Wood Pergolas and Other Design Ideas for Decks

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Adding a wood pergola to your backyard deck adds another dimension to your outdoor enjoyment. Pergolas look beautiful and provide some shade and privacy on your deck, without blocking out the views. A pergola can add elegance, enjoyment, and value to your home.


Pergolas have been around since ancient times in Egypt


What is a Pergola?

By definition, a pergola is an outdoor overhead structure that creates a shaded area, typically used for seating. Pergolas are built with vertical structural posts or pillars, with crossbeams and rafters. Similar to, but different than a gazebo, a pergola creates a separate area on or over your outdoor deck or patio without closing it in. A gazebo typically has a full roof and often side walls or screening, a pergola is rarely enclosed.


Ipe wood gazebo on Ipe deck with roof and screened in walls


A pergola provides a much more open and airier space. A pergola has been described as a hybrid between an open and closed space. A pergola has more of a 'suggestion' of a roof which provides some shading and allows in a fair amount of natural light. Daylight, moonlight, and starlight are fantastic lighting options for your wood pergola.

pergolas can be plain and understated-2 

Pergolas are often built with vinyl, metal or wood. If you're in a hurry, or don't want to put in the sweat equity to plan, design, and build your own pergola, pre-built pergola kits are available. However, if you want to create a unique pergola design, there's nothing like creating your own, or getting help from an architect or design professional.

Pergola 016

Ipe hardwood pergola with seating area on a stone paver patio

Wood Pergola Ideas

Pergolas can be built as free-standing structures or may be attached to the side of a home or building. Pergolas range from simple designs to very ornate, and anywhere in between. You can build in privacy screening or leave the sides totally open.

Ipe deck and pergola at Stonington Vineyards - Copy

Ipe wood pergola over Ipe hardwood deck

For pergola designs, wood is an ideal material for many reasons. Wood is naturally beautiful and easy to work with. You can shape the ends of your joists or purlins to many different designs for a unique look. With a little effort, you can create an intricate design style for the tail ends of your pergola rafters, joists or purlins. Here’s a few ideas to create an interesting design for a wood pergola.

rafter tail ideas for pergolas

Ideas for the tail ends of pergola rafters and purlins

Pergola for a Deck

You can add a pergola as a featured overhead design element pretty much anywhere on your property. Placing a pergola over a patio or a fire pit might be a great idea. Erecting a pergola amidst a flower garden can create an intimate natural space.

Looking for some inspiration for your deck or pergola?

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Building a pergola over a deck helps define a space within a space. They help outline the usage of a particular space on your deck. Because pergolas are open, they keep you feeling connected to the outdoors, not enclosed in a space. Because pergolas provide a certain level of shade, they are great for sunny weather outdoor enjoyment on your deck.

RELATED: Wood Pergola and Overhead Design Elements Project Gallery


Best Wood Species for a Wooden Pergola

Natural Ipe hardwood pergola can take the weather beautifully

Wood pergolas are naturally beautiful. This Ipe hardwood pergola will last for decades


Softwood Pergola Options

Softwoods like pressure treated lumber are a low-cost option to create a wood pergola. Softwood pergolas need periodic maintenance, like re-painting or re-staining, as needed.

Western red cedar is another beautiful softwood option to build a pergola. Cedar is more expensive than pressure treated lumber and it, too, will need periodic refinishing to extend its lifetime.

Hardwood Pergola Options

High density hardwoods like Ipe, Machiche, and Garapa are excellent choices to build a pergola. These hardwood species are long lasting and beautiful. They can be finished with an oil-based sealer such as Penofin Hardwood Formula to maintain their ‘like new’ wood look. Or, because these hardwoods are so durable and long-lasting, you may allow it to weather to a silvery gray patina for a low maintenance hardwood pergola.

RELATED: Long-Lasting Hardwood Species Options to Build a Pergola

Ipe hardwood is considered the best wood species to build a pergola or other outdoor structures for that matter. Ipe wood is ridiculously strong and durable and is a medium to darker brown colored wood. Learn more about Ipe wood here.

Ipe deck with custom pergolaIpe hardwood is remarkably strong and makes a fantastic building material for pergolas

Machiche hardwood is another excellent and beautiful wood species option for outdoor projects like pergolas and more. FSC® Certified Machiche wood is reddish brown to chocolatey brown color and is exceptionally strong. Learn more about Machiche wood here.

cardiff pergola MACHICHE

Simple attached wood pergola design using long lasting Machiche hardwood


Garapa hardwood is a lighter toned and affordable exterior wood option. Garapa wood is strong and durable and is a paler yellow to amber colored wood species option for pergola designs and construction. Learn more about Garapa wood here.


Garapa hardwood on pergola in Boston


Ipe Hardwood Pergolas Made in the Shade

Garapa Hardwood Pergola in Boston

Pergola and Arbor Ideas for Decks

Ipe Pergola at Connecticut Winery

Ipe Wood Pergolas


Download the Deck Design Ideas Portfolio featuring over 150 different projects today.

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