How to Choose the Right Exterior Lighting

Upgrade your exterior lighting fixtures to improve your curb appeal and refine the look of your house! Tips to choose the right outdoor lights and your questions answered.

Upgraded outdoor lights with new lamp post lanterns and front door wall fixtures

The jewelry of the exterior...

A beacon to the front door...

A defining feature of your home's look...

Yes, outdoor lighting can be all of those to your house as well as providing necessary illumination and ambience! Consequently, it is important to choose your exterior lights with care and get the style, scale, and placement right.

For several years, S. and I were itching to upgrade our exterior lighting. The front porch lights were very gothic and heavy feeling, while everything else around the house was mismatched or not functional. Most of our post lights around the front drive got damaged during a wind storm, and the one remaining light got ran over by some absentminded guest who backed up willy nilly and knocked over the darn poll. You know who you are! 😉


Our exterior lighting situation at the front of the house when we first moved in

The front door wall lights when we first moved in

This spring we set out to upgrade our exterior lighting and as of July we have changed all of the fixtures at the front of the house. This is definitely an expensive swap, so we are going to do it in stages: front side, back side, pool. We picked out the Alexandra oil rubbed bronze lantern at Stokes Lighting in Knoxville, and we couldn't be happier with the updated traditional look.


The new lamp post lanterns around driveway

Upgraded outdoor lighting with Fleur de Lis Alexandra wall sconce

Close up of the Fleur de Lis Living Alexandra lantern

This style is available online:


The Basics to Choosing the Right Exterior Lights

We learned a few things when picking out our new lights, and I wanted to share those do's and don'ts with you all.


The style of the light fixtures should complement the architectural style of your house. If you are unsure what style house you live in, check out this breakdown of architectural styles. Using mismatched styles will just confuse the look of your house and appear jarring. It is best to match your outdoor lighting with the architecture of your house.

Certain light styles have traditionally been used with a specific architectural forms. For example lantern style lights with Georgian, Federal, and Victorian houses. Or onion style globes with Cape Cod cottages. Choosing these traditional forms simplifies the process if you live in an older home with architecture from the 17th, 18th, or 19th century. I'll suggest specific fixtures you can shop for different style houses further below!

But note these don'ts...

mismatched lighting style with front door
Too small light and mismatched lighting style with architecture
mismatched style outdoor light and house achitecture
Industrial barn light doesn't fit architecture of door way

A good place to start zeroing in on the style of light you need is to consider the lines of your house. Are they straight and linear with a boxy feel? Are they curving with arch details? Does your house have ornate features? Then take a look at some exterior lights. Pay attention to the lines and shapes. What would best complement the lines and shape of your home?

You could also take a walking tour of a beautiful well kept neighborhood. Notice which light styles look good on which style houses. Pay attention to the placement and scale. Start to note which light styles you love and which ones you think look bad.

Color & Material

Another important style consideration when choosing your exterior lighting is the color and finish of the light. Take your cues from the color palette of your house exterior. What colors are your siding, shutters, front door? What material is your front door hardware? What color are your windows: white, black, or wood toned? Are these colors warm or cool?

Typical material finishes for exterior lights are oil rubbed bronze, aged or polished brass, brushed or polished nickel, matte black or white, or copper.

Choose the color/finish that best complements your existing exterior colors and hardware. One way to do that is to stick with warm or cool tones. If your house is blue with white trim, nickel, white or bronze are good finish options. If your house is classic red brick with dark shutters, brass, black, or bronze are the way to go.


This is probably the exterior light choice that trips up homeowners the most. You don't want the size of your lights to be too small or too big in relation to the size of your house and entryway. Too small and the lights don't add anything to the look of your house.

See what I mean...

Front door exterior lights that are too small for door and fan light height
Front door lights are too small for this door and fan light feature
Too small outdoor lights beside front door
Lights are too small for this door

Too big and it just looks silly! See...

blue arched door with too big side light
The side light is too big for this size door
too large lantern lights on this stone house
The lanterns are way too big for this height of door/entry

Here is a general guide to light size based on type:

Wall mounted at door 1/4 height of door + casing + fan light

Ceiling light 1/5 height of door + casing + fan light

Post light 1/4 height of pole

Using my front door as an example you can see how the math plays out. My door and casing is 87"H, so if you divide that by 4 you get 21.75" for the height of my wall fixtures. You do not have to adhere to that number down to the decimal point just keep it within 3 or 4 inches and you'll be fine.

Note: lots of doors have a fan light or elaborate lintel/cornice above them, so be sure to include those in your height measurement.

exterior lighting scale diagram of front door


Where you hang your lights is the final pivotal consideration when upgrading your outdoor fixtures. Too often wall fixtures are hung too high or spaced too far apart, while ceiling lights hang to low and interfere with the door.

Wall Mounted Fixtures

These scones usually found beside the front door or a side entry should be placed in the top third of the door about 66" up from the ground. You want them to be just above eye level, so that the illumination is not blinding you in the face. Use your discretion on placing the center or end of the light at the 66" mark, depending on your door style and entryway height.

These fixtures should be spaced about 6 to 8" from the door casing.

Ceiling Lights

The end of a hanging pendant light should just barley overlap the top of the door, so hang it about 84" up from the ground.

Post Lights

Post lights are wonderful for providing illumination out the driveway or in a front or side garden area. Typically, these lights should be 5 to 6' high.

Your Outdoor Lighting Questions Answered:

I polled my followers on IG to see what you all wanted to learn about exterior lighting. Here is what you asked...

No. 1 Should all exterior lights match?

Ideally, yes! Most quality light styles come in several different types: wall mount, ceiling, post. Make sure when buying your fixture you like how all of the types look. Sometimes a certain shape looks great on the wall, but it appears cartoonish or odd on a pole post.

When this is not possible or you upgrade your exterior lighting in stages like us, buy the same style lights for each elevation of your house, so front, back, and sides. Think about the views of your house from different directions: the driveway, the road, the back patio or deck, and the back yard. Try to make all of the lights visible from each of those major views the same.

Security flood lights are the exception. They should be as unobtrusive looking as possible and blend in with the siding as much as possible.

No. 2 Should outdoor light bulbs be cool or warm?

This is a lesson I learned by experimentation! S. sent me out to buy the light bulbs for our new lights, and I really had no idea what to get, so I brought home bright white LEDs. Guess what? The light is way too harsh and bright! So we switched to an LED soft white, and it looks so much better. These are the bulbs we ended up using.

You really want that warm glow welcoming you and your guests in to the house at night!

No. 3 What finish is best?

As I mentioned above you should base the color of your outdoor lights on the color palette of your house, but certain finishes and materials do last longer and resist wear better than others. High quality lights with an oil rubbed bronze finish use a chemical process on solid brass that is long lasting. Powder coating is another great finish that resists wear. If you opt for a polished brass light, make sure it is lacquered to avoid browning. The lacquer may need to be reapplied every few years.

No. 4 What if you only have one light beside the door?

With only one light it is important to put it on the door knob side, so when you open the door your visitor is illuminated clearly. This is especially important if you have a storm door that swings out, which might obscure the light if it was on the opposite side.

No. 5 How do I know what size to get?

See the section on scale above, but here's what you need to do for wall mounted fixtures:

  • Measure the height of your door plus the casing/trim and any additional decorative details above the door like a fan light or ornate lintel/cornice.
  • Divide that number by 4. This gives you the length of the light you should look for.
  • If your door is 120"/4=30" so you would look for a light around 30" in length.

No. 6 How do I choose lights with character?

Look for fixtures with special details like highlights of gold, scrolling ends, seeded glass, scalloped trim, or unique shapes.

Just don't go overboard and choose an ornate light that doesn't match the style of your house!

My Exterior Lighting Choices for Specific House Styles

Modern 20th Century Style Homes

MCM, Art Deco, Prairie, Ranch, Craftsman


Neoclassical Style

Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Georgian


Romantic Styles

Cottages, Cape Cod, Dutch Colonial, Victorian, Queen Anne, Saltbox



  1. Lori Puryear on August 13, 2023 at 9:46 am

    I love your new exterior lighting! Great upgrade. As a neighbor, it’s so fun to watch the gradual transformation of your home.

    Thanks for all the helpful exterior lighting tips.

    • Katherine on August 17, 2023 at 11:13 am

      Thanks Lori! Sometimes it feels so slow, but we are making progress!

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