Support columns are typically held by gusset plates bolted directly onto the foundation piers, deck, patio, or concrete floor. Sections bolt together through predrilled holes; smaller pieces screw together. Designs range from simple square latticework structures ($1,500 and up for a 6-footer) to octagons dripping in decorative millwork and capped by a two-tiered, cupola-topped roof ($3,500 to $10,000 for a 12-footer). Most company literature says that a couple of people can put together a small to midsize model in a day or two with just a cordless drill, a wrench and sockets, and, in some cases, a hammer and a nail set. That time frame may or may not include the groundwork. For most homeowners, the hardest part is the foundation. Typically that requires digging and pouring concrete piers around the perimeter and one in the center — for an octagonal structure, nine footings.

How much skill is required? Bruce Swallow, a homeowner who lives outside of Pittsburgh and who modestly describes himself as “pretty handy,” put together a Dalton Pavilions 13-foot gazebo kit with three friends in five hours after church one Sunday afternoon. “But that was after the footers had been poured and the floor joists bolted down,” he points out. The foundation work took two men eight to 10 hours (they were nice enough to do the job while he was out of town). Though he concedes that he and his pals have more skills than most people — one's a plumber, another a drywall contractor — “none of us had ever done it before. Even with only half as much skill, it wouldn't take twice as long.”

The gingerbread-trimmed octagon with a pagoda-style roof, curved balusters, and a ceiling-mount fan was a surprise for his wife's fiftieth birthday. It stands one step up from a corner of their backyard deck, where they use it for casual dinners, gatherings with friends, and reading the morning paper.

“Getting the floor sections completely level, which a lot of people might not even bother with, was probably the most painstaking part,” says Bruce. Now it's a perfect spot for many birthday celebrations to come.

A Bit of History

The gazebo's ancestry can be traced back to ancient Japanese teahouses, Chinese garden shelters, and small buildings the Dutch built beside their canals. Some historians believe that the term gazebo (ga-zay-bo), which came into use in the 1700s to describe garden viewing pavilions, may be the result of a linguistic joke, in which “gaze” was altered to make it sound more Latin. Designer and draftsman Peter Joel Harrison relates another version of the word's origin in his pattern book Gazebos and Trellises: Authentic Details for Design and Restoration. The story goes that at a garden party in 18th-century England, where all things French were in vogue, a guest remarked of the hostess's small teahouse, “Ça, c'est beau!” The Englishwoman then whispered to her friends that the fashionable term for her new teahouse was “gazebo.”
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