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Designing a Pergola: What You Need to Know

Are you considering adding a pergola to your backyard but aren’t quite sure where to start? At Archadeck, our pergola builders design outdoor living spaces every day. Here are four key elements to consider as you begin designing the perfect shade structure for your outdoor living space.

Define Your Space

Pergolas are shade structures, usually comprised of four posts with cross rafters, leaving open spaces above to allow some sun to shine through. One of the roles of a pergola is to define an outdoor living space, using the architecture and design to compliment your deck, patio, home, and yard. Because there are no walls or a roof, a pergola creates an inviting, open, and airy space for you to relax. Consider the space you want to define. Do you plan to dine, grill, or entertain? The answer to these questions will help you determine the size of the pergola, the amount of shade you need, and other design details.

Custom pergola
This beautiful pergola offers partial shade on this low-maintenance deck!


One of the great aspects of pergolas is the ability to customize the structure to provide as much or as little shade as you prefer. If you simply want to break up the intensity of the sun, you can space the rafters further apart, allowing plenty of sun over your deck or patio while diminishing some of that sweltering heat. Alternatively, you can space the rafters closer together and add lathing if you’re looking for significant shade for more protection and cooler space. For those who want to maximize the amount of shade, or to control when there is a shade over their patio or deck space, retractable canopies and screens are an excellent option.

Custom pergola
Gorgeous pergola design with outdoor curtains and a shade for additional sun protection

Consider Vertical Gardening

Pergolas are great structures for plants and vines that need support. Ivy, passion-flower, and honeysuckle are great options that will help provide additional shade while adding color and fragrance to the outdoor space. The fruit is also an option. Grapevines are beautiful winding around pergolas. If your yard is particularly small, vertical gardening is a great way to bring a little green, giving it a lusher look.

Design Considerations

Part of the joy in adding a pergola is designing the structure. You can customize your pergola to match or contrast the exterior of your home. Most pergolas are built with square wood posts; however, you can add your own flair to the structure. Is the classic look more your style? Consider rounded columns. Are you more contemporary? Consider a sleek look for your posts and end pieces for the rafters. Do you prefer a craftsman look? Stone bases might have the look you’re going for and are great for integrating a new pergola with an existing patio.

Custom pergola
Beautiful, robust pergola design on a patio with optional shade for added sun protection

If you are ready to discuss options for adding a custom pergola, Archadeck of Chicagoland is here for you! Design options are customizable and virtually endless! Sign up for a free design consultation or call Archadeck of Chicagoland at (847) 250-4100 to speak with a design consultant and begin creating your new dream space.