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What is a Pergola and Why Do You Need One? What is a Pergola and Why Do You Need One?

Interior Design

What is a Pergola and Why Do You Need One?

Written by: Kathleen Quema

A pergola is the perfect overlap between outdoor and indoor spaces. Read all about out how this garden structure can make your summer better right here!

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Summer is here and so is the sun. Getting your daily dose of Vitamin D is essential, and the garden is the perfect place to enjoy the warm weather. But, watch out! Too much direct sunlight can wreak havoc on your skin. One solution to this predicament is to beautify your garden with a lovely pergola. What is a pergola, you ask? Let’s examine what this handy structure brings to your garden on sunny days.


What is a Pergola?


A pergola is an outdoor structure often with no walls and an open-beamed or latticed top. It stands on multiple pillars, forming an area shaded by either woody vines or cloth. Curtains may sometimes be hung up between the pillars for stronger weather protection.



Pergolas are used as either passageways or sitting areas. They’re much more open to the sun than other similar structures. As such, they’re perfect if you want to bask without burning up. Many people decorate them with outdoor seating or tables. A pergola’s roof, if cloth, is usually adjustable to allow specific amounts of sunlight through.


What is a Pergola Used For?


Pergolas have a variety of uses. They can be built as walkways, building extensions, or focal points for the garden. More often than not though, these structures are made for outdoor lounging and gatherings. Suitable furniture for these types of pergolas is readily available, making chatting and dining in the warm sun ideal for any afternoon. Evening parties are also perfect for these structures if you have the right lighting in place.



By providing cover overhead, pergolas are excellent areas to host small get-togethers. They can also serve simply as a place to sit and enjoy a relaxing hour or two outdoors. This type of multi-purpose area makes for an excellent addition to any garden.


Types of Pergolas


There are two primary types of pergolas that we can take a look at. Of course, the materials used to craft them tend to differ. Some pergolas are made of steel while others are made of wood. However, the main difference between the types of pergolas is their roofs.


Cloth Pergola


A cloth pergola has a roof made of waterproof canvas or other weather-ready cloth. This type of pergola is ideal for those who want to control the amount of sun they get. The cloth on top is typically adjustable. It can be pushed aside to allow more or less sunlight into the space. A nice benefit of this sort of pergola is that it doesn’t require constant maintenance. A good wash every couple of months for the cloth should do the trick.


Trellis Pergola


A trellis pergola has two forms. It can either go entirely bare or rely on woody vines to create the protective canopy. In the latter case, the vines are allowed to grow on the trellis framework of the pergola. Trellis pergolas like this are a lot of work, but they’re worth the effort for those willing to invest in their maintenance. The vines will need to be trimmed, watered, and fertilized periodically, but the result is a beautiful mishmash of man-made and natural aesthetics. It may not be adjustable, but if you’re going for that nature-loving look, this is the style for you.



Meanwhile, bare trellis pergolas rely entirely on their beams to provide shade and sunlight control. They make for a sleeker, more modern silhouette and are popular around swimming pools and beaches. The amount of sun you get while using them relies heavily on the time of day and the number of clouds in the sky. However, thanks to advancements in technology, some bare trellis pergolas are being made with blind-like beams that can open and close to control lighting.


Pergola Vs Gazebo


Considering their similarities, you may wonder, “what is a pergola compared to a gazebo?” Both these structures are designed to provide shelter while remaining open to the outdoors. They’re often situated as centerpieces in gardens, and they’re both used to relax outside. If you look past these similarities, there are a few key differences.


Let’s start with their shape and general look. What is a pergola’s appearance in comparison to a gazebo’s? Well, pergolas are typically rectangular, with only four posts to hold up the canopy. They’re often a sleeker, simpler structure. Gazebos, meanwhile, are usually constructed in an octagonal shape with their roof, pillars, and half-walls matching the house they share the land with. They’re typically more walled-in than pergolas. Most pergolas tend to be more open on all sides, while gazebos have either half-walls or fences to protect their main space.



The main difference between the two is how they treat light from their roofs. Pergolas are specifically designed to allow some ambient sunlight through. It either passes between the folds in their cloth or the vine branches. On the other hand, gazebos have solid roofs that block out most sunlight from above. It’s true that gazebos sometimes have extra toppers that allow sunlight in. However, they still don’t permit as much light to pass as pergolas.


Metric of Comparison Pergola Gazebo
General shape Rectangular Octagonal
Appearance and aesthetic Modern Classical
Light Emphasis on ambient light from above Relies on surrounding light
Roof Trellis and cloth types Typically solid


What is a Pergola? – Benefits and Drawbacks


Now that we’ve answered the question of “what is a pergola?”, we can look at why you might want one for yourself. Pergolas carry with them some pros and cons, which we’ll be tackling in this section.




A lot of pros stem from being able to spend more time outside comfortably. The indirect sunlight you get will boost your vitamin D production, which helps your body process calcium and phosphorus. This benefits your bones and teeth. Time in sunlight has also been known to help regulate melatonin, which helps you sleep and thus reduces stress.



Another benefit can come from exposure to fresh air and living plants. The kind of air you get in a garden can help clear your lungs, providing you with clean oxygen to enjoy. This, in turn, strengthens your immune system and brings you some well-needed energy. The green from the foliage in your garden helps too by bringing a sense of calm to your vision. Multiple studies have shown that the mere sight of plants can calm people down. Being surrounded by them only adds to the effect, making a pergola the perfect place to relax.




Unfortunately, there are a couple of drawbacks to owning a pergola as well. As an outdoor structure, pergolas are often exposed to harsh weather. They need consistent maintenance. Their canvas roofs may require changing, the vines may need trimming, and their structures may need to be reinforced. During a bad storm, it’s especially important to bring down or fold up any cloth on your pergola’s roof to avoid any accidents. These are all things you need to keep track of when owning a pergola.



In summary, here are the pros and cons of owning and making use of a pergola:


  • Provides a comfortable outdoor area to relax in
  • Ambient sunlight boosts vitamin D production
  • Fresh air exposure cleans the lungs
  • The sight of garden plants calms the nerves


  • Must be vigilantly maintained

How to Decorate Your Pergola


Whether you’ve purchased yourself a pergola kit or are having one built, the next step is decoration. Picking what furniture to go under your pergola is a very subjective affair. In general, there are a few key pieces you may wish to look at, but the final choices are all up to you. This section covers some of the basics and what to look for in each item.




What is a pergola great for? Relaxation. Thus, it’s only natural to want somewhere to plop down under your pergola. Seating is a very important part of pergola decoration. You need to consider two things when deciding on your seating – how many people can fit and how many people you’d like to fit. Just because you can fit a bunch of people under the same roof doesn’t mean it’ll be a comfortable setup. You may even prefer using your pergola outside of social events and gatherings most of the time. You wouldn’t want to crowd your relaxing space.



In summary, your seating arrangement will depend a lot on what you’ll mainly be using the pergola for. If you plan on having it as a gathering spot first and foremost, then pick up a nice spacious set. If you want your pergola to be your little outside haven, then a couple of outdoor recliners or some folding Adirondack chairs may suit you better. In the end, just remember to pick outdoor-ready furniture. Lugging a lounge in and out of your home every time you want to use your pergola doesn’t sound like much fun.




Tables are next on our list of essential furniture for your pergola. Having a place to lounge is great, but sometimes you’ll want to bring something along to help you relax. Whether that be a good book, a cup of coffee, or your phone (silenced!), you need a place to put them.



Some small outdoor tables will suit that purpose very well. These types of tables provide an easy, compact place to plop your things down. Alternatively, if you’re expecting guests, some coffee or low tables could work if you want a bigger space for their things. Many people also turn their patio pergolas into outdoor dining areas, so a dining table isn’t out of the question either.



Once you’ve chosen a table, you can even go on to decorate it with a small potted plant or some other weather-proof accessories. It’ll go a long way towards tying the space together.




Let’s go through lighting a pergola next. Some pergolas are put up with lighting already installed. For many others though, only the basic structure is present. If you wish to make use of your pergola during the evenings, then adequate lighting is crucial.



One energy-efficient solution is a set of solar-powered lights. These can be in the form of hanging or free-standing lanterns. The daylight will charge them and you can enjoy their glow at night. You won’t need to hassle yourself with troublesome chords or wiring! For an interesting twist, try hanging up a few fairy lights or setting out some mercury glass lamps. That’s sure to add an extra dash of uniqueness to your setup. Of course, having sconces or other lighting installed after the basic structure is up is also an option.


Other Decor


Since we’ve finished going over the basics, you can now go off in search of all the extras. Picking out the last few pieces will be especially important. Many times, it’s the little details that help define a space. A few items you may wish to pick up include a rug and some waterproof curtains. These items together not only provide fantastic utility but also add that touch of completeness to a setup. If you want anything else included, just remember that it needs to be weatherproof to be added to your pergola space. It needs to withstand some wind, rain, and sun to survive alongside the rest of your items.


Frequently Asked Questions about What Is A Pergola


  • What is the point of having a pergola?


Pergolas are excellent examples of overlapping spaces. They have some indoor comforts like overhead shelter and relaxed furniture setups. At the same time, they’re open to the cool breezes and bright sunlight of the outdoors. Pergolas allow you to mix what you like of the two worlds, enjoying them both at the same time.


  • Does a pergola have a roof?


Pergolas typically have either a cloth or trellis roof. Cloth pergola roofs are made of weather-proof fabrics that still let ambient sunlight through their folds. Oftentimes, these types of roofs are also adjustable. You can rearrange them to allow just enough light in as is comfortable. Trellis pergola roofs, on the other hand, usually have woody vines occupying them. This provides natural shade to your pergola area, and it paints a pretty picture from any angle.


  • Is a pergola a good idea?


Putting up a pergola is an excellent idea for anyone with the space, funds, and patience. They make for excellent resting spaces that also work for social gatherings. Medium to large gardens would benefit from one as a focal point. Remember though that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with pergolas. They need maintenance every few months, and you’ll need to keep an eye out on cloth ones in the stormy seasons. Trimming and caring for a vine trellis pergola’s living elements are also in the cards. These brilliant structures are well worth the work, but they do need a fair amount of effort to stay in tip-top shape.




With that, we conclude our deep dive into the fascinating world of pergolas. We hope you enjoyed learning all about them with us. Perhaps you’re even thinking of getting your own now that summer’s here! What is a pergola for, after all, if not to enjoy some sun, fun, and good company?

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