Light Your Way

Mission-Style Outdoor Lighting

Mission style outdoor lighting provides soft light and classic style.


Mission style outdoor lighting provides a distinctly timeless style to your outdoor spaces. While most outdoor lighting focuses on providing directed light to illuminate the features of your outdoor spaces, mission style lighting provides soft, ambient lighting to the area around it, while at the same time providing the decorativeness that many outdoor lighting fixtures lack. As both the style and lighting quality of mission style lighting is unique, it is important to consider how to integrate it into your outdoor space.

Mission Style Outdoor Lighting Types

Mission-Style Outdoor Lighting

Outdoors, mission style lighting more closely approximates actual light fixtures from historical missions.

Mission style outdoor lighting, like its counterpart, mission-style lamps, are a result of the Arts and Crafts movement in interior design from the early part of the Twentieth Century. The Arts and Crafts movement, worried by the standardization of design that had resulted from industrialization, sought to focus on hand-crafted design for the middle-class home.

Over time, mission-style lighting became not hand-crafted, but referred to particular shapes and styles of lighting fixtures. Indoors, it generally referred to lamps with shades made in a pyramid shape with no opening at the top. Outdoors, however, it took on a broader range of styles, all of which sought to evoke the style of missions in the southeastern United States and in Mexico.

Porch Lights: One of the most common types of mission style outdoor lighting is the porch light. These are generally made of wrought iron, with bars crisscrossing translucent soft-brown-colored glass. The style of these lights is really quite unique. On the one hand, their material is reminiscent of rough, wrought-iron decoration. On the other hand, their overall geometric shape is actually reminiscent of Japanese lanterns.

Lanterns: Perhaps the closest to their mission inspiration, mission style outdoor lanterns resemble traditional lanterns from the early modern period. They have a similar structure to the porch lights, but they are more likely to be rounded and often include transparent rather than translucent glass. They are generally hung from the ceiling using a metal chain, which gives them the advantage that they can be placed just about anywhere on your porch or any other covered area of your outdoors.

Mission-Style Lantern

This porch lantern includes the characteristic design and color of mission style lighting and is available at Amazon

Ceiling Lights: Perhaps the greatest deviation from historical mission style lamps is the outdoor ceiling light. Usually these fixtures resemble other outdoor diffusive ceiling lights, with multiple bulbs under a flat, cylindrical cover. However, the cover itself is made to look as though it is of the same glass as the lanterns and porch lights, and it will usually have metal bands crisscrossing the surface.

I have a word of caution about these ceiling lights (or any outdoor ceiling lights, really). Be very careful not to use a single or even a few ceiling lights as your primary source of illumination. A single bright source of light at night is both hard on the eyes and will actually make your entire outdoors look dimmer by forcing your pupils to contract.

Light Quality

One of the most interesting aspects of mission style outdoor lighting is the quality of light that it provides. For the most part, outdoor lighting usually consists of hidden, directed sources of lighting. In other words, spots are shone on features that one wishes to accentuate, and the reflected light provides most of the ambient lighting. This is one of the reasons that outdoor lighting is often so dramatic. High contrast between light and dark evokes strong emotions in us.

Mission style outdoor lighting, on the other hand, provides almost entirely soft, diffuse lighting, right from the source. This has the result that your outdoor lighting is potentially quite different from what you might be used to. This soft light will cast less strong shadows, and most of the contrast will come from the contrast between the areas that are hit by the diffuse light and those that are not.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is one of the most attractive parts of mission style outdoor lighting and any other diffuse outdoor source. However, if you do use mission style lighting, you might wish to consider adding some additional accent lighting that is not quite so soft and diffuse, where the source is hidden from view. This will provide your outdoor objects with more texture and more drama.

Color: Another attractive aspect of mission style outdoor lighting is the color. Especially with the increasing use of LED outdoor lighting, lighting is tending to shift toward the bluer end of the spectrum (less expensive LEDs tend to be bluish, and these diodes are often the ones that find their way into outdoor bulbs). This is great for foliage, but terrible for human faces. However, the soft brown light given off by the translucent panels on mission style lighting provides a warm color that brings out the natural health of human skin.

The flip side of this, however, is that warm colors look terrible on foliage. Brown is also the color of dying plants. As a result, if you want your foliage to look attractive, you should use additional sources of light on your foliage that brings out the green color. This will enable your outdoors to look green and lush, while simultaneously making people’s faces attractive.

Style Considerations

Mission-Style Home

When combined with a home made from traditional adobe and mission styles, mission style outdoor lighting is especially attractive.

While hidden sources of light don’t need to be integrated with your design, mission style outdoor lighting provides fixtures that are themselves quite attractive. Of course, this is a benefit, but it means that one needs to consider how to integrate them into your overall external design.

Because mission style outdoor lighting (even more than indoor lighting) deliberately looks antique, there is the risk of creating a feeling of anachronism. If your lighting fixtures are mission style, but your furniture is all very modern, it usually won’t look right. Because mission style lighting is so bold in its evocation of the past, it is important to make sure that it matches at least some of the rest of your outdoors.

There are a few things you can add to make your mission style outdoor lighting fit in well with your outdoors. Using wooden furniture and beams is one option. As most furniture until very recently was made entirely out of wood, a few pieces of wooden furniture will give your mission style lights something to complement. Mission style lamps also match well with adobe or anything painted to look like adobe (the material out of which Mexican homes were traditionally made). Aside from the stylistic match, the coloration of the fixtures will also bring out nicely the colors of adobe walls.

Putting It All Together

Mission style outdoor lighting provides both its own unique style and lighting quality for your outdoor spaces:

  • It comes in a number of forms, each inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement and by traditional Spanish-American missions.
  • It provides a diffuse and soft brown lighting quality, reducing shadows and complimenting faces.
  • It matches very well with wood furnishings and with adobe or light brown walls.

With some care, mission style outdoor lighting can provide a central place in your outdoor lighting design.


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