play. Make sure you choose the best lights for illuminating plants and the trunks of trees to create the right mood.
'Where large expanses of hard landscaping are used such as decks it can be quite a challenge to light them using in-ground lights as these can cause glare and shine into the air, and ultimately end up highlighting nothing,' explains garden designer Kate Gould (opens in new tab). 'A far softer approach is to light the elements or plants around the surface which creates a warmer glow, interesting shadows and helps keep light in the garden rather than causing light pollution or annoying your neighbors.'
2. Add a statement light to illuminate your deck
Deck areas used for relaxation and entertaining can be lit in a similar way to indoor rooms with an arching statement floor lamp to add a slick contemporary look to any al fresco set-up. Choose deck lighting ideas like this to create a stunning focal point around which to base your outdoor living room and bathe the area with light.
Some of the latest versatile designs offer dimmable lights, built-in heaters and Bluetooth speakers in the base, and can be left outside all year round, so they're a practical option as well as looking good.
3. Add a coloured glow effect
Recessed lights are a good idea for lighting your way around the deck and illuminating decking walkways and even decorative deck railing ideas. They are widely available online and in-store but you will have to look a little further if you want to create more of an original look.
Adding a colored glow by installing LEDs in a contemporary deck scheme creates a stylish effect. Deck lighting has been transformed by the latest LEDs offering designer looks, including lights that change color and systems that can be controlled from up to 40 feet (12 meters) away via your smart phone.
This lets you choose the color and brightness, as well as preferred effects such as fade, strobe or flash without leaving the house. Perfect for parties!
4. Opt for a fast fix
Illuminate your deck with some super special effects for a fast night-time transformation. Choosing backyard string light ideas with warm white bulbs and looping them overhead is the quickest way to create a magical glow. Hang them from awnings, pergolas or trees for an instant makeover.
Outside of the summer months mains or battery-operated lights will give a brighter and more intense glow than solar outdoor light ideas. If you want to double the effect, look for connectable lights so you can extend the effects wherever you want. With simple connectors on the ends of each string, it's incredibly easy to create the perfect length for the space you have in mind.
5. Add a fire pit or two to the lighting mix
There's something magical at night about the light thrown out from fires. When it comes to deck lighting ideas adding a firepit, log burning brazier, outdoor fireplace or chimenea really helps to ramp up the occasion and is always a draw. It lets you extend get-togethers late into the night too as it offers warmth as well as extra light, so things don't have to end once it cools down.
Look for firepits that are made out of metal or cast iron on sturdy legs to keep them off the ground. Don’t place your fire pit directly next to any item that can easily catch fire and never use your fire pit in windy conditions, especially on a wood deck.
The flickering flames will create interesting shadows too particularly if your deck is edged by borders of planting. Enhance this effect further by adding up-lighters at the base of plants and recessed deck lights so you have lights at different levels to maximize the effect.
6. Winterize your deck for a rustic retreat
No round-up of deck lighting ideas is complete without a mention of our favorite string lights. When it comes to adding instant sparkle they just can't be beaten. Winter’s the perfect time to string up a set of twinkling lights to give your space a magical feel and wall lights amplify the effect.
Introduce an inviting log cabin feel to your deck with the right combo of lighting and furniture. Choose a set-up that works an indoor-outdoor vibe with a log burner, comfy modular sofas with shaggy throws and furs, rustic accessories and of course those all-important string lights for the finishing touch.
7. Go for sleek recessed lighting on tiered decks
Planning and installing garden lighting is all about safety, too, so illuminate pathways, steps and any other changes in deck level using low-level recessed lights, which look particularly effective when integrated into steps.
Recessed, low-level lighting in decks casts gentle light without glare. For a contemporary look, try small white or coloured LED spots set into the decked area. It's another way of adding interest to your deck too.
'If you're looking to create decking with more depth, add layers,' suggests Katie Thomas, founder of KTM Design. 'You can create a waterfall effect if you have steps by varying the widths of the step decking boards. As you gradually walk down, the decking boards become larger and longer. This will blend into your surrounding landscape beautifully and can be enhanced further by adding a runway of warm lights either side of the steps.'
8. Use lighting to enhance a focal point
If you have a split level backyard, this is your chance to create something with real wow factor and deck lighting plays a key role. You can use a lit decked area to draw the eye to a focal point such as stunning water features. You can also use a directional spotlight mounted above the feature to further enhance the look. It might need a little planning, but it will be so worth it.
As well as being important for creating the right ambience for entertaining at night (as well as lighting your way in the dark), lighting a split level garden is also a great way of adding drama to emphasize different levels. A more formal look featuring neat steps, geometric tiers and sleek walls always look smart.
It’s also a great opportunity to add distinctive deck lighting ideas like bulkhead wall lights. These flush contemporary lights have an industrial-style feel and can be placed strategically to cascade light where you most need it.
9. Keep it simple for a pared down look
Sometimes it's best to keep things simple with a single pendant light to cast a warm night-time glow over your deck. Add an outdoor mirror to pick up the light and introduce shimmering reflections.
'How best to light your patio depends on how you intend to use the space,' says Claire Wilks of Garden Trading. 'If you're lucky enough to have an area to house an outdoor living room with beautiful low-rise furniture, pouffes and outdoor scatter cushions under an awning or porch, consider hanging a single pendant light and a couple of wall lights to frame the space and throw a gentle glow without being too overwhelming or bright.'
Another great way to create a cozy living room atmosphere on your deck is to incorporate hurricane candles and lanterns throughout, and pair with strands of string lighting swagged between beams above. 'Nothing creates a lovelier outdoor lounging area like the twinkling of festoon lights mimicking the stars,' says Claire.
10. Combine several different light effects
Mix up different deck lighting ideas to achieve a contemporary looking outdoor living space. In this design by Living Gardens a central outdoor fireplace acts a ‘live’ focal point, with a real log fire adding warmth and light.
Smooth hardwood deckboards and an under-lit floating L-shaped bench lend comfort and modern style. This area is enclosed by a rendered planter with uplit bamboo, ferns and palms to soften the lines and create textural interest.
Low-level backlighting throws the foreground elements into relief and creates dramatic shadow patterns on the trellis behind.
This deck is a great example of how it pays to think of deck lighting ideas as a combination of several different elements to achieve the best results.
How do you illuminate a deck?
The best deck lighting ideas generally include a mix of elements. Choose low level recessed deck lights for practical purposes such as lighting the way and showing where deck boundaries are, especially important if there are steps leading down from the deck to the rest of the garden and you're using it at night.
Use a combination of uplighters to enhance plants at night-time and spotlights to draw attention to decorative details such as water features and sculptures.
Use festoon lights and string lights overhead to add an enchanting element. You can also weave them through potted trees and plants on the deck. Pendant lights are another way of lighting the deck from above.
To enhance the feel of an outdoor living room on your deck, firepits and fireplaces add a welcoming lighting element. Floor lamps also create a homely feel.
You may also want to consider garden security lighting for your deck – but ensure it can be easily deactivated when you are using the deck for leisure.
Where should deck lights be placed?
Adding recessed lights to your deck allows the entire space to glow, creating a central point for socializing. It's the perfect finishing touch to your deck.
It's a good idea to plan it out before you start. Recessed floor deck lights should be spaced around the perimeter of the deck about 6 feet/2 meters apart. Start by positioning lights near the deck corners, then fill the spacing between the two points with lights. You can also add lights to the rest of the deck if you want.
'Each of our decking lights is supplied with a 3 foot/1 meter cable,' say the experts at TimberTech. 'These cables can be 'daisy-chained' together to create a network of lights that covers your whole deck. Because each cable is 3 foot long, the maximum distance between two connected deck lights is 6 feet.'
You can put your decking lights closer together than that if you wish – it's up to you of course. 'Don't go overboard, though - too many lights with too little space between them will make your deck look like an airplane landing strip!'
Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Her first job on glossy magazines was at Elle, during which time a visit to the legendary La Colombe d'Or in St-Paul-de-Vence led to an interest in all things gardening. Later as lifestyle editor at Country Homes & Interiors magazine the real pull was the run of captivating country gardens that were featured.
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