Commissioning a gazebo isn't necessarily more expensive than buying and assembling a high-quality kit (they start at $2,000 to $3,000 for a 6- to 8-footer), and it allows you to get a truly customized design. For example, Paul Blazek, a landscape designer in San Francisco, designed an 11-foot-square gazebo with a wooden potting bench and plumbed copper sink inside. The green-stained cedar structure serves both as a working area in a raised-bed garden and as a gathering place for a family with young children. Joan Honeyman, a landscape architect in Washington, D.C., recently built a 17-foot- square gazebo attached to her client's house by a matching arbor — and wired it for high-speed Internet access so it could serve as an alfresco home office.

Planning Ahead
“While a gazebo design needs to blend with the landscape and work with the style of the house, size is also a major consideration,” says Honeyman. “A lot of times a gazebo is too small, but it's not often that it's too big.” She finds that clients either want a gazebo as a focal point in the garden, in which case a smaller 8-foot structure can suffice, or they want a destination, somewhere to go other than the patio or deck. “Once a family realizes how useful it is, and how much they'll be living in it, they want to put more stuff in it. We often start out designing a 12- or 13-foot-wide gazebo to fit a table and four chairs, and then the clients find they want to add more seating, and the size grows.”

When choosing a site for a gazebo, avoid low-lying areas where water collects. Set it on a level or elevated spot in order to keep it — and you — dry, and to maximize the view. Before building, make sure you or your contractor consults the local building department about whether you need a permit. (In some towns, one is required only for structures larger than 10 feet across.) Local building codes also dictate what kind of foundation you'll need. Sometimes a smaller structure can be built on concrete blocks or pressure-treated timbers laid directly on the ground, then reinforced with shed anchors. Larger structures will require concrete piers or a continuous concrete footing dug down to the frost line. Where frost isn't an issue, the footings should be at least 18 inches deep; otherwise, a reinforced-concrete slab, 4 inches thick, can serve as both support and floor.

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