Purpose of Pergola – what is pergola and types of pergolas

What is pergola – it’s a good place to rest in a shade

This article is going to help you navigate the world of pergolas. It will cover the definition, the different types, and styles and how you can customize your pergola!

First things first, what is a pergola?

A pergola is an outdoor structure usually consisting of columns or posts and an open roof with cross beams that is usually used as an “outdoor living room,” or a tunnel way, it can be freestanding or attached to a building.

There are quite a few garden/ yard structures out there, and pergolas have become mushed together in the mix, not to be confused with an arbor, a gazebo or an outdoor structure with a solid roof.

What is pergola?
What is pergola?

Pergolas were originally used in Roman or Ancient Greek architecture as a connection between two buildings and as a shaded respite from the sun.

Today’s pergolas haven’t changed too much in functionality, but there are many different types of designs and materials at our disposal today that were not available thousands of years ago, this has led us to many new styles.

I will break down the different types of styles below and whether they are attainable for the homeowner and DIY crowd.

Pergolas made with a steel frame:

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By using steel, which is such a strong material you can drastically alter the design of a pergola by eliminating the need for the traditional 4 post or column design, using steel you can have a pergola with 1, 2 or 3 support beams.

Pergolas made with a steel frame
Pergolas made with a steel frame

This gives the pergola an “industrial feel” and would be better suited to professional builders for public spaces, also there would be little to no maintenance.

While this is a nice option it is usually too costly and difficult for homeowners and do it yourselfers.

Pergolas with a sail top:

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These types of pergolas are more attainable for homeowner but do have some disadvantages compared to other designs.

Sail top pergolas can be built with either 3 or 4 posts and then have a sail connected across the tops of the posts to offer shade, they offer a more modern or chic look, with cleaner lines and little distraction from the structure itself.

Pergolas with a sail to
Pergolas with a sail to

The lack of the cross beamed roof makes growing plants and climbers up this type of pergola much more difficult, and it’s the climbing plants of a pergola that help create the shade and whimsy of the outdoor structure.

Another things to consider with sail top pergolas is the sail itself, the sail would have to be made of extremely durable materials to withstand inclement weather, well still offering protection from the sun. Replacement sales would be expensive and therefore I feel that sail top pergolas are not the best option for homeowners.

Pergolas with a pitched or gabled roof:

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Pitched or gabled roof pergolas are a more common option for homeowners then the options mentioned above, they are usually attached to a home like an extension or outdoor living room, and are at times built above ground with storage space underneath them.

While they are DIY friendly they do require more skill, time and have a higher lumber cost due to the design of the roofs.

With the pitched or gabled roof you are technically building trusses in a triangular shape to offer a higher ceiling and a roomier feeling to the structure.

Pergolas with a pitched or gabled roof
Pergolas with a pitched or gabled roof

A lot of the time people will attach some type of corrugated plastic roofing on these particular types of pergolas since having the pitched roof offers excellent drainage, while this has some upsides like being able to use your pergola even when it’s raining it also ups the cost due to the corrugated plastic and proper water run off systems like eves troughs and down spouts.

All in all these pergolas are attainable for homeowners if they have a budget that fits the design, and some fairly good skills with building.

Open topped pergolas, flat or angled:

[amazonjs asin=”B00WG4Y86A” locale=”US” title=”Backyard Discovery Cedar Pergola 12′ by 10′”]

These are the most common type of pergolas that you will find in the average backyard.

Open topped pergolas consist of 4 beams, usually wooden, and either 1 or 2 rows of cross beaming as the roof top, and angled roofs have one side higher than the other.

They are normally built as a rectangular or square shape, and have many climbing plants growing up them to help offer shade.

Open topped pergolas
Open topped pergolas
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Open topped pergolas
Open topped pergolas

Because these types of pergolas are usually built of wood, they do need to be maintained yearly depending where you live, by apply more exterior protectant or varnish, they are the most affordable to build and can be built in a full weekend if the supplies and tools are ready to go and the person has some building skills.

Now that you know what a pergola is and the different styles there are available I will touch on some of the ways you can customize your pergola to make it feel welcoming!

One of the first decisions will be whether or not you build your pergola on a deck structure or just have the grass as the floor. Secondly you will have to decide which type of wood you will be using to build your pergola, treated or cedar are popular options.

After that you can decide if you want to leave the wood natural or put on a stain color of your choice, and also multiple coats of exterior varnish are recommend to extend the life of your pergola.

Once the structure is built, stained and varnished you can then decide if you would like to add some lattice on certain sides of it, or of lattice isn’t your thing you can add curtain rods and exterior curtains for added privacy and shade.

Next come the plants and climbers that you can choose to put on or near your pergola, clematis are a very popular choice as is climbing honeysuckle, and don’t forget some potted flowers for the inside.

If your climbing plants are fairly young and not offering the shade you would like there are DIY sliding shades for the roof of your pergola that you can add yourself, choose a weather resistant fabric and color you like and you have an instant sliding shade.

Lighting, if you have electricity in your back yard then you can plug in exterior lights in your choice of style and color, or opt for the solar option, lighting inside your pergola will add a homey feel. Don’t forget that you could also put out some hurricanes with candles in them for a romantic escape in your own back yard.

Pergola open roof
Pergola open roof

Lastly décor and furniture for your pergola, you could lay down an outside rug and some outdoor living room furniture, add in some throw cushions and a blanket, you can even hang some exterior garden art and a Bluetooth weather resistant speaker.

On the other hand you could turn your pergola into an outside dining room, you can purchase solar powered chandeliers and a beautiful dining set and have some of the best backyard dinners in your neighbourhood!


All in all a pergola is an excellent addition to any backyard, once you decide on your style and budget you can get started on a project that will offer you many years of outside enjoyment and will turn a few heads at the same time!

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