A pergola is something many Australian homes have in their backyards, but what is it, and how do you build a good one?
What is a pergola?
A pergola is a basic yet practical garden structure that can serve multiple purposes. According to the dictionary, a garden pergola is defined as ‘an arch or a structure with a roof over which climbing plants can be grown’.
An outdoor pergola can be a place to put your outdoor setting to ensure it is undercover, or it can simply be a place that offers shade and privacy within your garden. In fact, according to the Houzz 2017 Landscape Trends Study, of the 86% of homeowners who updated structural elements in their outdoor area in 2017, 24 per cent updated a gazebo or pergola, making it one of the most popular garden features.
What makes a good pergola?
“A good pergola design idea should be fully functional to suit your needs and lifestyle, it should be affordable, low maintenance and offer good privacy and excellent sunshade,” says John Mifsud of Hipages-listed company AA1 Drafting. “A specialist pergola builder will be able to advise on the best style, size and materials based on your requirements and budget.”
What is trending in pergola designs and ideas right now?
According to John, skew shapes, cantilevers and transparent pergolas have all become very popular in Australians gardens recently. However, Cherie Barber of Renovating for Profit recommends keeping things classic when it comes to pergola design ideas.
“I like to keep things simple, especially if renovating for profit,” says Cherie. “I don’t follow trends in pergolas; I’d rather opt for a classic design in timber that can be stained or painted in a colour that blends with the rest of the landscaping.”
What can a pergola be made of?
According to John Mifsud of Hipages-listed company AA1 Drafting, a pergola can be made from timber, metal or aluminium.
“Timber pergolas have the advantage of being a natural product with a natural look, feel and texture which many homeowners seek. Hardwood or treated pine are most common though both require regular maintenance in order to protect it from the elements,” says John.
“Metal pergolas, such as those made from Colorbond, won’t rust and can be constructed quickly if bought in kit form,” says John. “They can cover a wide area with less structural support required than timber.”
“Aluminium pergolas are lightweight and strong options that also won’t rust. Powder coated aluminium comes in a greater range of colour options and offers greater protection,” says John.
What are the pros and cons of a pergola?
Matt Leacy is one of Australia’s leading landscapers and owns the award-winning landscaping business Landart. Matt says there are a few pros and cons to having a pergola in your backyard.
“If a pergola has thinly spaced slats or a climbing plant growing over it, then it will provide shade when protection is needed for the sun,” says Matt. “If the pergola has a deciduous climber growing over it, then it will offer shade in summer, and sun in the winter when you want it.” Another benefit of having climbing plants growing over your pergola, says Matt, is that it will make the structure feel like it’s tied to the garden.
“Pergolas can be great for breaking up a space, creating a secondary seating area or resting place when meandering through a garden, defining different zones in an outdoor area, and also creating visual interest to draw the eye to,” says Matt. “For example, you may want to attract family or friends to a particular part of the backyard for entertaining, or to deter people from certain areas that may be less attractive or safe. A pergola can provide the perfect solution for this, drawing people in for entertaining, relaxing, cooking – whatever you want people to do in the pergola space.”
Matt also says that pergolas are versatile in the way they can be used, but also in the way they can be designed. “They come in a variety of sizes, materials and finishes and are suitable for many different budgets and styles of home. They’re also great for hanging plants and vines from, and you can even attach and alternate lights and awnings, depending on the look you’re trying to achieve,” says Matt.
Matt says that when installing a pergola, you’ve got to make sure it works not only in terms of functionality, but also in terms of your existing outdoor aesthetic.
“There can be a temptation to DIY a pergola because there are plenty of low-cost, in-store products on the market that can be assembled very quickly and easily. However, the problem with these types of products is that they’re often mass-produced with very little consideration for quality and design,” says Matt. “Their materials are often not durable, and can look quite cheap. My biggest caution would be against going with the cheapest and quickest option on the market, because you’ll likely get far less use out of the pergola in the long run. And if you really want a top-quality pergola that can be used season-in, season-out over many years, get a professional in to the job and use quality materials. You’ll get much more bang for your buck over time.”
Matt says a pergola is also less versatile than a fully covered outdoor structure which can be used in all weather conditions.
“Complete cover protection, on the other hand, can be insulated, with heat pads and fans to assist with comfort,” says Matt. “They also allow for downlights, power, fridges and the like so they’re often easier than pergolas to justify the spend on.”
Matt Leacy’s top 3 tips for designing a pergola
- Get the aspect right. “Facing north is good because it will provide shade in the summer and allow the warm sunlight through during winter.”
- Use quality materials. “A chunky hardwood that can be left to weather and go a little rustic. This will not only look good, but it will also save you time and money on maintenance.”
- Detail trims. “If you have a contemporary space, stay away from doing too many details in the timber or swirling corner braces. Keep the cuts square or add a simple angle cut, but nothing more.”
Different types of Pergolas
John Mifsud of Hipages-listed company AA1 Drafting knows his way around a pergola. Here are some of the different types of pergola designs that are available, according to John.
- Traditional “Pergolas with traditional or shed rooves, which are quite common.”
- Curved roof “A simple yet stylish pergola design often made from a powder-coated aluminium with a polycarbonate roof. The curved construction means you can cover a wider area than a traditional timber pergola.
- Freeform “Pergolas don’t have to conform to a particular style of roof, and a good pergola builder can create a freeform structure that provides different levels, zones or even one that covers your entire home.”
- Adjustable or retractable louvered pergola “Retractable pergolas have a motorised awning so that with the touch of a button, you can extended or retract the covering to where you want. Similarly adjustable, louvered pergolas allow you to control the amount of sun or shade you let in without retracting the entire roof."
- Thatched “If you’re looking to create a tropical pergola idea consider a thatched pergola design, typically made out of a thick, natural material which provides cool shade.”
11 of the best pergola designs & ideas
1. Pergola with a shade-cloth roof
Although small and simple this timber pergola design has been given a dark stain and the shade cloth has been chosen to match the it. The result feel Asian-inspired and exotic.
2. Louvered pergola
The benefit of a louvered pergola is that you can change the roofing to allow in more light or provide more shade thanks to the adjustable mechanisms. This particular design is attached to the house and wraps around the side of the property, providing shelter and a place to hang out during summer. The navy and cream colour palette is a classic colour combination. For the most versatility, have the pergola roof made to be retractable and adjustable so it caters to all events and weather.
3. Cantilevered pergola
A cantilevered pergola is the perfect option for those looking for a way to create a little extra shade over a spot in your garden or over a pool, as it is here. A reasonably simple structure, it works best in gardens with a modern vibe.
4. Modern pergola
Drawing in the 70’s interior trend of sunken conversation pits, this timber pergola design idea is perfect for adding a little luxury to a garden or backyard.
5. Pool and deck pergola
Made from timber and wire this particular pergola design is perfect for climbing plants to grow on. As it develops it will provide a beautiful, lush and natural shade position within your garden. Locating it on your deck or by the pool give it extra tropical vibes.
6. Free standing pergola
A freestanding pergola can appear in any backyard whether it’s covered in grass or concrete. Here a timber pergola with a pitched roof has been built to provide pool-side shade in a modern and low-maintenance backyard.
7. Pergola with a pitched roof
Attached to the house this pergola design idea has a pitched roof and lattice enclosing it, providing the residents with extra privacy, a spot of shade and the perfect place to entertaining alfresco.
8. Pergola attached to house
This timber pergola idea is a simple yet effective design that will complement most homes. Being attached to the main house makes is excellent for entertaining and provides a little extra shelter when the weather cools down.
9. Thatched pergola
A thatched pergola is the perfect way to inject jungle vibes into your garden, or make you feel as though you’re on permanent vacation on some tropical beach. The structure is the same as any traditional pergola, and the roof can be pitched or flat, just use a natural plant-based product to thatch the roof rather than timber, colorbond or Perspex.
10. Traditional pergola
Made from timber and located within a small backyard, this traditional pergola design idea shows just how romantic and beautiful climbing plants can be. Just add fairy lights and lanterns for a fancy occasion.
11. Steel pergola design
More suited to a house with industrial design features, this steel pergola design idea features strong lines, is robust, minimalist and probably fits better into an urban environment with concrete than soft gardens.