Modern or Traditional? How to Light the Exterior of a Brownstone or Historic Townhouse

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    If you live in a brownstone or townhouse, selecting outdoor light fixtures for a home in some cases as old as the lightbulb itself can be tricky. Should you choose something historically accurate to illuminate the 10-foot-high double doors, or spare and modern to complement the historic facade?

    “First, if the house is landmarked or in a landmarked area the Landmarks Preservation Commission will actually have to review the fixture and finish specification,” said interior designer Tamara Eaton. “They typically like to see either traditional fixtures or very minimal fixtures if they are not too dominantly displayed.”

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    The Urban Electric Co. offers a wide range of finishes and designs, such as the Altamont sconce, Eaton said. When selecting a finish, the designer usually opts for black to match the trim color of a typical brownstone.

    “We often consider the door and facade color when selecting lights, and more often than not we select a black finish so it ties into either the door color, or the black ironwork typically found on the handrail or fence to the property,” Eaton said. “I personally prefer either a very modern and clean exterior light or something stripped down that still has a traditional reference.”

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    Eaton recommends timers that you can adjust throughout the year according to the daylight hours.

    For a traditional design or landmarked townhouse, Remains Lighting offers a wide variety of custom and made-to-order fixtures, such as the Sorenson Exterior Wall Lantern, said architect Anshu Bangia of Bangia Agostinho Architecture.

    “When designing outdoor lighting for residential projects, our focus can range from using decorative or point source lighting to indicate a path or entry, to illuminating surfaces with diffuse indirect light to highlight materials, give visual depth, and provide outdoor spaces with a sense of comfort,” Bangia said.

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    For lighting a path or steps, Bangia recommends the Recessed Luminaires by Bega. For surfaces, such as garden walls or a stone patio, she suggests Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting.

    For outdoor fixtures at medium price points, designers Suzanna and Lauren Mcgrath of McGrath2 recommend the lighting company Lamps Plus. Urban Electric is another preferred but pricier option.

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    “We prefer to select traditional fixtures in finishes that replicate vintage lighting,” Lauren McGrath said. “Aged zinc is one of our favorites.”

    The designers often opt for motion sensors to illuminate the front of a townhouse.

    “Motion sensors are practical, particularly on the street side of the house, so when available, we definitely like to use them,” she said.

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    [Photos by Susan De Vries]

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