How to Make Custom Pergola Designs

Written by jaqueline girdner
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You will be most satisfied with the results if you make custom pergola designs first, whether you are planning to build your own pergola, build pergolas for others, or have a contractor build a pergola for you. A pergola is essentially an oversized arbor, originally an airy, vine-covered walkway, now more commonly thought of as any outdoor structure consisting primarily of posts supporting an open roof of beams and rafters. View a variety of interesting pergolas to learn the common principles for designing any pergola.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Tape measure
  • Camera
  • Rope or string
  • Ruler
  • Cardboard
  • Box cutter or scissors
  • Cellophane tape

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  1. 1

    Examine the area you are considering for the pergola. Measure the space you envision the pergola occupying. Take photos from various angles. Consider which of the many functions the pergola might provide: a passageway, a place to relax, a venue for parties, a hot tub enclosure, support for planters or climbing plants, a carport, the visual centrepiece of your yard or a combination of these functions.

  2. 2

    Look at as many images and actual examples of existing pergolas as you can. Look for photos at the library and view existing pergolas near you. Decide what aspects appeal to you aesthetically, economically and logistically. Consider the various basic types of pergolas: those detached or attached to the house, simple square shapes, rectangular walkways, as well as circular or triangular pergolas.

  3. 3

    Draw quick sketches of the designs that appeal to you the most against the backdrop of the area you are considering. Work up possible dimensions for each design. Measure and mark the actual dimensions on the ground of your planned site with rope or string. Ask yourself which designs and dimensions fit best as to size, function and appearance.

  4. 4

    Consider the materials you might use for your designs. You might use wood (redwood, cedar, mahogany or pressure-treated pine), vinyl, fibreglass, cast stone or any number of metals including copper, wrought iron, rebar or aluminium. You might stain wood or paint any material. Go to your local landscape centre to get the feel for various materials, paints and stains. Look into the possibility of customising a prepackaged pergola kit.

  5. 5

    Make cardboard models of your favourite pergola designs to scale. Measure again on the actual site, then compute the dimensions for models at a ratio of 1-foot actual size to 1/2-inch model size. Build models with cardboard cut to scale to replicate poles, beams, rafters and other major components. Tape these pieces together and view with an eye as to how the actual structures would work in their planned space.

  6. 6

    Think about finishing touches to further customise your pergola designs. The more rafters you use, the more shade you'll have. Trellis or lattice on the sides or even on the top of a pergola will encourage climbing plants. You can arch the roof rafters, pave the ground beneath the pergola or add lights, climbing vines, benches, fireplaces, fountains, planter boxes, birdhouses, hammocks or even swings.

  7. 7

    Call a contractor or begin building your favourite custom pergola design yourself.

Tips and warnings

  • Consider the style of the surrounding neighbourhood when making your custom pergola designs.
  • Corrugated cardboard works especially well for the construction of pergola models.
  • Find out if permits are necessary to build the pergolas you're designing.
  • Make sure any construction of your designs will not block access to or interfere with utility meters, doors, water spigots or electrical sockets.

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