I still remember my first Australian Christmas.
I was in Tamworth, at the family home of a cousin's wife, with their family and friends from grandparents to babies, and we spent the day on a covered terrace behind the house, surrounded by shady trees and large tubs of flowering shrubs.
We exchanged presents, people chatted, made coffee and later drinks, handed out delicious nibbles.
The children played, lunch segued into dinner in the heavenly warm evening and nobody went near the house except to produce another laden tray.
After years of fireside Christmases in the frosty midwinter I'd never seen anything like it - it was like paradise.
I vowed on the spot that wherever in the world I ended up living, I'd have a place for eating outside.
The starting point for an outdoor living space is usually the house.
I love the idea of a pergola hidden among trees in the garden but it's impractical unless you include cooking and washing up facilities.
Instead, walk round your house and think about the aspect: north or north-east is best for shelter from summer hot westerly winds and for allowing the sun in during winter.
Level access to the kitchen is ideal if you can manage it, you soon get tired of carrying trays up and down steps.
Next, think about the floor. Gravel is great but it's not ideal for chairs.
Pavers, bricks or tiles are better, and can be set in gravel to create interesting patterns.
Home-made pavers are cheap and not too hard to make and you can do a few at a time till you have enough.
Remember that your floor should slope slightly in order to carry off any rain that blows onto it.
Overhead comes next.
An ornamental grape (Vitis coignetiae) will cover a big area in only three or four years and nothing beats sitting in its dappled shade, the sun shining through the leaves.
Downside is that a stand-alone vine isn't waterproof - not that it rains enough to worry us in NSW, but you can always count on a shower when you least want it.
One solution is to put a waterproof cover over the whole thing that lets the light in but keeps the rain out.
Our outdoor room has a corrugated polycarbonate roof, which is fine except that it encloses the heat; a waterproof shade sail might have been a better option.
Outdoor rooms are a splendid opportunity to grow climbers.
If your house is painted weatherboard or fibro, you'll need to attach a lattice panel to the wall to support the plants that can be removed when painting becomes due.
Avoid clinging vines like ivy (Hedera helix), creeping fig (Ficus pumila) and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) in favour of twiners like scented snail creeper (Vigna caracalla), passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) or one of the many large-flowered clematises.
Lastly, look at the garden beyond the sitting area.
Frame the view with a semi-circle of small trees - three or five Lagerstroemia Natchez with scented white summer flowers would be perfect - you can easily train the horizontal branches to the height you want, and the bark is decorative all year.
Happy Christmas, happy gardening and happy outdoor living!