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Best Pergola Designs And Ideas For Your Backyard Retreat

Katie Ziraldo7-Minute Read
UPDATED: May 30, 2023

Everyone needs a retreat from daily life sometimes. Unfortunately, most of us can’t jet off to paradise every day after work. The next best option is to create a space to get away right outside your back door. A pergola might be just the home improvement addition you need to bring your at-home getaway to life.

What Is A Pergola?

A pergola is an open structure that typically consists of four main support beams with cross beams or a lattice design as the roof. Pergolas are often confused with other outdoor garden and hardscape landscaping features, but are unique in their ability to create a space that gives you an outdoor feel while also providing the sense of comfort of an enclosed room.

Pergolas can be customized to meet the individual needs of your home and have many benefits depending on how you use them, from creating a gathering space to providing privacy from nosy neighbors and adding property value to your home.

Pergolas Vs. Arbors

Pergolas are commonly mistaken for arbors, which have a similar lattice structure, but differ slightly in their overall design. While arbors feature a lattice running across the entire structure, pergolas have lattice only across the top. Another way to differentiate between the two is their overall shape. Arbors are typically arched while pergolas have a square or rectangular design.

Pergolas Vs. Gazebos

Pergolas can also be confused with gazebos. While they’re quite close in design, gazebos have a solid roof, while pergolas have open concept cross beams. Gazebos are also typically round or shaped like an octagon, while the pergola is square or rectangular.

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Different Pergola Designs And Types

The most common pergolas are built with thick wooden beams and feature a trellis on top, but there are plenty of ways to customize yours. Mark Cutler, listed by Robb Report as one of the top 40 interior designers in the U.S., suggests choosing pergola designs that complement the preexisting design of your home.

“You want to consider the style of your garden,” he says. “Pergolas can vary in style from quaint rustic cottage to slick modern versions, so try to find something that works off of the architecture of your home and garden. If you are building custom, maybe mimic some of the details of your home so that it is a seamless transition.”

To help you understand your options, let’s dive into the most common types of pergolas.

Freestanding Vs. Attached Pergolas

One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make about your pergola is whether it will be attached to your home or stand alone. Freestanding and attached pergolas have similar costs, so let’s get into the pros and cons of each.

Freestanding Pergola

Elegant freestanding wood pergola on floating infinity pool deck with white billowy fabric hung from corners.

Freestanding pergolas are separate from any other structure on the property. This allows for more control over precisely where and how the pergola is set up. You will also likely have less red tape to cut through with a detached pergola, as they typically require less permitting to construct.

Attached Pergola

Attached wood pergola on back deck of home.

Attached pergolas partially rely on another structure, like the side of a house, for support. They serve as an extension of the interior living space, allowing for seamless indoor to outdoor entertaining. This is one of the major benefits of attached pergolas, along with better protection from the elements. It also has a simpler construction process, as the pergola uses the house for structural security and therefore requires fewer posts to stand.

But remember that attached pergolas will stay with your property when you move. While this may present an opportunity to increase your home’s value, it isn’t the right choice for everyone, as you may be able to bring a freestanding pergola along with you when you move. These will also require more permits to build.

Wood Pergola

Wood pergola with hanging lights and creeping lush vines.

There’s no doubt about it. Wooden pergolas require more maintenance than their vinyl counterparts. But if the rustic look is what you’re going for, wood is a great choice to bring a more natural feel to the space.

This may be why wood is the most common material used in pergola construction, with cedar wood pergolas being particularly popular because of their affordability, though redwood is another popular choice if you’re looking for a more premium look.

Vinyl Pergola

Vinyl white pergola on back patio of home.

Vinyl pergolas are maintenance-free and come in a variety of colors to perfectly match your space, though the most popular choices are white and black. These pergolas don’t need to be stained or painted, and they won’t rust like metal pergolas would overtime. But you’ll pay for all these benefits, as high quality vinyl can be significantly more expensive than other materials.

Metal Pergola

Steel framed pergola against blue sky backdrop.

If you’re looking to stick to urban design, metal is the best choice of material. While steel will eventually rust, this can actually add character to the structure and offer a more industrial feel to your space. Metal pergolas typically have simple lines and shapes that mix well with modern contemporary design.

Open-Top Pergola

Open-topped wooden pergola with billowing white fabric blowing in the breeze.

With open, lattice style roofs, pergolas tend to let in a lot of sunlight. While this is one of the things that make pergolas great, there may be times when you prefer to relax in the shade. Open-top pergolas are useful if you’d like the option to drape some cloth over the top to provide more coverage from the sun without having a full-on roof.

Gabled Or Pitched Pergolas

Freestanding pitched roof pergola in backyard.

Gabled or pitched pergolas are similar to regular pergolas with the addition of a pointed roof. These are great if you prefer higher ceilings for your outdoor structure, as the raised ridge gives the illusion of more height. Gabled roofs are also beneficial in areas that get a lot of rainfall. That’s because they allow water to run straight off the edge so you can storm watch without getting wet, if that’s your thing.

Sail Pergola

Sail pergola draped over outdoor dining setting for entertaining.

Attach cloth sails to your pergola to offer more shade to your seating area and protect from UV rays. You can opt for brightly colored sails to add a pop of color, or you can choose muted neutrals and stick to a natural theme.

Need extra cash for home improvement?

Use your home equity for a cash-out refinance.

NMLS #3030

Small And Large Ideas For Your Backyard Pergola

If you’re researching pergolas, odds are that you already have a vision for exactly where your pergola could go, but what will you do with it once it’s there? Incorporating a pergola into your yard could look completely different for each person depending on the type of space you’re looking to create.

Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Shaded Outdoor Living Space

shaded area with outdoor seating under a pergola

By far the most popular choice, and a solid one too, shaded outdoor areas are hard to pass up. You can’t beat kicking your feet up and relaxing in a partially shaded backyard paradise.

Hot Tub

pergola providing shade to hot tub

Pergolas allow just enough shade to keep an area cool and out of direct sunlight. It’s for this reason that they pair well with hot tubs. If we’re being honest, any excuse to get a hot tub is a good one, right?

Fire Pit

small pergola over fireplace / fire-pit on a porch outdooors

This is a great option for those who want to get use out of their pergola space in the evening and year-round. The whole family can cozy up around the fire pit or the outdoor fireplace in the colder months, share stories and maybe even roast a marshmallow or two.

Built-In BBQ Or Outdoor Kitchen

BBQ and table under pergola in back yard

If you find yourself entertaining often in the summer and you love to cook out, consider incorporating a BBQ or building an outdoor kitchen alongside the seating in your pergola area. With the guests seated so close, the cook can continue to mingle without having to step away to tend to the food.

Workout Space

woman doing yoga underneath large pergola

A less common way to utilize a pergola is as an outdoor workout space. The partial shade breaks up the direct sunlight and the open concept allows breezes to come through, cooling you during your workout.

Rocking-Bed Pergola

rocking bed attached to small pergola

Sleeping under the stars has never been more enticing. If you have a small yard and you’re looking for a unique piece to really help your space stand out, a rocking bed under your pergola could be just the thing.

Poolside Pergola

large white pergola sitting beside a pool

You can drape white linens over top for extra shade and place a couple of lounge chairs underneath for relaxed seating. With the linens blowing in the breeze and the sun peeking through, you’ll feel as if you’re beachfront in the French Riviera rather than sitting by the pool in your own backyard. Glass of champagne optional.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Pergola

Before you get too far down the rabbit hole of pergola ideas, there are a few factors you should consider to determine whether a pergola (and what specific type) would fit into your life financially and physically.

Your Budget

Before you can do anything else, you need to determine the amount of money you’re willing to spend on your pergola project. The cost of pergolas can range anywhere from $1,000 – $6,000 or more, so it’s important to start your project with the amount you’re willing to spend in mind.

Your renovation budget will determine things like the kind of material you use and whether you build a custom pergola or use a prefab kit. Pergola kits provide readymade options that may be faster and easier to incorporate in your yard, but to ensure your pergola will fit into the size and feel of your space, be sure to take measurements and pay attention to the stylistic details of your home, then choose the kit that matches most closely with your needs.

Your Home’s Location And Climate

Depending on where your home is situated, you’ll need to take sun patterns into consideration before placing your pergola. The placement of your home and the direction the pergola is facing will greatly impact the amount of direct sunlight in the space, so it’s important to determine how much sun cover you want upfront.

It’s also important to consider climate. Softer woods will weather much more quickly in harsh winter than metal or even vinyl pergolas. The goal is to make your pergola last as long as possible, so be intentional when choosing materials to save on maintenance down the road.

Fixture Vs. Personal Property

A fixture is permanently attached to the house, while personal property can easily be removed without damage or changes to the primary structure. So how long do you plan on staying in your current house? If it’s not long, the personal property pergola option may be the best. That way, you have the option to bring the pergola with you when you leave. A fixed pergola, on the other hand, can add resale value to the property.

Pergola FAQs

Where can I buy a pergola?

Pergolas can be built from custom designs or prefab kits. You can purchase a pergola at most home improvement stores. Walmart even has several low-cost pergolas you can order online.

Will a pergola increase my home’s value?

As mentioned before, pergolas can add value to your home. An estimate for your return on investment is about 50% – 80% of what you spent on the project. But if you’re adding a pergola to your property, don’t do it solely to add property value – be sure to actually get some use out of it.

Can I build a pergola myself?

Building a pergola can be very simple or very challenging depending on your specific building plans. However, most pergolas are simple structures that anyone with a basic knowledge of building large structures can tackle with ease. There are a variety of DIY pergola building blueprints and tutorials on sites like Pinterest and Youtube that can be utilized to navigate the process. The key is to know your skill set and when it’s time to ask for help from a professional.

Will I need a permit to build my pergola?

Most cities don’t require a building permit to build a pergola, especially smaller ones that aren’t attached to your house. But make sure to double check with your local municipality before you begin building, as these laws vary by location.

The Bottom Line: Pergolas Can Perfect Your Backyard

Pergolas can differ widely in style and cost, and your plans for your pergola will likely depend on your lifestyle and your goals for your living space. Some pergola installations may be significantly pricier than others, and some pergolas are going to be a springboard to a full backyard redesign. If your pergola plans fall on the higher end, you may want to explore financing options.

A cash-out refinance is one of the most popular ways to fund facelifts for both the interior and exterior of a home. If you’re a homeowner who has built up equity in your home, a cash-out refinance can give you the opportunity to invest that equity back into the home itself in the form of renovations or other improvements. Or – if interest rates are low – you can refinance to secure a more favorable rate on your mortgage. Why not start the process to get a cash-out refinance today?

Need extra cash for home improvement?

Use your home equity for a cash-out refinance.

NMLS #3030

Katie Ziraldo

Katie Ziraldo is a financial writer and data journalist focused on creating accurate, accessible and educational content for future generations of home buyers. Her portfolio of work also includes The Detroit Free Press and The Huffington Post.