Pergola: a backyard portal to paradise



Courtesy Lancaster County Backyard

Can’t get away this summer? With a pergola, you can escape to your own little spot of paradise right in your backyard.

A pergola is an outdoor structure with a framework and roof that can be covered or left open with a roofing grid. Its design dates back to the Italian Renaissance.

“They are a great option for shade, especially with the addition of a shade canopy or tighter beam and rafter spacing, while not completely blocking out the sun and sky with a full roof structure,” says Wes Young, illustrator of outdoor living dreams for C.E. Pontz Sons Inc. in Lancaster. “Pergolas don’t typically feel or look as heavy or as large as a full roof structure when placed in an outdoor living space.”

Additionally, he says, pergolas are a great way to add some height and depth to a mainly flat outdoor space, and an excellent way to set apart a specific area in your yard, such as a dining space, cooking space or gathering space.

“Often an outdoor living space, without a structure, seems nice but has a flat and a rather false sense of smallness, but after a pergola is added, truly feels like another dimension was added,” says Kevin King, sales manager for Lancaster County Backyard in Kinzers.

King says a pergola can change the whole look of a backyard.

“We recently installed a heavy timber wood pergola on a brick pavers patio with knee walls and four piers,” he says. “The patio seemed kind of small and empty. The pergola, mounted on the four piers, totally changed and enhanced the looks of not only their patio, but also of their backyard. It added a great measure of grandeur and depth, and instead of the patio feeling small, it now felt larger, much taller and much more clearly defined.”

When considering a pergola, it’s important to look at your house and yard as a whole, Young says.

“Location is very important, as is selecting the best style and size pergola that will complement the house and surrounding structures,” he says. “Also, considering the flow of the outdoor space when considering the size and location of the pergola (is important).”

Pergolas are versatile and can be incorporated into any size space on really any property, he notes.

Where you choose to place it and the style you choose depends on your specific situation.

“If its primary function is for shade, consider how the sun moves around the property,” Young says. “If it’s going to be used to define a specific outdoor space, make sure it’s large enough to allow you to comfortably use that space.”

Take some time to think about how the space will look after the pergola is installed, he suggests, noting, “An outdoor space will feel different when a pergola is constructed, so consider where the posts will fall and how that will affect the flow of traffic as well as how the posts will affect viewpoints from a house or other outdoor spaces.”

Pergolas can be constructed from a variety of materials, in a wide range of styles, King says.

The most economical are standard wood pergolas constructed with pressure-treated Southern yellow pine, which is stronger than a material like cedar and can be stained or painted, he says.

Heavy timber wood pergolas provide what King calls a “rugged, ancient look,” and are very solid in construction.

“These pergolas are also available in mortise-and-tenon joinery with oak pegs — a truly ancient style of construction,” he says.

Additional styles of pergolas include standard vinyl, which provides a modern look and requires only periodic cleaning.

“White vinyl color coordinates with many modern homes,” King says.

And the overall look of a pergola can vary, too.

“They can have a flat top, an arched top or even a peak-roof-style top,” he says. “They can have posts from the floor to the beams, or the posts can be set on pillars for an added feature.”

Many backyard elements can be DIY projects, and a quick Pinterest search turns up thousands of ideas for homemade pergolas.

Creating one can be done by a homeowner, Young says, but it requires more than just craftiness.

“You have to be fairly skilled in a number of trades to construct something that is structurally sound and will withstand the elements for a long time,” he says. “I would suggest that a pergola is something that a professional should construct.”

King agrees, adding that any homeowner who’d like to try a DIY pergola should consider two things: post placement and the skill of the installer.

“The exact post placement should be done carefully,” he says, adding that the installer also must be able to cut the posts to the correct height no matter how sloped a patio or yard may be to ensure the pergola top is perfectly level. “These two things can easily be done poorly.”

Before you commit to having a pergola in your backyard, be sure to also think long-term, Young says.

“As with anything that is permanently outside in the elements, you have to consider the maintenance of the structure. Some materials can easily be washed to look like new again, while others need some more work to clean and can need reapplications of wood stain or oil,” he says. “If the pergola and outdoor space have a more rustic or natural style, the lumber can be allowed to weather naturally to avoid the need for continual cleaning and staining.”

Says King, “Ask (for) advice, find photos of what may look good. Have an architect draw something up for you and (to) be able to better visualize it.”


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Author: Bobby Kenyon
Bobby Kenyon is the Creative Solutions Guru for C.E. Pontz Sons who has over a decade plus experience in the Landscape & Water Garden industry . He enjoys long walks on the beach and grocery shopping but has a strong dislike for regular cake and off brand paper towels

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