As is common in our neighbourhood, our house came with an outside lapa area with a built in braai (barbecue), and like most areas of this house it was functional but not very pretty. Well, semi-functional at least. The thatch was falling off and at some point it had been tiled with white indoor tiles, so it’s like a skating rink when even slightly damp. It also had a cold white fluorescent light, which lacked something in ambiance for warm summer evenings spent round the braai.
Last year when we were in Sweden on holiday I really loved the lighting that people had put up on their balconies. Our hotel was in the Hammarby area, and most of the buildings nearby seemed to consist of shops on the ground floor with apartments above. It just looked so pretty at night with many of the balconies decorated with fairy and icicle lights. This was my initial inspiration to create something pretty here at home. I considered icicle lights, but battled to find nice ones that weren’t twinkly or multicoloured, and were safe for outdoor use. It was a good thing that I couldn’t find what I wanted immediately as, upon reflection, I decided it might look too christmassy, plus the lapa roof is not too high, and would present problems, like having to walk through a curtain of hanging lights to get into the area.
My next bit of inspiration was these string lights:
I saw these online on Restoration Hardware’s site, and of course they are American. So where does one find something like this locally? Short answer, nowhere. I searched all over and was repeatedly offered multicoloured LED balls similar to these:
Not quite what I had in mind… I was bemoaning my lack of success in finding lights that I liked, and the annoying fact that ordering lights off Amazon wouldn’t be a good idea due to the differences in electricity between here and the USA when I friend suggested making my own. Now I had wondered about this, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Anyway she suggested using illumination cable. Remember back in the 80’s everyone had those multicoloured lightbulbs hanging up in their garden/pool/bar area? Well this is the same stuff used to make those – it creates a string of sockets that accept a normal B22 (bayonet cap) lightbulb. I used this tutorial from EmmaJaneNation:
She explains fully how to do it, but basically you screw the quick fit lamp holders onto the cable. Really easy stuff, stick a plug on one end and seal up the other end with a screw-it or some electrical tape and you are done. You can buy all of this stuff at Builders or any other big hardware shop, but I got mine from a dedicated electrical supplier since Builders sells them in packets of five and I want a whole lot of them, 44 total in fact. I used 15w incandescent globes, which are now no longer available. A prettier but costlier option would have been to use some of those gorgeous carbon filament globes. I have stockpiled a few extra globes as I knew they were being discontinued but at some point in the future they will run out and I will have to make another plan. If you’re wondering about the electrical side of it, the cable can handle 25A of current, which is more than the average domestic plug circuit, so even if I (or some ignoramus) foolishly loaded this thing up with 100W globes the circuit would trip before the cable failed.
We then used standard cable clips to attach the cable to the beams of the lapa like so:
Even using 15W globes this thing is super bright, so we added a dimmer switch to make the level of brightness controllable. We also removed the original fluorescent light and put up this little chandelier style light. Even though it is outdoors it hangs right in the centre of the lapa, and so it would take some serious weather for it to ever get wet out there. I promise if there is ever a hurricane we will make sure it’s dry before switching it on.
Finally, the finished product. I’m really happy with the way this turned out, so happy in fact, that I made all my friends come over for a braai in the freezing middle of winter because I was excited about it when we finished it (also, I am poor at planning, clearly this should have been done for summer!).
So much better than the grim fluorescent lighting that was out there before! The area is a work in progress though, it has been re-thatched but still needs to be re-tiled, as the tiles are slippery and a few are broken. Plus I want to build some kind of storage in the area under the braai so we can keep spare charcoal out there without the dog chewing and/or eating it (I wouldn’t put it past him!).
And because I couldn’t quite let go of the fairy light idea, I finally found some non-twinkly, warm white, outdoor safe, non-battery powered LED ones (what do you mean, picky?) from CPS Warehouse. I hung them around the railing on the front patio and am pretty pleased with how this looks too.
The yard is still a disaster zone, and landscaping is not on the cards any time soon, but at least now at night, with the half dead and dog chewed plants hidden in the dark, and the pretty lighting decorating the entertainment areas it is looking quite good.