Outdoor Holiday Decorating Ideas

Holiday Projects, Found Ornaments, and Architectural Details

white lights along the eaves of three front gables of a white house -- a horizontal row of white lights at the ground level complements the arrangement
Outdoor Christmas Decorations. Robert Barnes/Getty Images

Christmas lights during the holidays are a wonderful excuse to showcase the architectural features of your home. Strings of lights and other outdoor holiday decorations let you highlight the details you love most. With imagination, you can also transform your house into something exciting and new. The trick? Choose a focal point, limit your colors, and go easy on lights that flicker and blink.

Blinking lights and holiday glitter are like shouting. Holidays can bring out the best and worst in people, so here are some suggestions for spotlighting the better angels of our nature, highlighting humankind's very best — the natural beauty of residential architecture.

 

Natural Beauty

modest carpenter gothic home, with wide eaves on side gables and front gable, two lighted wreathes on the facade, garlands around the portico columns
Stocktrek/Getty Images (cropped)

Bah humbug to flashing lights and holiday glitz. Natural beauty doesn't need such shouting — architectural detail can speak for itself.

So, how can you showcase the architecture of your house? Accentuate your home's details with strategically placed outdoor spotlights. Shine a light onto what you love best about your house. You may have a rustically carved front door, a massive brick chimney, or fancy columns or pillars that display a regal beauty. Let it shine. Take some tips from the pros who lit the Washington Monument — (1) focus on the corners and (2) light from the top down. Exterior lighting can be permanent or temporarily placed using outdoor extension cords.

Is your home designed without ornamentation? Outline simplicity with simple lights tucked under an overhanging eave, allowing the architectural detail to glow itself. Just remember, though — the Washington Monument isn't outlined in blinking lights.

Directing Attention

red lights along the lines of the roof and front gable dormer
Denise Taylor/Getty Images

It's easy to attach strings of lights to straight edges, so outlining the roof is a typical application of exterior lights. What else could you do to make your display a little less geometric? Do you want people to be looking at your entire roof or do you want them to focus on the dormer?

Where you put the lights is where people will look.

Blue Christmas

blue lights along the front gable and horizontally above the front porch create a pediment on a modest home
Denise Taylor/Getty Images

When did Fifty Shades of Blue represent the colors of Christmas? Maybe it was when Elvis Presley's Blue Christmas became one of the Top 10 Sad Christmas Songs. Or maybe it became popular from energy conscientiousness — for many people, blue screams LED energy efficiency. Even if the lights are energy hogs, blue is cool.

Realize these things, though, before you take this cool plunge:

  1. Once you have a string of blues, bulb replacement really does have to be blue, too. No easy transition.
  2. If you like the look, you can try to temper it with colorful lawn ornaments.
  3. Outlining your home in shades of blue may make your house look like an x-ray. Some people like the scientific radiation look. Others may stay away — which may be the homeowner's real intent in using blue.

Using Floodlights

symmetrical arrangement of holiday lights outlining the front gables
Patricia Marroquin/Getty Images

Strategically placed floodlights allow the homeowner more flexibility than strings of lights. The floodlights can showcase different areas of your property and colors can be changed easily. In fact, they are so flexible and easily installed that a homeowner could do too much. How do you know when you've gone overboard with the lighting?

Rooftop Message Shouting

white holiday lights on a two-story home, in the front yard, vertically on a tree, on a rooftop star -- supplementing a red Merry Christmas sign over the garage
Robert Barnes/Getty Images

Beautiful white lights illuminate every detail of this suburban home. The red "Merry Christmas" atop the garage is nicely balanced with the colorful strands of tree lights. But here's a question — are the words necessary? Don't the lights themselves speak volumes without the writing on the wall?

Electric Candlelight

small one-story cabin outlined in colored lights with a fir tree in colored lights in the foreground
Cabin and Tree Decorated with Christmas Lights. Patrick Endres/Design Pics/Getty Images

The history of electric Christmas tree lights is fascinating. Before the 19th century invention of the electric light, people used candles to illuminate and decorate their houses — and what a fire hazard that would be!

But what if you displayed electric lights as if they were candles? Where would they go? How many? If you live in an older home, think about how past residence may have decorated it for the holidays. This little cabin would have been either charming or in a ball of flames!

Maintaining Symmetry and Proportion

white lights only on the first story of an L-shaped home
Lower Heights Christmas Lights. Douglas Keister/Getty Images (cropped)

Putting up Christmas lights makes the installer a do-it-yourself lighting designer. If you're afraid to climb up to the second floor to put up the lights, a different approach might be better than a total focus on the first story. Symmetry and proportion are Classical aspects of design, dating back to ancient Rome. For people living in the Western world, this type of design is felt to be beautiful. Lopsided lighting breaks the beauty.

When everything is working, your holiday lights should display a certain symmetry of your home. Lighting can be tricky. If you're afraid of heights, try floodlights that can illuminate the high places you can't reach. Take the time to think of solutions outside the box.

Design With Christmas Lights

very dark image highlights the lights that outline a home's features
Outdoor Christmas Decorations in Jeffreys Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Wikimedia user NJR ZA, Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0

The owner of this two-story home in South Africa selected solid white Christmas lights for most details. Green, red, and blue Christmas lights add highlights.

It used to be real icicles hanging overhead! Now, white icicle lights illuminate the eaves. Windows provide a great opportunity for decoration, both outside and inside. Narrow strings of white lights accent many of the window muntins.

At the center gable, green Christmas lights transform a conventional rectangular window into the illusion of a grand, classical Palladian window.

A subtle band of red and green Christmas lights defines the shape of the roof. This approach of outlining the architecture is also a common practice in large, commercial buildings, like the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, California.

Magic Storybook

small home outlined in white lights, with adjoining trees outlined in blue lights
Robert Barnes/Getty Images

How you assemble your lighting display gives a message to the viewer. What is it that you want to say? Come on in? We love lights?  Or maybe, simply, Happy Holidays!

Find Your Own Decorations

old sepia photo of smiling white man holding his knees while sitting near candled tree
Designer/Architect Charles Eames with a Christmas Tree Made of Burning Molded-Plywood Chair Legs, c. 1946. Library of Congress Exhibition "The Work of Charles & Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention," Prints & Photographs Division and the Vitra Design Museum (cropped)

American designers Charles and Ray Eames expressed a playful holiday spirit — this 1946 photo shows Charles Eames with a fanciful Christmas tree he made. Together, the Eames husband-and-wife team created some of the most iconic American furniture. They designed and built chairs from the then new production method of molding plywood into modern shapes — a process that is still used today. And what did they do with leftover and rejected chair legs? Imagination prevailed. Did you know that molded-plywood chair legs make wonderful candles?

 If you lack the confidence of thinking outside the box, then ask your kids or the neighborhood geek down the street. Anyone can come up with bizarre and entertaining ornaments from odds and ends found around your own work bench or even from the local dumpster. Architects might call these objects architectural salvage. You might call call them Found Ornaments.

Holiday Project

Try this: give each of your kids $5 or $10 and take them to the local hardware store or big box chain store (e.g., Lowe's, The Home Depot, B & Q). Tell them they can spend the money any way they want for building supplies that they will assemble into a decoration, tree, wreath, or some other ornamentation for the holidays. You'll find that some of the most beautiful decorations are simple, economical, and eco-friendly. And where else can you get a handmade wreath for ten bucks?

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Craven, Jackie. "Outdoor Holiday Decorating Ideas." ThoughtCo, Dec. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/christmas-lights-and-outdoor-holiday-decorations-177340. Craven, Jackie. (2017, December 18). Outdoor Holiday Decorating Ideas. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/christmas-lights-and-outdoor-holiday-decorations-177340 Craven, Jackie. "Outdoor Holiday Decorating Ideas." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/christmas-lights-and-outdoor-holiday-decorations-177340 (accessed January 24, 2018).