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Create Outdoor Magic with String Lights

There’s something about the glow of string lights that makes even the most ordinary backyard feel magical. Transforming your outdoor space is simply a matter of some basic supplies plus a little decorating know-how. Talk about bright ideas!

Plan Your Pattern

The first step in creating a flawless string light design: Measure your space carefully. When it's time to buy, you’ll want to add between 2 and 6 extra feet to your calculations to account for the dip in the string. As for design inspiration, Pinterest is a good place to start. Also think public squares or your favorite restaurant, which have likely had a professional touch. Alex Bowman, lead trend forecaster for, suggests securing lights in a basic V shape, a versatile design that works with almost any outdoor space. Other tried-and-true patterns include zigzags, squares and grids.

Shop Smart

  • Basic is good. Clear white Edison or globe lights rule the roost for a reason: They provide reliably bright neutral light.
  • Go eco-friendly. Solar-powered bulbs are desirable because they eliminate the need for a nearby power source—just be aware that they don't glow as consistently bright. Bottom line: Plan to use more—about 30% more, according to Bowman.
  • Add color sparingly. If you want to venture beyond white, James Wheeler of J. Wheeler Designs in Atlanta suggests a single-colored strand that matches your home's exterior—as in, if your house is yellow, incorporate one strand in that hue as an accent.
  • Make sure to buy lights labeled for outside use. They’ll fare better against the elements and last longer.

How to Hang

Once you’ve picked a design, brainstorm how many anchor points you’ll need and how to attach the strings. Two popular ways to hang lights are from a home’s exterior wall and looped around a tree. If your yard lacks natural anchors, try wrapping lights around a deck railing or draping over bushes. You can make your own pole using Bowman’s DIY method: Fill a 5-gallon bucket with gravel and stick in a tall wooden post. Bowman’s personal fave combo: a rustic-looking bucket with a bamboo pole.

Photos: (from top) Kim Hudson/Getty Images, Bob Stefko, Brie Williams, Ray Kachatorian.


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