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Lighting Small Spaces with Patio Torches

Updated on January 18, 2010

Tiki in the City

If you're like me and love the romantic, adventurous or mysterious mood inspired by the flickering of a flame, you probably have at least a couple tiki torches in your garden. I'm the furthest thing from a pyromaniac, but nothing says "welcome to a tropical getaway" like that flame on a stick so I employ a variety of garden torches in my landscape lighting.

Of course, not everybody has the luxury of a garden large enough to accommodate extensive lighting efforts. And then there are those who don't even have soil in which to plant a tiki torch; urban jungle dwellers who are only likely to see dirt in their apartments if it came in on the bottom of their shoes. Those are the folks I want to speak to today; the balcony bunch and the concrete patio people. To borrow from Budweiser, this hubs' for you. This hub will discuss patio torches and convenient ways to make small spaces or brick/concrete patios into well lit and cozy get-away spots. But first a little about a woman who showed me that just about any space can be converted into something livable with a little creativity.

The Beauty of Fire

Carrie, Plants and Patio Torches

Back in the day (modern lingo for once-upon-a-time) I gave city life a try. Reflecting back there are three things that stand out in my memory the most; the constant smell of curry (love it in moderation but gives me headaches if too strong) from neighboring apartments, the noise and my desperate longing for trees and plants. City life, it turned out, was not for me. I couldn't stand it and couldn’t adapt to it.

That's not to say I don't see the appeal. Cities are particularly great for a younger crowd. Everything is nearby; great delis, great restaurants, bars, shopping, clubs. It's a wonderful way to live if you like everything (including people) close by. At the end of the day, though, you have to come home and that's where the good ran head long into the bad for me. My apartment was filled with second hand furniture. It was a dorm more than anything else, with the usual dorm décor (read plywood on cinderblocks for the most part). Fortunately I found an escape.

My sanctuary, such as it was, came courtesy of a neighbor a few floors up who invited me to a party at her apartment after I helped her get her car started one morning. I'm not the kind who generally accepts invitations to parties where I don't really know anybody, but Carrie was one of those rare personalities who immediately sets you at ease and has you feeling as if you've known her all your life. I didn't have anything going on that evening anyway, so I took the bait.

That night I was treated to amazing food and great conversation, but what's relevant to this article was Carrie's décor. Walking into her apartment was like walking into a tropical resort. If there's a mother nature walking around incarnate on the planet, her name is Carrie. I don't think I've ever seen so many plants outside a botanical garden before. As guests continued to arrive and the apartment began to fill up, a few of us spilled out onto the one positive our apartment building offered; generous balconies. I was pleased to see that Carrie's green thumb didn't end indoors. The balcony was a tropical paradise.

Though our balconies were fairly large, they were still just balconies. Space was at a premium, but she'd managed to squeeze a little table with 3 chairs onto hers. Standing like sentinels at either end of the balcony were a pair of amply-padded deck chairs. Everything else was plants. Potted plants occupied much of the spare space in containers of varying sizes and the view of the city was framed beautifully in hanging plants. The only other thing worthy of note was the inclusion of patio torches in her design. Carrie had shaved a bit of length off of a regular bamboo tiki torch and planted it in the center of one of her planters, then encircled it with a variety of flowering plants. Two small, bracket-mounted patio torches were attached to the balcony railing and a final torch, a stylish number that looked like a piece of Aztec pottery, played centerpiece on the table.

Patio Torches in Many Shapes and Sizes

The lesson I learned from Carrie is that space may limit your options, but creativity can overcome those limitations. Small patios, balconies and other spaces can be transformed into any variety of elegant, fanciful or tropical you have in mind providing you're willing to work with what you have. Patio torches lend an incredible atmosphere to a setting; one that evokes a sense of adventure, mystery and romance. Carrie's use of plants and patio torches turned a drab, grey urban mid-Atlantic apartment into something that would be more at home in Hawaii.

While I'd love to help you cultivate your own green thumb, that will have to wait for another hub. As for lighting for small spaces, I do have some suggestions. The first, for those of you with nothing in the way of ground in which to plant a torch, is to suggest container gardening. As Carrie did, you can purchase medium to large size containers in an astounding variety of styles. Fill them with soil and you have a perfect base in which to insert a tiki torch for your patio. As she did, plant around the torch post for a great finished look.

If plants wither at the sight of you, you can skip the container plants and can convert virtually any in-ground tiki torch into a patio torch with the addition of a tiki torch base. Decorative versions are available in iron or you can go for something a bit less fancy such as concrete. These sturdy bases will keep your torches in an upright position and are ideal for flat, hard surfaces such as patios and decks.

In addition to bases for your torches, patio torches with mounting brackets for attachment to rails, posts and fences represent a tremendous space saver. It's important to note that safety is a key concern here. Ensure these torches are safely away from flammables. If attached to a wooden structure, avoid using these on windy days. Wind directing the flame against a wooden structure could cause a fire.

Finally, table and ledge-top patio torches allow you to place a torch pretty much anyplace. With a flat base and low center of gravity, these torches are perfect on tables or on a wide deck railing. This is another style of patio torch that warrants some additional precautions. If you've watched enough Youtube, you know people light their hair, sleeves and just about anything else on fire by accident all the time.

If you're one of those city dwellers with limited space, boxed in by concrete and longing for a warmer glow than can be delivered by a bulb, don't rule out patio torches. There are many out there that may provide just the solution you need. Just remember to be safe. You might also want to check your building regulations to ensure you're permitted to have open flame light sources on your porch or balcony.


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