It’s that time of year when driving around the neighborhood at night can seem almost magical. How do some homes manage to look so inviting inside and out during the holidays, while others seem to be suffering from the winter blahs? Believe it or not, lighting can make all the difference – and it doesn’t have to break the budget. Try some of these techniques from the lighting pros to take your home’s ambiance from flat to fabulous.

Make a Grand Entrance

Curb appeal doesn’t only matter when selling a home, it sets the mood for visiting guests and family members before they cross the threshold. “We recommend updating exterior lights with new technology that will enhance the home façade using the proper light levels and color temperatures,” says Richard Lentz, owner of Dallas-based Lentz Landscape Lighting and its interiors division Lentz Services. “Many homes have floodlights mounted directly to the face, shining up. These could be changed to fixtures using LEDs that would provide excellent lamp-life and low energy consumption.”

Look for a focal point on the property that can be accented with lighting to provide a nice contrast of color. “Tree lighting uses the heights of the trees to spread the light out in a soft and subtle way to bathe the area in light,” says Lentz. “The more height you have to work with, the more spread of light you can achieve.

“Properties that do not have large trees can still be illuminated by uplighting ornamental trees or washing the house itself with light. Decorative pole lights, garden path lights, and step lights have all shown great advances in the past few years regarding style options, bulb types and energy efficiency,” says Lentz.

Consulting with a lighting designer at a showroom with membership in the American Lighting Association (ALA) will provide the best expertise for the proper placement, types of fixtures and light sources you need to create a stunning exterior.

If you wish to hold your holiday party outside, Jeffrey Dross, senior product manager of Kichler Lighting, has some suggestions. “A well-designed landscape lighting system is custom-made for entertaining. The light is low, indirect and perfect for conversation,” he explains, adding, “Be certain that stairs and steps are well lit. Guests may not be as familiar with the landscape as the owner.”

For specific holiday-themed drama, explore the latest seasonal decorations powered by LED lighting. “New color-changing technology now allows lighting designers to have the ability to specify custom color scenes or shows to set a particular mood for festivities,” says David Wilkins, president and CEO of American Lighting in Colorado. “Whether you desire a red roofline or one that fades from red to green and back to red, color-changing LED technology offers creativity like never before. You can produce the exact ambiance you like at any moment during your party or gathering this season.”

The same color-changing LED technology is also available in wall washer fixtures that allow you to project virtually any color you desire on the side of your home, roofline or even trees. “With the proper control, static displays of alternating seasonal colors can be created, or a slow fade through the seasonal spectrum will set anyone’s home apart in a tasteful way,” Wilkins explains. “Colors can be changed at the push of a button without changing the fixture, making these products useful year round.”

Continuing the Festive Mood Indoors

You’ve set the scene outside your home, now it’s time to create a warm and cozy atmosphere inside.

Colleen Visage, senior product manager for Progress Lighting in South Carolina, shares several easy ideas for increasing the elegance of living and dining spaces without inflating the budget. “Decorate your existing lighting with festive accents. Replace a chandelier’s crystal teardrops with gold, silver or red glass balls or use berries or ivy to wrap around sconces, chandeliers and pendants,” she says.

“Switch up the shades in sconces and chandeliers. Red fabric shades can complement Christmas decorations in the living room, black paper with silver lining shades will highlight New Year’s celebrations in the foyer, and grey metallic chiffon can highlight other holiday lights in the dining room,” says Visage.

Many homes already have track lighting, which can be adjusted to suit your decorating needs. “Position the track heads and mini-pendants so that they showcase the holiday items on display. Track heads and mini-pendants are available in a wide variety of colors to coordinate with the color theme in your décor,” says Visage. “In the dining room, add more light to the centerpiece or a holiday meal by aiming adjustable halogen track or recessed fixtures so that the light shines directly on the tabletop.”

Dross concurs. “Dim the chandelier in the dining room and keep the pin spotlights over the table directed onto the assembled buffet,” he says.

If you have a tray ceiling or artwork on the walls, have lighting in place that illuminates them and dim any sconces to avoid diluting the focus. A certified lighting consultant (CLC) from an ALA-member lighting showroom can aid you in selecting the right fixtures to achieve this effect.

“I believe the key to creating an assortment of holiday moods is having a well-planned lighting layout,” says Dross. “With a blend of ambient (general) lighting, task lighting and accent (or decorative) lighting configured to a bank of light switches, the scenarios that can be set are almost endless.”

Dross explains, “To establish an elegant, sophisticated atmosphere, I recommend eliminating the general lighting and working with the task and accent lighting. General lighting – which usually consists of recessed cans or fluorescent boxes – can be too bold and prone to glare for holiday entertaining. These types of lights can create exaggerated shadows on guests’ faces, showing them in an unflattering way. Eliminate this light and you create a more relaxed ambience.

“If you want a romantic mood, softer light also works,” Dross continues. “Think of your favorite romantic restaurant. Evenings are typically lit with candles and low-wattage sconces. Most everyone looks better in this very flattering light.”

The same technique can be applied to other adjacent rooms in the home. In the kitchen and the great room, turn off all of the recessed cans. Turn on the toe-kick lighting plus any lighting above or inside glass-fronted cabinets. Use under-cabinet lights to illuminate the buffet, and mini-pendants to light the cocktail preparation area. Light the fireplace to create a warm glow and illuminate any cove lighting.

Edward Cook, president of National Specialty Lighting in Colorado, offers a similar approach. “In my mind, one of the easiest ways to add festive ambiance during the holidays is to simply use the lights everyone thinks of as exterior, but do so in creative interior applications. This idea works especially well if you can layer the ambient lighting indoors by either turning off the standard interior fixtures or dimming them.”

Cook advises trying some themed novelty lights for a bit of fun. “For example, our Chili Pepper Cactus string lights might make an interesting entry to a Southwest Christmas dinner with lots of poinsettias, and our LED Crystal lights could always accompany a festive mantle.”

Both exterior and interior lighting advancements have changed significantly in the past few years. Today, there are more sophisticated lighting choices than the consumer would have ever thought possible in the past.

According to Lentz, “The common mistakes homeowners make in lighting improvements are either using do-it-yourself stores for their lighting solutions (which either fail after a short time or do not achieve the look they were hoping for) or secondly, using an electrician for design expertise and possibly not receiving the most up-to-date fixture and lamp selections that a lighting designer can provide. A designer will usually think outside the box for lighting options that a client may not even be aware of and that could possibly make a significant impact on the overall lighting plan.”

For more home lighting ideas, visit a Hortons Home Lighting showroom . Hortons showrooms have professionally trained lighting specialists to help you create the perfect ambiance for your home.