A little secret that not many people know, is that a pergola is the single easiest way to make a patio look expensive.
Even if you’re not going to be growing any grapes, a pergola has a real Mediterranean resort vibe to it. Pretty much any patio can be transformed into a luxury hangout location with nothing more than a pergola and a few chairs.
Now, I’d highly recommend you get a cedar pergola rather than a metal one, because they just look so much better. Even the most “modern looking” metal pergolas out there are somewhat lacking in that they never quite look exquisite like the cedar ones do.
At first you’d think the cedar would give your patio more of a classy, “rustic” look than a neat, modern look, but the important thing to note is that cedar pergolas go with everything. They always look good, while a metal one can look cheap if you don’t pair it with the right outdoor furniture.
Then there’s how it’ll look over time, to take into account. Wooden pergolas continue to look great as they age, and you could say they even look better than when they’re new if you’re after that rustic look to your patio.
On the other hand, metal tends to develop rust or discoloration over time, which I guess you could say is taking “rustic” too literally. Actual rust never looks good.
Finally, the warm color of stained cedar wood really helps to make the whole place feel like a cozy little haven. It goes with everything too, which is why I’d recommend it unless you have a specific idea in mind of what you want your patio to look like.
Staining your pergola white or using a colorless finish are also popular ways to go about it, but you might find, like I do, that the classic, reddish stained cedar color tends to look better. And, like I said, it goes with everything.
I’m all about that minimalist look and I usually go with the color white in my home, but with a wood pergola, the color of the top pick in this guide just looks much better. You’ll see.
Click to jump to each topic
- The Best Wood Pergola Kits Reviewed
- The Different Types of Pergola
- What Are Pergolas Used For?
- Why Don’t Pergolas Have Roofs?
- Pergolas vs Pavilions
- Can a Pergola Be Built on Decking?
- Can a Pergola Be Attached to a House?
- How to Maintain or Restore a Pergola
The Best Wood Pergola Kits Reviewed
Best Wood Pergola Kit: Backyard Discovery’s Cedar Pergolas
|Most Popular Size:||12′ by 10′|
|Extra Wide Version for a Larger Social Space:||14′ by 10′|
|Square Shape for Limited Space (or Those on a Budget):||10′ by 10′|
Without a doubt, Backyard Discovery make the best looking pergolas you can get.
Of course, that wouldn’t matter if they weren’t sturdy too. You don’t exactly want a pergola that’s going to fall apart after a year.
But that’s the thing. Backyard Discovery’s pergolas aren’t hollow. They’re made of solid wood all the way through. Good wood too.
The particular wood they’re made from is Chinese cedar, which is actually a different species to the Cedar found in the US.
You see, Chinese cedar has the same natural ability to repel rot, fungus, decay and pests as American cedar, but unlike American cedar, it has the grain and texture qualities of Douglas fir.
Now, I know you’re probably not a tree expert, so that doesn’t really mean anything to you alone, so let me put this into context. Douglas fir, when compared to cedar, is almost twice as hard per square inch. Impressive, huh?
And, let me just say, that contrary to what some other reviews have said, this pergola is in fact 100% cedar all the way through. There’s no tricks here. You get what you see.
But anyway, the pergola itself just looks incredible, and you’d be hard pressed to get a custom one made that gets even close to this one’s Mediterranean looks. Custom made pergolas are ridiculously expensive too. They start at $2,000 and average about $5,000, so this one is essentially 2-4 times cheaper than that option.
Now, with Backyard Discovery’s pergolas having more of a traditional layering to their arbor tops, they’re especially good for growing vines such as grapes up it. The wooden beams are just the right distance apart so that vines can weave themselves in and out of the top.
Of course, you don’t have to grow any vines up your pergola, and most people don’t, but the option is always there for you. I’ve gotta be honest though, they do look truly amazing even with some fast growing ivy up them. I’d highly recommend growing vines up your pergola, and possibly even adding string lights if you’re wanting to make your pergola look like something from a top tier luxury resort in Italy.
As for the sizing, I’d primarily recommend the most popular option: the 12′ by 10′ pergola. There’s a good reason why it’s the most popular size: It fits right in with just about any patio.
Not to mention, that rectangular pergolas also tend to look better than square ones when it’s near to your house. It’s just more pleasing to the eye.
If your pergola is more away from your house, however, then the 10′ by 10′ size works really well too, because it looks approachable from any direction, rather than looking oddly too square like it would if it was near your house.
I mean, you can make a square pergola work well near your home, but I’ve always thought that the rectangular ones look better. Even the 14′ by 10′ option, which is what you’d call “extra wide,” looks more natural to my eyes.
Though, it must be said, that that longer version is only really for longer patios where you’re basically wanting to have more chairs and possibly a longer table out there. I’d say for certain that that’s the one to go for if you’re looking for a larger social space to accommodate more people at once.
As for the assembly, you’ll have to do it yourself, as you might have guessed. After all, this thing is way too big to fit in a truck. Don’t worry though, because putting the pergola together really isn’t too difficult at all, but do be aware that it’s definitely a two-person job. Big wooden beams and all.
Also, while I’m at it, I’ll add that there’s a good chance you’ll actually need to drill out the pre-drilled holes on this one because they’re actually not really wide enough to begin with. At least they’re not too wide, because that would be a real problem, so it makes sense why they’re often under-drilled rather than risking any over drilled ones.
It’s also a really good idea to secure this pergola’s 5 ½” posts to either wooden decking or concrete slabs using the included powder-coated metal brackets. The idea is that it’ll have extra stability during strong winds or storms, which will bring the chance of it ever moving down to practically zero, but it’s not entirely necessary.
If you just want your pergola to be straight on the grass like in the picture on the right, then then you can just go ahead and do that, because the 12′ by 10′ version, for example, weighs 450 lbs already. You can use your own judgement here.
What We Like:
- Looks Expensive – If you’re going for a pergola, you’re aiming for something that’ll make your patio or outdoor space look amazing. There’s nothing that comes close to beating this timeless style of pergola, which is why even the most expensive ones out there look remarkably similar to this one.
- High Quality Imported Cedar – The wood in this one is Chinese cedar all the way through, so doesn’t have any warping or splitting problems. Chinese cedar has the same natural ability to repel rot, fungus, decay and pests as American cedar, but unlike American cedar, it has the grain and texture qualities of Douglas fir, which is twice as hard per square inch. Basically, this pergola will still look good years down the line.
Things to Consider:
- A Drill is Required for Assembly – As I mentioned earlier, the pre-drilled holes are a little too slim, so you’ll actually want to widen them out with a drill.
Check the latest price on Amazon.
Best High End Pergola: Backyard Discovery Oasis 14′ by 10′ Cedar Pergola
As you can pretty much figure out already, the actual core design of this pergola is the same as the 14′ by 10′ version of the top pick in this guide.
But, if you’re looking for a more “complete” luxury outdoor area, then it really does make sense to have a bar area to accommodate eating and some benches to chill out on – especially when it doesn’t cost that much more on Amazon than the regular 14′ by 10′ one.
I mean, most people use a bar like that for drinks, but they’re actually far better for eating than having a plate on your lap or attempting to eat off that low coffee table you’re almost certain to have in the middle of your pergola.
Of course, if you’re thinking of having an outdoor dining table in the middle, then this is a less important feature for you, but then it still stands that it’s better to relax with drinks at the bar area or on the benches than at a dining table. Besides, I think the whole “cushioned garden chairs and coffee table” setup is the best anyway. It’s just so versatile for when you have friends over.
What We Like:
- Accommodates Eating – You can eat at the bar. That’s pretty much a complete solution to the problem of outdoor spaces not being particularly suitable for eating plated food that isn’t just easy-to-eat barbecue food or something.
- The Benches are Spacious – And there’s an extra-wide armrest / drinks rest in the middle, which is a nice touch.
Things to Consider:
- It’s Brown, Rather than That Classic Reddish Brown Color – This is entirely down to personal preference of course, and you might even prefer this more “rustic” than “Mediterranean” color.
Check the latest price on Amazon.
Alternative Choice for a High End Pergola: MM Cedar Pergola Gazebo with Bar Counter and Sunshade
When going with a less traditional style of pergola, you can kind of break the rules a little.
You see, the neutral timber gray stain to this one makes it look a million dollars. And let me say: it’s high end, but it’s not that much of a price jump above the top pick in this guide.
Like the other high end pergola featured above, the biggest difference with this one compared to your usual pergola is that it accommodates eating. After all, it’s not exactly ideal to eat in the low, reclining furniture that you’d be putting under a pergola, so you’d be pretty much have to eat somewhere else.
And whether or not you have an outdoor kitchen doesn’t matter: you’d still have to have another place where you can eat, unless you’re just having a casual barbecue, in which case it’s not so much an issue.
The pergola itself is roughly the same, standard size as the last one, being 2′ wider than a standard 12′ by 10′ pergola to accommodate the bar, coming to a grand total of 14′ by 10′ for its overall, outside dimensions.
What We Like:
- Sunshade – If you’re looking for some shade in your pergola and don’t like the idea of waiting painfully long for vines to grow up a traditional pergola, then a sunshade solves that problem for you. The fabric helps block out UV rays too, but you should still always wear sunscreen if you’re spending a lot of time outdoors in general.
- Bar Area for Eating and Drinking – You can actually eat a meal at the bar counter, unlike with more traditional pergola designs, where it’s always a bit awkward to eat anything other than barbecue food or snacks on a plate on your lap.
Things to Consider:
- Not as “Mediterranean” as the Backyard Discovery’s Pergolas – If you’re looking for that luxury Mediterranean villa vibe, then Backyard Discovery’s pergolas will be far better suited to achieving that than this one. This one looks modern for sure, and even cozy and rustic, but I wouldn’t say it looks like a true Mediterranean wood pergola.
Check the latest price on Amazon.
The Different Types of Pergola
First of all, pergolas were traditionally made of cedar because of its natural ability to repel rot, fungus, decay and pests; and, of course, the fact that the warm reddish-brown color just looks amazing.
Basically, cedar is pretty much the perfect wood for outdoor structures like pergolas. You also have to remember that, back then, they didn’t have water sealer either, so the wood’s natural resistance plays an even more important role.
But now? Now you can get pergolas made of other types of wood, or even ones made of metal. Neither of those two options are better than a cedar though. Sure, you might call them different types of pergola, but I wouldn’t say that they really are that different from one another except for what they’re made from.
So, aside from that, and aside from small differences in aesthetic, there’s two actual different types of pergola you can get. There’s the ones with a flat arbor top, like all the ones in this guide, and less commonly there’s ones with a gable arbor top.
Let’s start by looking at the gable arbor top style, because I really don’t recommend them unless you’re absolutely in love with the style. They’re just too much maintenance.
Here, I’ll explain.
Gable Roof Pergolas
Take a look at this picture:
Yes, I know that it’s technically an arbor, not a pergola, but it’s still a good enough example to show you what I mean.
You see that buildup of vines on the top? You get that same dense bulk of vines coming together at the top of gable roof pergolas. Naturally, that makes it much harder to keep it looking neat compared to simply trimming any vines hanging down from a flat roofed one.
Also, this gabled or curved roof design is typically reserved for arbors, rather than pergolas. The difference between the two is that arbors are for walkways, like in that photo above, while pergolas are a social space, for putting chairs and a table under.
Basically, arbors are for gardeners, while pergolas are for people who want to turn their backyard into their own luxury Mediterranean resort.
But anyway, the important difference here is that you only walk through arbors in one direction, while you can approach pergolas from any direction. That’s another reason why the gable roof design isn’t really suitable for pergolas to be honest. The vines will be lower at the sloped edges, so you get kind of an uneven effect there.
So uneven, in fact, that they’ll start getting in the way on those sides until your pergola has effectively transformed itself into an arbor through a lack of maintenance. That is, unless you keep the vines trimmed before they start blocking those entry ways.
Flat Roof Pergolas
Ah, much better.
Look how much easier to maintain it is. All you have to do is trim any vines that hang down too much. That’s all there is to it.
There’s also that because there’s less of a clump of tangled vines at the top, and more of a flat layer, there’s actually plenty of airflow through it. Think about it: even if your wood is mildew and rot resistant, the vines aren’t going to handle a lack of airflow if they’re all stuck in a big bunch.
Also, this is my personal opinion of course, but I think this style of roof just looks so much better. It had to be said.
What Are Pergolas Used For?
Originally, they were used in Italy to make fancy walkways.
That’s right. Pergolas were an offshoot of arbors. Then some genius came along and thought, “This would be a really nice place to just hang out at,” and put some chairs and a table under it.
That’s really what pergolas are for. They’re just amazing outdoor social spaces. So much so, that people usually don’t even bother growing vines up them any more. That’s because they look cool as they are, and the crisscross filtered sunlight of the shadow they cast looks cool too.
Also, depending on the time of day, you’ll actually get a pretty decent amount of shade out of a bare pergola. We’re talking the hottest hours of the day, where the sun is somewhat overhead, but in the mornings and evenings the sun’s angle casts the shadow pretty much outside the pergola entirely.
Also, the emphasis is on “somewhat overhead,” because a directly overhead sun will just send its rays right through the gaps in the pergola roof. You kinda want it to so that the vertical slats of your pergola’s roof work like shutters, you see.
Of course, that’s only if shade is what you’re looking for. If you just want to enhance your patio or backyard space, then you can’t really go wrong no matter what you do
Why Don’t Pergolas Have Roofs?
That’s because the crossed wooden beams of the arbor top is meant to be for vines to grow across. Think about it, if you have leaves block out the sun, why would you need a roof?
Of course, leaves don’t block out rain too well, but you’re not exactly going to be sitting out in the rain, with your garden chairs’ cushions getting soaked through and your drink slowly topping up by the minute. If, however, sitting outside when it’s raining does sound appealing to you, then you might be better off with a pavilion, or at the very least, a waterproof sunshade.
Though, I have to warn you, the roof on a pavilion ruins the exotic Mediterranean look of a pergola. They only tend to look good when they’re massive. Otherwise, they tend to look a bit awkward and out of place in a backyard.
Pergolas vs Pavilions
They’re both outdoor structures, sure, but that’s where their similarities end.
You can’t grow vines up a pavilion. I mean, you could try, but it’s absolutely not made for that.
A pavilion is a kind of permanent hardtop gazebo, usually without the sides, just four support pillars like a pergola has.
Now, pavilions don’t have the same exotic vibe as pergolas, but if you want a pavilion to actually look good then I suggest you get some lights on the inside of the roof pointing upwards, so they illuminate the roof from around the edges. It’ll look good in evenings, which is more the pavilion’s strong point.
Also, bear in mind that with a pavilion, you get complete, total shade. So much shade, that it seems kinda dark under there on a sunny day.
On the other hand, with a pergola, you get filtered sunlight coming through even when you have vines growing across the arbor top, a bit like when you’re in a forest during a sunny day.
Can a Pergola Be Built on Decking?
Yes, it can. It’s actually advisable to do that, because you can secure it to the ground with metal brackets far more easily than if you were just going to put it straight on grass.
The only real way to secure it on grass would be to put down cement posts down in the ground as a foundation for its legs, so you can actually use metal brackets to secure them.
That, of course, is extra effort. Especially because it involves digging.
Can a Pergola Be Attached to a House?
It sure can. Again, you’ll want to secure it to the floor with metal brackets, and then secure it to your house with a ledger board, lag bolts and so on.
It’s a complex woodworking project, because you’re using your house as support instead of two of the pillars, so I’d just recommend having your pergola right next to your house if you want to achieve the same effect without having to call out a professional when it inevitably gets too complicated.
However, I do get that a pergola can look amazing when attached to a house. It emulates the look you see here in these photos:
That’s in Crete, in Greece. You have to remember though, your house looks a whole lot different to those buildings.
In reality, just having your pergola right next to your house, with all four legs secured to the floor is actually going to look better than if you had it attached to your house at the top.
The two pillars on the inside actually look good, and not having them gives more of a sensation of “being on your patio” than being in an outdoor social space next to your house. It feels less self-contained, if that makes sense.
How to Maintain or Restore a Pergola
First of all, you’ll want to make sure you re-seal your pergola once a year. It’s actually expected of you to do that, in the warranties of most pergola manufacturers.
Don’t worry, it’s super easy though. You’ll need some step ladders and this Thompson’s Water Seal to be able to do it. It only takes one coat, so you can get it over and done with pretty quickly. It’s not like an extensive project or something.
Optionally, you can use this All in One Thompson’s Stainer and Water Sealer to restore to your cedar that warm reddish color that we all know and love.
When Should You Re-Seal a Pergola?
You’ll know when you need to do it because you’ll notice that water doesn’t form droplets on the outside. The pergola itself just gets wet. That usually happens about a year after the last time it was sealed.
Now, Cedar and Chinese Cedar are excellent for being resistant to rot and to moisture-loving fungus like mildew, but if you want your pergola to continue looking neat rather than worn-down, then sealing it once a year is the simple way to achieve that.
If your pergola is looking a bit dirty or weathered already, then the best thing you can do is hire or buy a pressure washer. If you’ve ever seen this cheekily-named subreddit, you’ll know just how incredible power washers can be at cleaning just about anything. It’ll do the trick far better than anything else for cleaning up your pergola to make it look like new again.
You’ll even find for the most part, that when you think the wood on your pergola is faded, it’s actually just dirty. When all that dirt comes right off with a pressure washer, the wood’s true color will be restored once again. Then all you need to do is let it dry out thoroughly before sealing it again.
Staining Your Pergola
If you’re wanting to restore or enhance that red cedar color, then opt for this All in One Thompson’s Stainer and Water Sealer instead of the colorless Thompson’s Water Sealer.
Of course, you can stain it any shade you like, but that red cedar color really suits the classic Mediterranean look of Backyard Discovery’s pergolas better than anything else.