By definition, a pergola is a structure that denotes and covers a portion of a landscape, typically a deck. But the idea of a pergola can be much more individualized to better match a home and a homeowner's personal style and needs. Before you add a pergola to your yard, think through the design options with these helpful questions.
Is it freestanding or attached? Pergolas can extend from your house or another structure that can be used as a wall stand-in. They can also be placed away from a building, covering a paved or other surface. Pergolas are sometimes used next to outdoor amenities such as a swimming pool or outdoor kitchen.
What's the shape of the pergola? Traditionally, pergolas are square or rectangular. However, they can be shaped to suit your purpose or your yard. A circular path, for example, can provide a border and edge inspiration to a pergola, or a small pergola can cover a narrow walkway along the side of a house. The overhead structure of the pergola can extend horizontally beyond the columns if the space is intended to provide more covering for the area below.
Are the deck pergola's sides solid or open? Deck pergolas can be as simple as four columns and an overhead structure, but they can also be more complex, with decorative or functional features that enclose some or all of the sides. These might be trellislike accents or solid materials, such as glass block.
Is the "ceiling" enclosed or not? By definition, a pergola has some sort of a roof, but the openness of it varies based on needs and wants. A narrowly constructed series of pergola "ceiling" pieces gives more shade, as do inserts, either across the whole overhead area or in a pattern.
Is the pergola decorative or functional? Pergolas can provide a lovely accent to a home, helping to connect spaces or transition from inside to outside without serving a particular function. Others might be used to cover a seating or cooking area. Decorative and functional can also be combined, with a narrow pergola leading to a larger space that's home to outdoor chairs and a table.
What architectural details can you repeat in the deck pergola? Every pergola should relate in some way to the other structures in the yard. That might mean use of a color, material, or particular design detail -- for example, a sloping roof or a brick base -- that matches something elsewhere, either in landscaping, hardscaping, or on other structures. Style is another element that should be repeated to maintain cohesiveness. A very traditional home calls for a similarly built pergola, while a more casual cottage home might require a less formal pergola.
The use of details should extend to the pergola's columns. Pergolas generally rest on two or four vertical members for support and structure. Sometimes those columns are simple beams; other columns might have more decorative elements, such as brick, trim, or paint.
Is the pergola a single zone or multizoned? Smaller pergolas probably only border enough square footage to support one task -- dining, for example, with a table and chairs. Larger pergolas should be arranged with similar design and layout rules as other interior spaces: Group a seating area to one corner and flow traffic between it and a dining space.
What about plants and pergolas? Plants help to soften the edges of a pergola. The columns might be accented with climbing, flowering vines potted in containers at the column bases; sides can support hanging baskets; and a pergola ceiling can be flush with blooms from a winding vine.