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What Is a Pergola? (Plus: Why You Might Love One!)

What Is a Pergola? (Plus: Why You Might Love One!)

If you want to add something to your yard to spruce up its appearance and get some reprieve during the summer months, you might want to consider getting a pergola! While it may sound like an odd word, it’s a great way to dress up your yard and create a comfortable space to spend time outdoors in.

A pergola is an outdoor structure that is commonly used to shade a walkway or sitting area. It is formed by using open cross beams and lattice that is held up by vertical columns or posts.

Unsure about what a pergola is or why you might want to invest? I’ve got you covered. Below I’ve outlined everything you need to know about pergolas, from their purpose to their benefits. 

What Is a Pergola?

What is the purpose of a pergola?

A pergola has a unique, seemingly unfinished design that protects outdoor areas from harsh sunlight. A standard pergola has a lattice top formed from wood planks and four supporting beams if it stands on its own.

People often use pergolas in their backyards or on patios to surround sitting areas. 

The pergola’s roof doesn’t provide full coverage. Instead, it features gaps that let light in, making the structure vulnerable to wind, rain, and sun. However, it does provide some relief!

The idea behind a pergola’s design is not to completely block out the elements but to invite them into your space while providing a minimal barrier. 

With a pergola, you get some reprieve from harsh UV rays while still getting to enjoy the outdoors. The pergola’s purpose has grown in popularity in hot climates such as Arizona and New Mexico.

It allows residents to enjoy the outdoors even in the South Eastern region’s climbing temperatures.

Different Types of Pergolas

Pergolas come in various designs. As mentioned before, the standard pergola, most popularly depicted when describing the mechanism, has a lattice roof and stands alone on four supporting beams.

However, you may find automatic, fabric, and built-in pergolas too. 

Automatic Pergola

An automatic pergola features a metal composition in different colors to suit your yard’s aesthetic such as black, white, or brown, unlike a standard wooden pergola. It does not feature a lattice roof but single planks lying across its width instead. 

This pattern lets you control the folds with a remote to determine the amount of light you want to let into your space because the planks can shut easier than if in a lattice pattern.  

Automatic pergolas can provide fuller coverage than a wooden or fabric pergola so, you can enjoy your backyard or outdoor space even in the rain. If you get too hot while you’re outside but don’t want to go in, you can effortlessly click a button to provide some shade. 

Fabric Pergola

A fabric pergola combines fabric with the standard wooden pergola design.

Instead of letting tons of light through its roof gaps, the fabric rests on top to provide a barrier between you and the sun.

The material for these pergolas vary but isn’t often too thick to let some light through while providing ample shade. 

Built-in Pergola

While a traditional pergola stands alone, a built-in pergola acts as an eave of sorts, sprouting from your home’s facade to cover a patio or yard area.

Unlike a stand-alone pergola, these built-in structures do not have many supporting beams since it uses your home as its main foundation. 

Built-in pergolas provide covering for sitting areas much like any other pergola structure but can also offer coverage for steps or entryways from your home to your yard. 

Pergola Benefits and Features

Besides providing some shade, pergolas have many different features and benefits depending on the type and build you acquire.

Pergolas can serve as decorative sitting areas, walkways, gardening protection, and support, and general decorative structures to add to your yard’s aesthetics. 

#1 Decorative Sitting Area

Pergolas on their own can serve as a symbol for a designated sitting area with outdoor furniture placed strategically beneath.

However, it can serve as a decorative sitting space, too, if you plant or wrap ivy strands or other vine flowers around its foundational beams. 

The vines can wind their way up the beams and cascade through the roof’s gaps to create a beautiful, flora-filled space you can sit under or admire from a distance. 

#2 Walkways

You can build a pergola around areas in your yard with stone paths or unclear walkways for events or day-to-day use.

A pergola that fits over a path lets people know they can walk through the area to a designated location, often used for event venues or some decoration in a yard. 

Using a pergola as a walkway is a nifty way to connect areas within your yard with a clear entryway. If you have a particularly lengthy distance to walk that’s open to the elements, a pergola can provide some reprieve from wind and sunlight as you walk through. 

#3 Gardening

Whether you plant flowers or tend to a vegetable garden, your plants may require varying amounts of sunlight. In this case, a pergola serves as a protective barrier for your plants.

It prevents your plants from getting too much sunlight throughout the day without blocking out the sun completely.

If your garden features plants with vines or exponential growth, you can even use the pergola for stability. Plants with vines can wind around the beams for support, and you can easily tie up plants to the structure.  

#4 Aesthetics

Another common benefit or use for a pergola is to provide a decorative element to your yard.

Pergolas come in many different sizes and materials and can effortlessly spruce up your yard!

Covering a sitting area with a pergola gives the space a more distinct presence, especially if you hang outdoor lights around its perimeters or throughout the roof’s beams.

What’s the Difference Between a Pergola and a Gazebo?

While pergolas invite the elements into space, gazebos provide more protection. Gazebos often have closed roofs much like a shed or house has, with a slightly open space at their tops allowing for airflow.

Gazebos can also come entirely enclosed with a door and solid walls, whereas pergolas remain vulnerable to the surrounding world. 

Some gazebos even come with built-in sitting if you choose an advanced model, while pergolas require extraneous seating elements.

Ultimately though, the most significant difference between the two structures is the full coverage you get from a gazebo’s roof.

What’s the Difference Between a Pergola and an Arbor?

Arbors and pergolas look similar with their latticed or parallel planked roofs, but arbors are substantially smaller than pergolas. They don’t provide enough space for you to fit seating arrangements beneath them.

Arbors also have latticed sides, which people often use for support when gardening. 

While pergolas can serve as decorative yard structures, decoration is an arbor’s fundamental purpose. An arbor is not as diverse in functionality as a pergola. 


Pergolas may have come about as an enlarged version of a roofing eave, but they now have many different functions and benefits. A pergola, essentially, is a structure designed to provide some shade to outdoor spaces without blocking out the elements entirely.

You can use them as decorative sitting areas or support for gardening and can get them in various designs dependent on your taste. 

You might not think you need a pergola, but having one can completely transform your backyard from a place you step out to from time to time to a resort-style paradise you enjoy for meals, relaxation, gardening, and much more. 

Now that I’ve covered everything you need to know about pergolas, all you have to do is decide to buy one. 

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Lindsay Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! I created this website to be a resource for everyone who wants to make the best home possible.