If you hope to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor living, think about putting a pergola in your yard. This popular architectural element, akin to an arbor, is typically supported by concrete footings and posts; it may be freestanding or attached to your home. Unlike a gazebo, which is octagonal in shape and has a solid roof, a pergola is rectangular and offers an airy, open ceiling, usually of beams and rafters, to filter light while providing some shelter and shade. It may be built of several different materials, in various sizes and styles.
Ways to Add a Pergola to Your Backyard
The pergola’s purpose is to visually delineate an area for lounging, dining, grilling, or some other favorite activity, while lending cohesion—tying house and landscape together. It can sit on a deck, patio, or right on the lawn. Those constructing or renovating a home can consult with their architect/designer about adding a pergola.
There are also numerous kits available, even free plans online for ambitious DIYers. So get inspired by the ideas here to find the perfect pergola for your space.
One of the most popular woods for backyard structures, cedar is durable, decay-resistant, and abundantly available, which makes it a budget-friendly choice. A cedar pergola with decorative arches and scroll cuts will suit most traditional homes. A worthy alternative to cedar is redwood, which is hardier—but pricier.
What about other woods?
Relatively inexpensive pine is a pergola possibility, and if you stain it yourself you can save even more. While pine is more prone to warping and weather damage than cedar and redwood, pressure-treated pine is fairly rugged stuff. Then there’s teak, fir, acacia—in fact, the only real limit is your imagination: You can integrate reclaimed barn wood, salvaged beams, or even a backyard tree into a pergola design.
Go modern with metal
A steel pergola makes a sleek, simple statement, especially paired with concrete hardscaping and minimalist furniture. To further the future-is-now vibe, consider a modern metal pergola with automated pivoting louvers or a sliding “sunroof” mechanism to offer full sun, full shade, and anything in between. Folks with welding skills can DIY a pergola out of steel pipe.
Try a vinyl structure
Cheap? Flimsy? Not today’s vinyl, which many pros consider the ideal material for outbuildings. It’s sturdy, maintenance-free, and resistant to warping as well as UV and weather damage. A classic white vinyl “picket fence” style pergola may be just the ticket for your traditional home or cottage.
Factor in fiberglass
Perhaps the priciest option, fiberglass (aka composite) has specific benefits for a pergola. Lighter than wood yet stronger than steel, it may not need the same deep footers other materials require, and it can span larger areas without additional posts, which lends a clean, contemporary look. Fiberglass is fully rust, rot, warp, and bug resistant, and it holds paint extremely well.
Ensure enough shade
The more shade a pergola provides, the more it can help cool the interior of your home—a bonus for lower energy bills. Adding shade is the purpose of purlins: smaller pieces that may be placed on top of and perpendicular to the rafters. There are also ample canopy options. Look for retractable or sliding styles to offer complete control of the sunlight situation. UV-resistant materials that clean up with just a dousing from a garden hose are a plus.
Go beyond beams
Crossbeams aren’t your bag? A thatched roof gives a tropical vibe, especially when partnered with rattan furniture and potted palms. If your home has a Mediterranean or Asian feel, perhaps a screen with a pattern reflecting that part of the world will make a perfect pergola topper.
Add substance with stone
Pillars of stone lend stately permanence to a pergola, whether you like classical columns or a more natural, rustic style. Posts can also be encased in covers made of of rugged, realistic faux stone. Mix materials, such as wood posts on stone bases, for an interesting textural touch.
Attached or freestanding?
A wall-mounted pergola tends to be a better option for smaller spaces, such as a side yard or deck. Upper framing is anchored to the wall on one side, with two footings/posts reaching the ground on the opposite side. Wall-mounted pergolas typically require installation on a structure with a concrete foundation. If the mounting wall isn’t sturdy enough to give adequate support, the pergola could collapse, potentially injuring people and possibly damaging the home.
Encourage plant life
Take advantage of a pergola’s arbor-like structure with climbing vines, hanging baskets, and/or potted shrubs that form a natural wall. Plenty of plants further erase the border between house and yard and add to the outdoorsy appeal of the space.
Corner the market
A corner pergola can create an intimate nook in an open space or define an existing corner. Also called a cabana-style pergola, it’s formed by two sides with a triangular roof. Seating along the sides with a table in the center creates the ideal spot for conversation and cocktails.
Build it over a bar
If al fresco refreshment is key to your outdoor enjoyment, perch a pergola over a bar—going full-on tiki or something more classic than kitsch. At the bare minimum, include room for several stools on one side of the bar and shelving on the other for mixology supplies.
Pair it with a fire pit
Few outdoor areas are as inviting as a fire pit sheltered by a pergola. Ensure the minimum clearance between the flames and the overhead structure: about 94 inches for liquid propane and 120 inches for natural gas; a wood-burning pit is too unpredictable to sit under a pergola.
Talk about a grill cover
Whether you’re craving a complete outdoor kitchen or just want to define your cookout station, a pergola can fill the bill. One popular simple design includes a grill set in stone with countertops for food prep on either side. Or expand the framework to add a fireplace/brick oven, and perhaps bar-height seating along one side.
Improve your pool area
After a refreshing dip, skip the sunbathing and relax under a freestanding poolside pergola. It can simply shelter several lounge chairs or a table and chairs for a casual meal or an après-swim backgammon game.
Seclude a spa
A pergola filtering the sun above your hot tub may allow you to linger in the water longer. A version with adjustable drapes or partial walls—made of slats, screens, or trellis material—will add an extra level of privacy around the spa.