The outdoor room or kitchen is not a new idea. Indeed, with all the hype over the past several years about both, outdoor rooms and living areas during the warmer months have become more of an expectation.

If you want to expand upon or improve your existing outdoor space, what are some worthy considerations in 2014?

Two key trends: low-maintenance and sustainable. Even if you have a green thumb, you want to be able to enjoy your outdoor rooms. Having to constantly mow the lawn, water the greenery, or continuously move cushions indoors and out is not the best use of your outdoor entertainment time.

John Cullen Lighting
This outdoor room seems to glow in the twilight.

1. Lighting

Gone are the days when "outdoor lighting" meant sticking a few solar-powered spikes along the garden path and calling it complete. As with indoors, the goal is to create ambiance and mood; to make spaces usable at all hours and for multiple functions.

Pathways, stairs and doorways need to be illuminated for safety, but what about the dining and seating areas? While a fireplace or fire pit and lots of candles can be added to your lighting plan, know that more is needed.

Consider outdoor pendants, chandeliers or even LED lights that offer varying color options for something a little more playful. Place lights on different control switches, remember that timers and dimmers are options, and take advantage of the many heights available to you outdoors.

Top Dreamer Firelight can prolong the day's use of the outdoor space.

2. Fire features

Though fire was mentioned as a component of lighting, it really does belong on its own. Because while firelight prolongs the day's use of the outdoor space, it is the heat of the fire that prolongs the seasonal use, particularly in climates that experience four distinct seasons, not just "wet" and "dry."

One caution with regard to outdoor fires: check your local by-laws to ensure your fire feature, especially if it includes open flame, won't get you into any legal trouble.

You can have an almost entirely "green" space without a stitch of grass.

3. Keep it native and sustainable

What's an outdoor space without some greenery? The trick to minimizing maintenance is to opt for native plants and/or ones that are drought-resistant. That way, you need not worry about nightly waterings or any drastic changes in weather conditions — native plants have built up a tolerance.

Note that grass in included here. As much as grass has somehow become the standard for yards, it often isn't the best solution; consider alternatives so that you can keep the grass to a minimum.

If any of the plant species you use require regular water, consider installing drip irrigation. Keep in mind, too, that you don't need a horizontal plane to have a garden. Vertical gardens are hot right now. If all you can visualize are climbing vines, do some research as vertical gardens can be stunning.

Woolly Pocket
Even vegetable gardens can be grown vertically, so do not despair if you are a condo dweller or have only a small plot of land to call your own.

4. Grow your own

Whether the impetus is the current popularity of all things zombie, the hipster foodie movement or something else, there is no denying the resurgence in growing one's own herbs, vegetables and even fruits. Having your own supply of quality ingredients can also be a great inspiration for eating more healthfully.

Home Styler
Natural stone is a timeless addition to any outdoor space. I love that they incorporated a vertical garden into the design of the double-sided fireplace.

5. All natural

Natural materials, like stone slabs and real wood, may have a greater initial cost than man-made composites and plastics or vinyls, but the lifetime value is also higher. Plus, why would you want your natural outdoor area cluttered with unnatural materials?

Best Home
Notice the benches that surround the dining area are actually fireplaces. I wonder if guests could sit upon them or if they are only for show?

6. Lounge-worthy

Particularly if you're entertaining, seating is crucial. Many of us are not blessed with the space to accommodate multiple separate seating and dining areas. Be creative with your space, and remember that built-in seating and benches are not limited to the indoors, especially if you require space to store cushions, gardening or cooking tools, toys or whatever else that stays outdoors. Build into or along a retaining or devising wall.

What are the most important aspects to planning your outdoor space(s)? Focus on smart design and low-maintenance elements that cater to entertaining and/or relaxing at any time of day — whether bright, overcast or dark, wet or dry.