Styling Light Outside the Home

Outdoor lighting is a lucrative category for lighting suppliers and, by extension, lighting retailers and designers. The ability to “light up the night” is appealing for both aesthetic and security reasons.

As this category continues to gain momentum, there are considerations in the manufacture of outdoor lighting, from conforming to the architectural style of most homes to delivering “wet-strength” products that meet UL standards that determine functionality and safety.

Outdoor lights need to be reliable in a range of environments, from the heat and UV rays of the desert to the humidity and salt spray of the coast. Parts of the country also comply with dark sky regulations to limit light pollution, which can be detrimental to the environment and wildlife.

Unlike indoor lighting, where design is more flexible, a number of factors must be considered to achieve the reliability required for outdoor lighting. That’s not to say that design doesn’t play a prominent role in this category. “When it comes to outdoor lighting, you can’t separate aesthetics from function,” says Nancy Shott, vice president of marketing at Hammerton and Hammerton Studio.

design forward

So how do you design an entryway wall light, lamppost or other outdoor lighting that provides both the functionality and style needed?

“We try to develop designs that are unique but have a familiar element that fits well with the architecture of the home,” said David Kitts, vice president of design and product strategy at Hubbardton Forge.

Tom Caldwell, Vice President of Lighting at Currey & Company, adds, “We tried to keep our styling as clean and unencumbered as possible. We believe that most consumers are looking for a classic style that complements today’s outstanding architecture.” Retaining traditional styles and clean lines appeals to more needs in the market, he adds. “They can be used in a large segment of traditional as well as transitional housing.”

Outdoor lighting must meet UL standards for safety and durability.  Hubbardton Forge's Shadow Box combines geometric design with dual bulbs and meets UL guidelines for wet strength.
Outdoor lighting must meet UL standards for safety and durability. Hubbardton Forge’s Shadow Box combines geometric design with dual bulbs and meets UL guidelines for wet strength.

The challenge when designing outdoor spaces, especially for entrances and the front of the house, is finding something unique, but not too unique. “That becomes a design challenge,” says Kitts. He adds that Hubbardton Forge product development works closely with sales on the design of outdoor facilities in this category. “We could come up with a cool wall light, but it would only work in a niche category and we wouldn’t expect high volume,” he notes. To produce outdoor lighting that resonates with potential customers, Hubbardton Forge, like other lighting suppliers, focuses on simple geometric design, Kitts continues. “But then we’re like, ‘What’s the difference at Hubbardton Forge?'” he says. “Sometimes it could be our surfaces or our quality. Sometimes it’s a structural element.”

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Hammerton’s Shott goes on to say that from an aesthetic perspective, exterior lighting design will evolve just as quickly as exterior facade style, which can be slower than interior design. She adds that many newer homes showcase “clean” architecture with more modern, clean lines. Lighting needs to follow these trends and this is something that deserves special attention. “We tend to focus on more contemporary designs or designs that can be contemporary,” she notes. “To get those clean lines, the outdoor lighting needs to be made from quality materials, otherwise they don’t look good.”

function first

“We focus on functionality,” Shott continues. One of the considerations for this Utah-based lighting manufacturer is “dark sky” regulations. Although this is not yet a problem in most parts of the US, states such as Colorado and some areas in California require outdoor lighting to be directed downwards to limit light pollution. “We even have to take into account that the glass we use is dark sky compatible,” she says. For example, seeded glass can reflect light upwards even when the light is directed downwards.

For Hubbardton Forge, the differentiating factor in the company’s outdoor lighting collection is the quality of the details. “The details are something you have to get right,” says Kitts, since outdoor lighting can be more expensive to develop given that cast components, materials and coatings must withstand rigorous UL testing to ensure safety. “There are many challenges with something that has
to be waterproof and keep things out [like spiders or other critters]”
he continues.

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weathering of the elements

In order to deliver the quality and performance expected of high-end outdoor lighting, the materials and coatings of these lights must meet standards above what one would expect from indoor lights.

Both Hubbardton Forge and Hammerton use aluminum for most of their moisture-resistant outdoor lights. According to Hubbardton’s Kitts, aluminum has many advantages. It will not rust or tarnish, and it can be molded. It cannot be forged, but can be hammered to add texture as a decorative element. The company casts its crates to be perfectly sealed and watertight. Casting is expensive, which also limits aesthetic latitude, he adds. “In that respect, we treat the outdoors differently because we’ve invested resources and technology,” he says.

Kitts goes on to say that getting Hubbardton’s jigs just right involves preparing the materials before powder coating so they don’t chip. The company is so confident in its materials and manufacturing processes that it offers a five-year warranty, even on lights that stand on the shore. Finishes remain on the darker side — black, oil-rubbed bronze, for example — for durability and to match this architectural aesthetic. While Hubbardton has experimented with finishes like an outdoor gold, it’s a limited experience, Kitts notes. “Designers and customers are more conservative when it comes to outdoor surfaces,” he notes, adding that Hubbardton is always striving to develop even better surfaces.

While steel, brass, and other metals are also common in outdoor lights, suppliers need to pay attention to thickness to ensure durability. And the manufacturing approach is different depending on the material used. Hammerton also uses aluminum for its outdoor lights, Shott says. “It is inherently resistant to corrosion. We also pre-treat our aluminum with a protective coating, making the lights more durable.” The company adheres to outdoor standards for lighting and furnishings, testing its finishes against the elements and offering a lifetime guarantee on its lights.

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Outdoor elements to consider include coastal regions with saline atmospheres, but there are other elements to contend with as well. “Fading problems can occur with UV radiation in deserts and mountains. At high altitudes and in the mountains, there can be large temperature fluctuations,” says Shott. When fixtures aren’t made to the highest standards, it can promote more than just a faded finish; Water can penetrate into microscopic areas and then the light becomes a safety hazard. To counteract this, parts for Hammerton’s exterior lighting are pre-treated, painted and then assembled to prevent micro-infiltration.

Currey prefers heavy iron for his outdoor lighting because it’s inexpensive and a preferred material for the company. In keeping with the fight against the outdoor elements, the company has invested significant time and resources into developing and applying a special high-tech coating to protect the products’ construction over time, says Caldwell. Currey guarantees its outdoor lighting for five years, even on the coast.

While the elements, architecture and functionality have kept outdoor lighting in check, so to speak, these and other manufacturers continue to think outside the box when it comes to design, testing and refining new decorative elements and finishes to give more attention to this lucrative category. In the coming year, for example, Currey will offer several new finishes such as stainless steel, nickel plating and brass. As with the current offerings, rigorous testing will ensure the outdoor lighting offerings remain safe, effective and beautiful.

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