Nights of Lights 2013: 10 Tips to Bring the Magic to Your Home

{Hello all! Nights of Lights is a big, big deal here in St. Augustine…too big to write just one blog about it! So a bunch of friends wrote blogs as well…I hope you’ll check out their take on the holidays at the end of this post.}

nights of lights in St. Augustine, FLNext week is the big reveal here in St. Augustine—the official start to Nights of Lights 2013.

We’ve been planning for this event since…well, since we put the lights away last year. We have to—you can’t just decide to hang 10,000 lights on a Saturday morning and be ready by nightfall. Plus, each year we want to outdo ourselves (more on that later).

You may not want to do 10,000 lights on your home (but if you do, please put your address in the comments and I’ll drive by to check them out!) But I know you want your lights to look great. Here’s what I’ve learned after decorating the last few years:

1. Pick a style. This is easy for us, because St. Augustine requires that all buildings in the historic district decorate exclusively with white lights. To keep the display elegant, I suggest choosing all warm or all cool lights. Warm lights will throw a more golden light, while cool lights will throw a more blue light, and are a little brighter. Or, if you want to mix them, do it deliberately—use warm lights on the house, and cool lights on the trees. But don’t connect the various types of lights together haphazardly.

nights of lights in St. Augustine, FL2. Use different sized lights for interest. We outline the main part of the building with one size light, using smaller bulbs to highlight the gingerbread and porches. The smallest bulbs can be used on wreaths or other outdoor greenery.

3. Accommodate for attaching strings. This is one of my pet peeves. When you attach strings of lights to each other, there will be a large gap between the strings that will show up as a dark space on your final lighting design because the light bulbs do not go to the end of the string. Accommodate for the “lightless” part of string lights by attaching the lights, and wrapping the lightless wire together with a metal tie. That will keep your lights evenly spaced.

4. Think beyond the house. Not all lights need to be on the house itself: a nice touch is to place a small table by the front door, covered with a tablecloth and decorated seasonally. Balling up lights and putting them underneath the table diffuses the light and casts a welcoming glow. Multicolored lights can be used in accent areas to add some pizzazz to your design.

5. Have a plan. Each year, I take a photo of the inn and print it on a black and white printer. Then I highlight the areas I want to emphasize with a yellow highlighter. This lets me see if the lights are balanced throughout the entire building. And take a photo when you’re finished so you can remember next year. You think you’ll remember…but you won’t!

nights of lights in St. Augustine, FL6. Take your trees outside. The Bayfront Marin House has used several small trees (5’ or less) in a small display, stringing them with green lights for a little contrast. Decorate them with glittery ornaments to sparkle day and night.

7. Remember indoor lights. You can line the inside of your windows with lights; you can put a lit tree in a window. At the inn, we use remote controlled battery-operated candles in each window in the old part of the house. We turn them on at dusk, then off at 10:00 so that the light doesn’t disrupt our guests’ sleep. The remote control means that we don’t have to walk into individual rooms to light them up—in a residential home, it means you can stand outside and turn them all on at once.

8. Go all out for special occasions. Hosting a holiday party? Line your sidewalks with luminarias (use battery operated tealights in a paper bag. You can use sand or pebbles on the bottom to keep it steady.

nights of lights luminarias in St. Augustine

9. When you put your lights away, try to be organized. Buy clear plastic containers, and mark them “lights for front fence”, or “lights for second floor porch.” This will save a lot of time when you put them up next year.

10. Don’t forget spotlights and safety lighting. We use uplights to showcase elements of our inn year round—such as the sidewalk, stairs, and trees. You can redirect these for the holidays—we move a spotlight from our front trees to highlight a wreath on the side of the inn.

Have fun—and share *your* best lighting tips in the comments!!

nights of lights in St. Augustine, FL

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