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Leviton Home Solutions

HouzzMarianne Lipanovich, Houzz
Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish.


The garden at night can be magical. But we humans aren’t the best at seeing in the dark, so it also can be dangerous, especially if you have stairways, steps or uneven surfaces. With the right lighting, though, you can turn these potential problem areas into highlights of your nighttime landscape.

Ideally you should have sufficient lighting along stairways and near steps to allow you to walk safely, but not so much light that your yard ends up resembling a well-lit parking lot. It might be as simple as adding a row of lights along one side. But if your lighting can also add interest and a sense of design to your overall space, so much the better.

When you’re planning for stairs and steps to your walkways and outdoor rooms, think about the lighting options — from downlights and sidelights to those set in the risers or built into the railings and banisters — that might make your landscape even more special.

The Taunton Press, Inc., original photo on Houzz
The Taunton Press, Inc., original photo on Houzz

Rising to the occasion

Stairway lighting can be ordinary — or it can be a work of art. Geometric cutouts in each riser allow plenty of light through to illuminate the steps here, but all you really notice are the different patterns. Repeating one pattern on every other riser keeps the design from becoming too busy.

For a narrow stairway, a single light centered in each riser may be sufficient.

But if you’re lighting a wider expanse, spacing a series of lights along each riser is a better option.

Long, low steps can be especially tricky to navigate at night. Adding a light that extends the length of each riser ensures that you and your guests won’t trip over an unexpected step up or down.

Andrew J Coleman, original photo on Houzz
Andrew J Coleman, original photo on Houzz

Keeping things simple

Sometimes all that’s needed are light fixtures alongside the steps. The style of these outdoor lights fits in well with the overall garden, so they’re equally decorative during daylight hours.

Other simple-to-install options that work especially well for decks include banister cap lights, rope lights and downlights built into the posts. Most of these accessories are easy to find, and retrofitting an existing deck stairway should be relatively easy.

Looking down

Lights that shine downward rather than up or out create soft pools of light along a stairway. There’s enough light to let you see where you’re going, but it’s not jarring or shining in your face. You don’t need to light every tread. Instead, aim for just enough light to keep things safe while allowing the next lit area to draw you farther up (or down).

John Kraemer & Sons, original photo on Houzz
John Kraemer & Sons, original photo on Houzz

Looking sideways

Sidelights will cast a glow across the steps. The ones in the low wall lining each side of these steps are unobtrusive but provide sufficient lighting at night.

2.ink Studio | Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz
2.ink Studio | Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz

Mixing things up

Don’t limit your options when planning your lighting. Sometimes combining different types of lighting works best.

The dramatic steps rising above this grass garden and turning by the water feature are completely lit rather than simply bathed in a light that blurs the edges. This lighting scheme not only highlights this architectural feature and the surrounding landscape; it’s a necessity with the nonuniform steps and lack of handrails. In contrast, the long stairway behind only needs sidelights set periodically into the wall to keep it lit and safe.

Integral Lighting, original photo on Houzz
Integral Lighting, original photo on Houzz

Single lights in the center of each riser provide the primary lighting here, but the additional lighting throughout the space, from the lights by the doors to those at the edges of the paving, create enough light to keep people safe and enough shadows to keep the look interesting.

A wash of light across the entire entry creates a feeling of welcoming. The look is achieved with a mix of downlights and a traditional porch light that ensures the house number is visible. The result is a warm and inviting glow.

uber iron, original photo on Houzz
uber iron, original photo on Houzz

Make it your own

Sure, downlights would probably be sufficient for this stairway, but in this case the lamps define the top and bottom of the stairs, add a strong decorative element and provide plenty of light. The whitened glass allows the light to shine through but shields the bulbs themselves from sight.

The previous examples have all been fairly subtly lit, but if it suits your style, why not go bold? Lights in blue, red, green, purple or other colors might be even more effective than those in tones of white and yellow. You’ll certainly notice them!


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