Top 6 outdoors design trends for 2014

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.

Now for the list:

1. Lighting

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.  And remember that pathways, stairs and doorways need to be illuminated for safety.

2. Fire features

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."  Check your local by-laws to ensure your fire feature, especially if it includes open flame, won't get you into any legal trouble.

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.  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.

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.

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?

6. Lounge-worthy

Seating is crucial.  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, or whatever else that stays outdoors.  Build into or along a retaining wall.

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.