Pergola ideas - 14 gorgeous garden structures to add style and shade

Enjoy your outdoor space for longer with these garden pergola ideas that will create a stunning outdoor focal point

Pergola ideas with dining table and benches
(Image credit: Future PLC)

Looking for easy ways to give your outdoor space extra wow? Well, we have no doubts that one of these pergola ideas will tickle your fancy and create the focal point feature you’ve been looking to add to your garden.

While the best garden ideas often focus on greenery and plants, structures and shading can also transform your outside space into an oasis. Ideal for gardens that lack visual points of interest, a garden pergola is an easy way of adding height to a one-level garden or creating a breakaway zone for the best garden furniture or even one of the best hot tubs.

But with so many different pergolas out there - from aluminium structures to traditional timber alternatives - it can be hard to know which direction to go in. That’s why we’ve put together some of the best pergola ideas out there to help you choose which shape, style, and size of pergola will suit you and your garden best.

Pergola ideas

‘Pergolas are one of the most popular outdoor trends of the summer and are ideal for adding definition to your garden,’ says Mike Head, Director at Atlas Ceramics.

‘You can use the area as an entertainment or dining space, which is great if you don’t already have decking or a large patio. The structures are also a good way to add some privacy to your space, which is perfect if you live in a property that is overlooked by your neighbours.’

And we’re sure that one of these pergola ideas will take your fancy.

1. Entertain outdoors all season round

Pergola ideas with dining table and benches

(Image credit: Future PLC/Carolyn Barber)

Extend your outdoor space with a rustic timber pergola set up to create a semi-shaded dining area that’s easily accessible from the house. A slatted roof will provide welcome shade from the sun when it’s at its hottest and makes the ideal spot for a dining table, chairs and benches.

Enhance your dining experience by putting down an outdoor rug underneath the dining table to make the space more comfy. Suspend strings of twinkly festoon lights and paper lanterns from the beams to illuminate the space after dark so you can linger outdoors for longer.

2. Reserve a shady spot for seating

Pergola ideas with outdoor sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC/Jo Henderson)

The extra shade offered by a pergola makes the perfect spot for an outdoor seating area, with a garden sofa, bench or modular seating. Treat the space as an outdoor living room with furniture arranged in a sociable face-to-face set-up or positioned outward-facing to enjoy the view across the garden.

Instead of a natural wood finish, go dark and paint a timber pergola in a dark grey or black finish. Using a dark colour makes a more dramatic backdrop that looks super-stylish with colourful garden cushions and outdoor rugs and furniture set against it. Dark colours also make a great foil to show off greenery and plants, making the colours pop more vibrantly.

3. Take a leap and go high-tech

garden entertaining area with pergola, table and chairs, blankets, flowers, lanterns, large floor lamp

(Image credit: Suns Lifestyle)

Pergolas come in so many different shapes and forms, and this allows you to tailor them to your specific garden design. And if you’re someone who prefers a modern look, why not add a modern, high-tech pergola to boot?

Reilly Gray, Co-Founder of Suns Lifestyle explains, ‘The modern pergola has seen a surge in popularity over recent years, propelled by their innovative features, sleek designs, and the ability to extend your living space into the garden without the need for planning permission or costly building works.’

Many of these high-tech pergolas now come complete with electric roofs, side screens, and even integrated lighting so you buy everything as one bulk package. This way, your pergola can be screened from the elements and lit up so you can enjoy it no matter the weather.

4. Go rogue and build your own

Small patio area covered by wooden pergola

(Image credit: Future PLC/Malcolm Menzies)

It’s very easy to search online for the best pergolas and find exactly what you’re looking for. But if you’re someone who likes to get their hands dirty, you might be interested to know that it’s pretty easy to build your own pergola.

However, it’s important to note that you need to really think about the size, shape, and location of your pergola before whipping out your hammer. Reilly says, ‘In terms of sizing, you'll need to make sure your pergola is big enough to contain and cover the furniture you'll be including in it - you want to make sure any outdoor dining or lounging furniture, or a hot tub, is fully underneath for protection all year.

Then, you can decide what added extras you want to include, such as a pergola cover or decorations. It's these little details that will turn this pergola into a true extension of your home.

5. Paint your pergola a calming colour

Pergola ideas with grey paintwork and patio

(Image credit: Future PLC/Fiona Walker-Arnott)

Small garden or compact patio space? Avoid painting your pergola a dark colour or staining the timber a very heavy shade, which can feel overpowering and might crowd a very small space. Instead, follow a trick that garden designers often use when planning your small garden ideas and paint the timber in a soft, blue-grey shade. Pale, muted greys and blues have a calming effect and mirror the colour of the sky, which helps the wood to better blend in and creates a light, airy and more spacious effect.

6. Create a relaxing hang-out zone

Pergola ideas with hanging chair

(Image credit: Protek/Justin Coakley/@designatnineteen)

Position a pergola in a more secluded location where you can create a breakaway zone designated for rest and relaxation. The sturdy overhead beams of a pergola make it the ideal spot for a hanging egg chair or swing seat that can be cosied up with outdoor cushions and blankets.

Hanging chairs should usually come ready with their own heavy-duty chain to suspend them from, which is then connected to a carabiner clip with an S-hook. It will require a hole to be drilled into the overhead beam and should be positioned near a jointed section for strength, but far enough away from the support post for the chair not to knock into it.

7. Stretch your space with an extra-large pergola

Pergola ideas with extra large cover

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Opt for a super-sized pergola to provide coverage over a wider area outdoors. Extending an overhead structure over the entire patio area will ensure that the space is fully usable for longer.

Break the space down into sections for cooking, dining and relaxing by positioning furniture into clearly defined zones. Suspending outdoor lighting and greenery from overhead timbers will help to section off the space and create a visual divide.

With such a large structure, opt for a light-toned wood that won’t overpower the space, rather than a very dark shade. Hanging greenery and foliage and flowers in strategic spots will help soften the linear look of the timber too.

8. Suspend lanterns for extra sparkle after dark

Pergola ideas with hanging lights

(Image credit: Sparkle Lighting)

Create a magical mood on summer evenings outdoors by suspending a colourful array of fabric lanterns from the beams of a pergola. Position them in clusters above a dining table to create a stunning focal point that will wow guests when entertaining.

Suspend lanterns from coloured ribbon or cord, staggering the heights and alternating the colours for a pretty clustered effect. Use solar lanterns that will recharge in the sunshine by day and then come on automatically as dusk falls.

9. Add an easy-up roof for a rustic look

Pergola ideas with outdoor living area

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Give a standard timber pergola extra coverage to provide shelter from the hot sun or gentle summer showers.

For a relaxed, rustic roofing that will offer a degree of shade and protection, consider adding a layer of willow branches, and laid cross-ways over the wooden beams.

While not as sturdy as a solid roof structure, the effect is visually pleasing and will offer a welcome escape from the very hot sun while still letting in soft dappled beams of light.

10. Set up an outdoor kitchen under cover

Outdoor kitchen area in back garden

(Image credit: Annabelle Rogers)

Give outdoor kitchen ideas protection from the elements by positioning your set-up underneath a freestanding pergola. While it won’t offer full coverage from sun and rain it’ll create a more sheltered spot that will provide welcome relief from the sun when it’s at its hottest. Having an open-roofed structure is also advisable when it comes to outdoor cooking equipment as it will allow plenty of ventilation so that smoke, steam and fumes don’t build up.

A stand-alone pergola like this can also be a good way of defining different sections and activity zones in a larger outdoor space. Whether it's an outdoor kitchen, dining area or garden seating ideas, an overhead structure makes the area instantly more visible so it will be more obvious to guests as a gathering point.

11. Decorate with in-season blooms

Pergola ideas with hanging flowers in tins

(Image credit: Pelargonium for Europe)

Whether you’re entertaining guests or just want to jolly up your outdoor space, a pergola offers up lots of potential decorating possibilities that are super-easy to put together, from simple coloured bunting or fairy lights that can be strung across the overhead beams, to hanging decorations and planters that can be suspended up above.

Make an easy-hanging floral display to go above an outdoor dining table. It will create a fabulous focal point and add a splash of colour for summer parties outdoors. Use a couple of old bicycle wheels or plastic hoops spray painted and suspended with rope from the overhead beams. Then simply attach hanging planters from S-hooks filled with colourful summer blooms.

12. Squeeze a pergola into a corner

Pergola ideas with corner seating

(Image credit: Future PLC/Lizzie Orme)

If you’re short on space outdoors, opt for a half-sized pergola instead of a full-sized version. Designs range from corner and fan-shaped pergolas, to hexagonal designs and compact arbours, that can all be slotted snugly into a corner, creating a mini hideaway while still giving a panoramic view of the garden.

Opt for a pergola with a built-in trellis - or try adding your own panels - and then train foliage to grow up and around the framework to provide shelter and shade from the elements.

13. Train climbing greenery to create extra coverage

Pergola ideas with dining table and greenery

(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

Training greenery to grow up and over a pergola creates natural coverage that will look stunning when fully established. Choose a fragrant variety, such as honeysuckle, and the heady aroma will smell gorgeous too when you’re sitting under the pergola on summer evenings.

Opt for a fast-growing climber that will establish itself quickly and provide coverage in as little as two years. Wisteria, jasmine and clematis are all excellent and will give plenty of colour too. Position one plant near the base of each wooden pillar and train the shoots to grow straight up the posts and along the overhead beams to create a canopy effect. You might need to use string or wire supports at first, but pretty soon climbers will be able to take care of themselves and follow the framework.

14. Opt for low-maintenance metal

Pergola ideas with retractable canopy

(Image credit: B&Q)

For a modern alternative to the traditional timber pergola, make a style statement and opt for a sleek metal framed design instead. Style-wise, a sleek aluminium frame looks streamlined and striking, so it's a good choice for contemporary outdoor schemes. Unlike timber, metal won’t be affected by the elements so it will need little maintenance or upkeep.

For extra coverage on warm days, consider a pergola with a retractable textile canopy that can be easily opened out when it’s very sunny or there’s a summer shower.


How do you make a pergola look good?

‘Pergolas and arbours, though they look beautiful in the garden, tend to be fiddly to decorate, and can be neglected over time,’ says Matthew Brown, Technical Consultant at Sadolin and Sandtex. ‘So it's important to look after the timber to keep outdoor structures looking tip-top.’

‘First, it goes without saying that any plant growth needs to be cut back, untangled or taken off the structure as best as you can to allow ease of access to the surfaces you want to decorate. Anything left growing should then be protected by suitable sheeting prior to any preparation or decoration.’

‘If the timber is covered in mould or algae, this should be killed off first using a suitable fungicidal wash solution. However, take great care not to spill this type of product onto any plant growth or open soil. Remember to wash and clean off surfaces with clean water after the treatment has done its job, then allow to dry.’

Is it cheaper to build a pergola or buy one?

This all depends on what kind of pergola you want and need. If you’re looking for an aluminium structure that comes with all of the bells and whistles, it’s cheaper and easier to buy one.

If you’re looking for a simple, wooden pergola, however, it may be cheaper to build one yourself.

Just make sure that you weigh up the costs before deciding on one or the other.

What is an alternative to a pergola?

A much cheaper alternative to a pergola is a gazebo, which is a temporary structure with a roof. This normally comes in a ‘pop-up’ form, which means that you can use it only when you need it.

However, it’s important to note that there is still a big difference between a gazebo and a pergola, so you really need to understand the pros and cons before buying.

So, which of these pergola ideas will you use in your garden?

Lisa Fazzani
Deputy Editor

Lisa is Deputy Editor of Style at Home magazine and regularly contributes to sister title Ideal Home. She has written about interiors for more than 25 years and about pretty much every area of the home, from shopping and decorating, crafts and DIY to real home transformations and kitchen and bathroom makeovers. Homes and interiors have always been a passion and she never tires of nosying around gorgeous homes, whether on TV, online, in print or in person.

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