Pergolas are not just hardscape structures; they are the epitome of elegance and functionality in your backyard. They provide shade, architectural style, and a touch of nature, making them an essential addition to any outdoor space. And, although pergolas aren’t designed to provide complete shelter overhead, such as a gazebo roof does, pergolas are designed to provide some shelter and even privacy, especially when they’re enclosed. (Some of the richest opportunities around furnishing a pergola lie in creating shelter within it.)
Because pergolas serve as both a functional structure and an aesthetic focal point, it’s important to consider how to make the most of it and to carefully consider how you furnish and style it. Whether you have a small, cozy pergola or a sprawling one, here are some tips and ideas to help you transform it into an inviting outdoor oasis.
Planning Your Pergola Space
Assessing Your Needs
Before diving into the world of pergola furnishings, take a step back and assess your needs and plans. Knowing your purpose will guide your design choices. Go back to why you decided on a pergola, rather than a gazebo or arbor, initially. Did you envision a sheltering space for you and your family or an expansive and open space for entertaining? Were you thinking peaceful retreat or party space vibe?
Is the pergola you chose large or small? According to interior designers, you don’t want to choose big design tactics for a smaller structure, or vice versa. You want to ensure that the dimensions are correct for your pergola plans.
“If it is undersized, there will be trouble with the furniture arrangement under the pergola. On the other hand, an oversized pergola will dwarf anything around it, from the furniture to even the house, if installed beside it,” according to Designing Idea. “Standard sizes are available for a pergola, from small to large to freestanding pergolas, making many choices possible. Many pergolas fall under the small to medium size with dimensions of 12 by 16 feet. Any measure under this will provide shade and ambiance for the backyard of smaller and medium-sized homes. However, you may need to reposition your furniture for smaller structures to follow the shade.”
If you’re envisioning a large fire pit, barbeque or outdoor kitchen, go big, Designing Idea says.
“A large rectangular pergola is sized 16 by 20 feet. These sizes, from 12 by 16 feet to 16 by 20 feet, can also be the basis for freestanding pergola sizes. It can accommodate a larger party making it the best choice for people who like hosting.”
Setting a Budget
Creating a budget is a crucial step in furnishing your pergola. It helps you prioritize your expenses and ensures you don’t overspend. If money is no object (lucky you!), you probably already have a style and type of décor in mind. Maybe you saw a lavish outdoor style in an inspiration gallery or at a neighbor or friend’s house. For those who want to spend a little less to furnish their pergola, you can still use inspiration galleries, like this one from HGTV and this one from Better Homes & Gardens. Although not all the ideas are inexpensive to implement, they can create a spark of inspiration to help you choose less expensive options that achieve a similar look and feel.
Remember, you can achieve a stunning pergola on any budget.
Obtaining Permits (if required)
In some areas, you may need permits to build a pergola. Check with your local officials to ensure you’re compliant with regulations before you start the construction.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer as each city and state has different permit requirements, but don’t neglect other considerations when building a pergola. If you plan to add any special features such as a fan, lighting, or additional outlets in or on your pergola, you will need an electrical permit.
“If you do need a permit, city and state regulations will determine which materials you can use or avoid. They will also cover structural integrity rules and give you minimum construction standards to follow. The purpose of these permits is to make sure projects are completed safely, especially if they’re of greater risk than others,” according to Upgraded Home. “Depending on your city and state, you may need more than one permit. Two commonly required permits when building a pergola are a planning permit and a building permit.”
And, if relevant, remember your homeowner association (HOA).
“Your HOA will need to give you clearance to build any structure in your neighborhood, including a pergola. HOA rules often govern the building of a fence or structure, and they are particular about protecting the property owner’s views,” according to Upgraded Home.
Selecting the right flooring sets the stage for your pergola’s style. Whether you prefer natural stone, pavers, or wooden decking, your choice should harmonize with your overall vision. Choose a flooring material that suits your style and needs. Options include wood decking, stone pavers, or even a lush outdoor rug. The flooring should be both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Add a layer of comfort and style with outdoor rugs. They not only define zones, but also provide warmth underfoot. Choose weather-resistant materials for longevity.
Shelter and Shade
The roofing of your pergola is crucial for protection against the elements and, while pergolas provide partial shade, it’s a good idea to incorporate additional shade options. Install outdoor curtains or retractable shades or awnings that can be drawn when the sun is too intense or during a light rain. These not only provide relief from the elements but also add a touch of elegance to your pergola.
Choosing the Perfect Furniture
One of the major steps in furnishing your pergola is choosing the right outdoor furniture. Consider the size of your pergola and, again, how you intend to use it. For a small pergola, a bistro set or a couple of cozy chairs with a small table might suffice. Larger pergolas can accommodate a full outdoor dining set or a comfortable lounge area.
Enhance the comfort of your outdoor furniture by adding cushions and pillows. Opt for weather-resistant materials that can withstand the elements. Vibrant, water-resistant cushions and decorative pillows not only add comfort but also inject personality and color into the space.
And don’t let your budget get too tight when selecting outdoor furniture fabric. High-quality fabric is crucial for outdoor use, says Adriene Ged, an interior designer, in this article from architecturaldigest.com. In the article, Ged says she likes Sunbrella, Perennials, and Revolution fabrics.
Dining Al Fresco
Pergola Dining Sets
Make outdoor dining a breeze with pergola dining sets. From intimate bistro tables to large family-sized sets, there are options to suit every space and occasion.
A table and chairs anchored by an outdoor rug creates a comfortable conversation and dining area. If you’ve thought of how to keep the sun’s rays at bay with color-coordinated tarps or sunshades, you’ve created an inviting outdoor eating space. For cooler nights, add electric patio heaters and extend your evening meal or game night without the chill.
Outdoor Kitchens: The Ultimate Dining Experience
Take your outdoor dining experience to the next level with an outdoor kitchen. Install a grill, countertops, and storage for a complete culinary adventure. Need inspiration for this aspect of furnishing your pergola? Check out this inspo from Homescopes and this inspo from HGTV.
Lighting the Ambiance
Create a magical ambiance with carefully placed lighting. Options such as wall sconces, post lights, and lanterns can transform your pergola into an enchanting space. Lighting plays a significant role in creating ambiance in your pergola. String lights, lanterns, and candles can all add a warm and inviting glow to the space. Consider solar-powered options for eco-friendly lighting solutions.
String Lights: A Timeless Classic
String lights are a timeless addition to any pergola. They provide a warm, inviting glow that sets the perfect mood for evening gatherings. This blog has some good advice for hanging string lights so that they look their best—and you don’t hurt yourself in the effort!
“You can use string lights with an Edison bulb to further define your structure. Edison-style bulbs give off a warm glow and a charming look that’s perfect for the cozy feel of a pergola. Try lining the perimeter of your structure with lights, or do a combination of perimeter and zigzag strings of lights. Depending on your structure, you can use string lights both across the ceiling and on the sides,” according to online lifestyle site The Spruce. “The primary purpose of most lights is to illuminate the surrounding area, but fairy lights work beyond that. They can be installed to make your backyard appear elongated. All you have to do is install the lights in a geometric pattern (which will look like a transparent roof) at the same height as your backyard roof.”
Climbing Plants for Pergolas
Pergolas offer a distinct architectural framework that lends itself perfectly to the beauty and charm of climbing plants. These plants not only enhance the aesthetics of your pergola but also provide natural shade, privacy, and a touch of greenery. Here are some popular climbing plants that are well-suited for pergolas:
- Grapevines (Vitis vinifera): Grapevines are a classic choice for pergolas, particularly if you enjoy the idea of harvesting your own grapes. They provide lush foliage and dappled shade during the summer months. Grapevines also offer a rustic, Mediterranean ambiance to your outdoor space.
- Wisteria (Wisteria spp.): Known for its stunning cascading blooms in various shades of purple, blue, and white, wisteria can transform a pergola into a romantic haven. Its fragrant flowers and trailing vines create an enchanting atmosphere.
- Clematis (Clematis spp.): Clematis is a versatile climber with an array of flower colors and shapes. Its ability to coexist with other plants makes it a great choice for mixing and matching with other climbers. Clematis’ delicate blooms add a touch of cozy elegance to your pergola.
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.): Honeysuckle vines offer sweetly scented blossoms that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. They come in various colors, including white, yellow, and pink. Honeysuckle provides both beauty and fragrance to your outdoor space.
- Jasmine (Jasminum spp.): Jasmine is known for its intoxicating fragrance, which fills the air in the evenings. It produces clusters of small, white or yellow flowers that add a sense of serenity and relaxation to your pergola.
- Climbing Roses (Rosa spp.): Roses are renowned for their timeless beauty and symbolize love and romance. Climbing rose varieties can be trained to cover your pergola with a profusion of colorful, scented blooms.
- Passionflower (Passiflora spp.): Passionflower vines feature intricate, visually striking and exotic flowers. They attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies and add a matchless, tropical touch to your pergola.
To successfully cultivate climbing plants on your pergola, provide sturdy trellises or supports for them to cling to. Regular pruning and maintenance may be necessary to keep the plants in check and promote healthy growth. Additionally, consider the local climate and the specific needs of each plant when making your selection.
Also double-check the invasive status of the vines and flowers you’d like to include. Your local nursery can advise you on whether a beautiful vine will take over your yard and pergola, or play nicely with all the other surfaces and plants in the space. For online guidance on climbing plants, visit a reputable gardening site, such as Gardener’s Path.
Privacy and Screens
Privacy Curtains and Panels
Ensure your pergola offers the desired level of privacy with curtains or panels. They not only shield you from prying eyes, but also provide an elegant touch. See more about pergola curtains here.
Louvered Pergolas: Elegant Privacy Solutions
Louvered pergolas give you control over sunlight and privacy. Adjust the louvers to create the ideal environment for relaxation or entertainment.
Personal Touch with Decor
Personalize your pergola with decorative elements such as wall art, sculptures, or wind chimes. These accents reflect your personality and elevate the overall design.
Infuse your personal style into every aspect of your pergola, from furniture choices to color schemes. Let your creativity shine through in your outdoor haven. Add personal touches to your pergola with artwork, sculptures, or decorative screens. These items can reflect your personality and style, making the space distinctly yours.
Inviting Nature In
Birdhouses and Feeders
Attract feathered friends to your pergola with birdhouses and feeders. Enjoy the sights and sounds of nature while relaxing outdoors. And if you’re really interested in the birds your peaceful retreat might attract, consider the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free Merlin Bird ID app to identify bird sounds. Merlin can currently recognize the sounds of more than 400 species from the U.S. and Canada.
“As Merlin listens, it uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to identify each species, displaying in real time a list and photos of the birds that are singing or calling,” according to the lab’s news release.
Create a haven for butterflies with nectar-rich plants and butterfly feeders. Witness the beauty of these colorful insects up close.
For information on how to best create a butterfly garden, check out a site such as the David Suzuki Organization.
A final note about regular maintenance and how crucial it is to keep your pergola and furnishings in top condition. Invest in high-quality, weather-resistant furniture and accessories, and cover them when not in use to extend their lifespan.
Furnishing and styling a pergola is an exciting opportunity to create an outdoor oasis that suits your lifestyle and aesthetic preferences. With the right furniture, lighting, plants, and artistic decor, you can transform your pergola into a welcoming retreat where you can relax, entertain, and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Remember to blend functionality with style to make the most of this versatile outdoor space.
Consider your intended use, whether for relaxation, entertainment, or dining, and match the pergola’s size accordingly.
Establishing a budget helps prioritize expenses and prevents overspending while still achieving a stunning pergola.
Choose from natural stone, pavers, wooden decking, or outdoor rugs that complement your pergola’s style.
Install outdoor curtains, retractable shades, or awnings for added protection from the elements and a touch of elegance.
Consider the pergola’s size and intended use; options range from cozy seating to full dining sets.
Lighting adds ambiance; options include wall sconces, post lights, lanterns, string lights, and solar-powered options.