light up the night

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Outdoor illumination designed for security, ambience, and appreciation of starlit skies

by Catherine Adams

When evening falls around Northern New Mexico, people gravitate outdoors to enjoy the warm summer nights. Stars may twinkle brightly in the night sky, but it’s lighting that offers the most effective and visually pleasing outdoor illumination. Done right, outdoor lighting is much more than a hanging wall fixture or string of lights under a pergola. It is an art unto itself that sets ambience while enhancing security—and it’s an art that is evolving.


discreet design

“Outdoor lighting is definitely going toward more modern designs,” says Joseph Candelaria, showroom consultant for Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery ( in Albuquerque. “We’re seeing cleaner lines and simpler planes, fewer molded or sculpted looks, fewer grooves and ridges.” Not only is outdoor lighting cleaner, it is more discreet, focusing less on the fixture itself than the light it casts. Candelaria adds, “People are moving away from decorative fixtures to more recessed lighting, putting smaller, recessed lights under eaves and around doors to minimize clutter.”

But decorative fixtures still have a place in outdoor lighting. The backyard patio is often suited to a decorative fixture hanging overhead, creating an outdoor living space where people can gather. “We’re seeing a decorative turn in hanging chandeliers created by one of our lines, Hinkley Lighting,” says Arielle Silva, showroom manager of Bright Ideas Inc. dba The Lamp Shop in Albuquerque ( These chandeliers also work inside, extending and merging the design aesthetic of indoor and outdoor living spaces.


location, location, location

Whatever the style, mass-produced, lower-quality products are on the way out. “People are looking for more high-end, refined styles,” says Roberto Machado, owner of Santa Fe’s Alchemy Lights ( Alchemy Lights makes customized fixtures to light portales, doorways, front gates, and other high-profile outdoor spaces. For example, Machado says, “Around a front gate we may design something small for the walls flanking either side, then something bigger for around the garage,” where, as he explains, security is an issue. Machado works primarily in copper, fashioning it into over 160 Southwestern and contemporary designs and patterns and 24 patinas popular around Santa Fe.

Materials aside, the conscientious placement of outdoor lights is becoming more imperative as New Mexico moves to protect its night skies and stars with dark sky (limited light) ordinances instituted by local communities and HOAs.

“Lights are mostly mounted on walls and ceilings, in the form of sconces and pendants, and pointed down or back against wall like backlighting,” Silva explains. “We’re not seeing a lot of lights in trees, shrubs, around ponds, or on the ground anymore.” While it’s nice to drive up a well-lit driveway, Silva says that these days, “There’s no wasted light, just enough to make sure you can get in your house safely.” It may sound strange coming from someone who sells lights, but she often encourages people to order fewer fixtures. “Light travels far in the dark. You don’t need that much of it.”


the next era

These days, LED lighting is taking over. According to Machado, with panels carrying a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years built right into fixtures, “LED has become a lot more affordable and consumes less electricity than incandescent bulbs.”

Outdoor lighting is smarter now, too, as in smart technology seen in cloud-based control systems. It’s part of the whole home automation movement, which utilizes apps to wirelessly control areas of the home, including the lights outside. It’s both a convenience and a security measure, as homeowners can control outdoor lights when away from home.

Outdoor lighting has come a long way from the glaring incandescent bulb. Smart, efficient, functional, and decorative, today’s outdoor lighting adds another artistic dimension to home design.


outdoor lighting basics

Photograph: Courtesy Hinkley Lighting

Utilize outdoor lighting wisely to reduce light pollution and protect the star-studded splendor of New Mexico’s night skies. According to the International Dark-Sky Association (, lighting should:

• Only be on when needed

• Only light the area that needs it

• Be no brighter than necessary

• Minimize blue light emissions

• Be fully shielded (pointing downward)