Pergolas are relatively simple structures that can anchor a patio, provide some shade, or even become a backyard centerpiece.
And with so many homeowners sinking money into upgraded outdoor spaces, they’re becoming increasingly popular.
But if you struggle to come up with pergola ideas, you might just need some inspiration. Since there’s so much variation, you need to consider what would work best for you and your home.
15 Pergola Design Ideas You’ll Love
Let’s look at 15 different pergola designs to get your creative juices flowing.
While there are countless options, we’ve rounded up some of the most popular and unique options to inspire your build.
A traditional pergola is, at its essence, a simple set of posts supporting some overhead cross-beams, maybe with some lattice on the top or sides.
The ends of the cross beams add some character when contoured a bit, as in this example of a traditional, open pergola design.
There’s nothing too extravagant, but the intricacy of the design is apparent because everything is uncovered.
As you can see, four simple corner posts support an overhead set of beams, with additional cross beams for style and a bit more shade.
Hang a hammock, relax in a chair, or even install a swing to make the space your own.
Get Out of the Sun
If you’re looking for a respite from the sun, a shady pergola is ideal. Whether by the pool, over a patio, or just in a quiet spot in the yard, a pergola with a curtain or shade cloth is like an oasis from the heat of the sun.
You don’t need to build a shade to hold up to the harshness of the weather across all four seasons. Consider that a pergola is an ideal frame for mounting cloth, canvas, or fabric shades overhead and even along the sides.
This provides you with a shady place to hide from the sun’s rays. Then, when the party or outdoor season is over, bring down the shades and store them for the next time.
For some homeowners, the most significant appeal of a pergola is that it can provide covered outdoor space that’s not enclosed. Consider adding a permanent roof to your pergola. Depending on the materials you choose, you can still get plenty of light.
Use clear plastic to stay out of the rain and still see the sun. This sort of design requires sturdier construction but allows you to seek quick shelter in an afternoon shower.
That can be a real game-changer when you’re hosting a little gathering and rain is in the forecast. You don’t have to cancel your plans because you can keep the barbecue going without having to bring the whole party inside.
My neighbor has a wooden pergola covered with a piece of plastic, and trust me, it’s worth doing. While it may not look as classy as a shingled partial roof (his is homemade), it’s great for letting a little light in while hot tubbing in the rain.
Don’t Cover It All
If you decide that you want a bit of shade and shelter while outside under your pergola, but you want to balance that with the rest of your yard, think about how you can divide the space.
In this example, the yard is almost a courtyard. The middle grass section is completely unencumbered, while there is an extensive wrap-around deck and patio. But instead of covering the whole deck, the pergola only covers one section.
The sun can hit the uncovered section, providing you with the best of both worlds. Work on your tan, play catch with the kids, and when the sun becomes too hot, find some shade under your pergola.
When you’re thinking about an idea for a pergola, think hard about what you want to do under it. That answer will go a long way toward determining the design you need.
In this example, the pergola covers a comfortable set of outdoor couches, chairs, and a coffee table. This is the ideal pergola for lounging outside. Ask yourself what you want to do in your life, considering the activities that are most likely to occur.
A pergola could be a great place for:
- Serving cocktails or snacks
- Swinging in a hammock
- Watching TV or a late-night movie outside
- Drying off after a swim
- Enjoying the sights and sounds of nature
- Doing yoga or other exercises
- Reading a book or magazine
If you wanted to, you could just put a bed under your pergola. But then you probably need a lot of privacy.
Add Some Walls, Make a Bar
By adding a bit of an enclosure to your pergola, you can create a bit more permanence by anchoring it to something. An outdoor kitchen or just a wet bar means you won’t have to run inside to get more ice and drinks; they’re right nearby.
You can see in this example how the three sides are mostly open and exposed, with the fourth side closed in. This sort of design lends itself to outdoor entertaining. And on that fourth wall, you could even consider adding a pizza oven, a TV screen, or a window to let light in.
Let the Wind Flow
Billowy curtains and pergolas go hand-in-hand. Homeowners looking for pergola ideas should think about how curtains can act as a bit of shade without adding any permanence or structure to their pergola.
A simple set of curtains can provide some relief from the sun, but you won’t feel like you’re boxed in.
That can be just the right balance of outdoor fun and practicality. You’re in a bit of shade, and when the wind blows, you feel it in your hair, and as the curtains shift, so does the shade they provide.
Match Your Surroundings
This example is a great demonstration of how you can match your new pergola to an existing environment. If you have a wooden deck and railing, consider having your pergola stained to match them.
If you’re installing a new pergola, it might even be time to freshen up your deck and railings, so you could consider stripping them all, sanding, and then re-staining everything to match.
This way, everything will appear cohesive, without anything standing out as older or newer.
Add Some Brick
Pergolas and pavilions are very similar, and as you can see in this example, the roof peaks and lacks the open cross-beam design of the other designs showcased here.
But, even without tending too far toward becoming a pavilion instead of a pergola, adding some brick can lend some permanence to your outdoor space.
The brick doesn’t even have to be integral to the structure. A façade around the support posts is all it takes. And with a little bit of DIY knowledge and some of your leftover bricks, consider adding a pizza oven or fireplace, just like in this example.
A Secret Garden
One of the most traditional pergolas uses its structure to help support vines, roses, or other plants. This integration of your garden into the structure of your pergola creates an encapsulating feeling that is hard to rival.
Sitting in your pergola, wrapped up in wisteria, roses, or other creeping plants, offers a unique ambiance. Think about what you can plant, what you can train to grow, and how you can add flower pots, planters, or other containers. Don’t forget to think beyond your sense of sight.
Instead of just seeing your plants, you might want to hear their leaves rustling in the wind. And don’t overlook the smells that jasmine, lavender, and herbs can add to your outdoor space. If you do your pergola right, you shouldn’t want to ever leave.
A pergola doesn’t have to be all right angles and straight lines. Consider a curved design like in this example. You don’t necessarily want to have bench seating for twelve, but could a curved pergola add some flare to your squared-off yard?
As you can see, the construction of a curved pergola isn’t a dramatic departure from a straight one. Consider how a curved design can complement your existing space.
Go Modern, Stay Traditional
Metal construction is increasingly common. You don’t necessarily need a steel-framed pergola to add a modern touch, and you probably don’t want to go too overboard and completely depart from the traditional aspects of a pergola.
So consider using steel, fiberglass, or aluminum as part of your structure and staying old-school with some overhead canvas or sails as your shade. This technique is a great way to balance your pergola with touches of the old and the new.
This example is a fairly modern approach to pergola building. The frame consists of bioclimatic material and integrates into the structure of the home.
Attaching the pergola to your home’s structure will probably require a permit and the installation of a ledger board to support things.
Pretty much from the moment that you step outside, you are under the protection of the pergola. Its design makes it feel like it’s part of the house, matching in color and overall theme. The hedges and brick walls provide additional privacy.
But they are set back away from the pergola, so it still feels airy and open. The fireplace, jacuzzi, and couch are certainly good attractions, but they don’t dominate the space. It’s no surprise to see a pair of wine glasses on the table. The entertaining possibilities are endless.
Or Not to Attach
Depending on where you live, you might not need a permit to build a free-standing pergola. Still, some municipalities require a permit for unattached structures of a certain size or that are close to the property line.
You should check out your local building codes to understand the requirements. But as you can see in this example, a pergola close to the house doesn’t need an attachment. The choice is really up to you.
This homeowner decided to take advantage of the contours of their home to create a neat little patio in a corner of the yard. This design wouldn’t be possible if the structure had the pergola attached to it. Think about all the possibilities before you lock in a design.
Just Passing Through
The placement of the pergolas doesn’t necessarily have to stop, sit, or lay down. Instead, they can serve as a trellis on steroids.
As you can see in this example, a traditional wood-frame pergola with some classical accents on its posts, set into large planting beds, transforms a walkway into something much more.
Sure, you can pull up a chair and relax, but this elegant pergola is almost an invitation to walk through and find out what else this outdoor space has to offer.
Things to Consider: Pergola Builds
Consider a few major themes in your pergola design phase. This way, once completed, you won’t have any regrets about your pergola design.
- Do you want your pergola to be free-standing or attached to your home?
- Consider traditional wood framing or modern steel framing.
- What is your goal? Do you want shade, protection from the rain, or just a hangout space?
- Consider whether you want your pergola to be private or more open. Use lattice, shade, curtains, walls, and half-walls to make it just the space you want it to be.
- Add amenities like lighting, electric power for fans or appliances, and even screens, sound systems, and a fireplace.
- Consider your furniture choices first, so you don’t run out of room
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it cheaper to build a pergola or buy one?
It's cheaper to build a pergola without buying a pre-made kit or hiring a contractor. However, you'll need to go into the project with the expertise, tools, and time to properly build one to ensure it lasts a long time.
Is it worth it to build a pergola?
Yes. A pergola is a great way to shade your patio from the sun while also adding a nice feature piece to your patio or deck. They're relatively cost-effective when compared to other solutions.
Do pergolas really block the sun?
Yes. Pergolas block the sun, but not all the time. To get the maximum benefit from your pergola, you'll want to angle the flat part of the wood to block the sun at the time when you'll likely be using the patio each day.
How hard is it to build a pergola?
While building a pergola is a relatively easy project, you'll still need a little woodworking and building experience. When in doubt, it's best to buy a kit; a kit will come with all the parts and pieces you need. All you'll have to do is assemble it.
What is the average cost to build a pergola?
While the total cost to build a pergola will vary greatly by size and features included, the average cost of building a pergola is between $2,000 and $4,000. However, you can get a simple metal or wood pergola kit for around $1,500 online or at your local home improvement store.
What’s Your Favorite Pergola Idea?
Your pergola can be pretty much whatever you imagine it to be. Whether you’re going the DIY route or bringing in a pro to build it, consider how you want to use your space carefully.
By considering activities, furniture, décor, construction, and coverings upfront, you’re going to set yourself up for years of fun and entertainment in your pergola.