ISSUE 49  |  Utilitarian Glamour

10 Easy Pieces: Outdoor Holiday String Lights

December 09, 2014 2:30 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

It gets dark around here before 5 pm in December, so even if Christmas didn’t exist I still would rig up some twinkly outdoor lights to welcome me home. But the holiday season gives me a good cover story.

I’ve experimented with a few different approaches over the years. Let’s just say I grew up in the sort of Midwest town (shout out to Elmhurst, Illinois) that took holiday lights seriously. A main form of entertainment was to pile into the family car and drive around town “rating” the neighbors’ lawn displays as critically as if we were Olympics judges comparing triple-axel jumps in the figure skating finals. At home, where we adhered to the More Is More theory of colored lights, it is a wonder we didn’t kill the plum tree under the weight.

Now that I am grown up and live in California, I’m a student of the White Reminds Me of Snow School of holiday lighting. When I round the corner and come up the hill toward home, I like my house to look like a white line drawing against the night sky (see below).

Last year I got fancy with two sizes of bulbs to outline different architectural features of the facade. But you also can stay simple with a single string of lights draped around the doorway. Either way, it makes coming home feel like a winter holiday.

Here are ten of my favorite kinds of string lights to use:


Above: At my house last year, I used a mix of two sizes of bulbs. Strings of small bulbs outlined the casement windows and larger bulbs outlined the roof line. I used strings of 300-Bulb Clear Incandescent Light Sets ($8.98 apiece) and C7 25-Light Clear String Light Sets ($8.48 apiece); both from Home Depot. Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

Above: The larger size bulb–visible along the roof line of my house–is the C7 size; another source is a 25-foot string of White Ceramic C7 Outdoor String Lights; $12.10 from Novelty Lighting.

Above: For a different look, a 20-foot string of Indoor/Outdoor Twinkle Lights would be nice around a a doorway; $32 from Terrain.

Above: For an old-fashioned canopy of lights, you can connect up to five strands of Edison String Lights, each with 20 incandescent bulbs, for a weather-safe outdoor display; $39.95 each from CB2.

Above: At a Healdsburg, CA house by Nick Noyes Architecture, the homeowner strung up large-bulb cafe lights to create a canopy that I personally would leave up year-round. For a similar look, consider Party Globe String Lights from Restoration Hardware; they’re safe for outdoor use and available in two bulb sizes for $40 per string.


Above: Also from Restoration Hardware, Vintage String Lights have elongated teardrop bulbs with decorative filaments; $!75 for a 50-foot string.

Above: Energy-saving LEDs create snowball-sized glows in a 20-light string of Extendable Festoon Lights and will last for 50,000 hours; £40 for a starter string from Cox & Cox (an Extension Set string of lights is £30).


Above: A strand of 25 outdoor Globe String Lights has replaceable bulbs; $34.95 from Crate & Barrel.

Above: For a small space, battery-powered Firefly String Lights have long-lasting LED bulbs and are suitable for use in a covered outdoor space such as a porch. A 7.5-foot-long strand on copper wire requires two AAA batteries (not included); $20 from Urban Outfitters.

Above: For a larger space, a 98-foot-long LED string of Stargazer Lights (available with copper wire as shown or silver) is $98 from Terrain.

For more outdoor holiday light inspiration, see: