Pergola and gazebo buying guide
Anne, Painter, Cambridge25 guides
- Top cover
What's the difference between a pergola and a gazebo?
Pergolas are fixed outdoor structures designed to add style to your garden.
Generally rectangular in shape, they come in a range of materials and are made up of an open or latticed framework held up by posts. When supported by an existing wall, they may be referred to as lean-tos or canopies if they feature a top cover. But generally retailers prefer to use the term 'pergola’.
Awnings can be installed to protect patios and create a space that is both sheltered and open to the air.
While pergolas are essentially used for decorative purposes, they can also be used to partially cover a walkway (although they do not feature solid roofs), form the entrance or simply serve as a chill-out area.
They can be built from lightweight or heavy-duty materials and come in a range of styles. A pergola made from wrought iron and covered with vines can add a touch of elegance to your outdoor space. For a spot of shade and a slice of French provincial style, go for a wooden pergola topped with brushwood screening. Some pergolas even feature decking and curtained side panels or shutters; far from the classic pergola shape, these filled-out models look a bit like garden sheds!
Gazebos come in all different shapes and sizes, from smaller structures right up to party tents.
They can be pitched into the ground using pegs or fixed onto the patio using screw fittings.
Easy to assemble and dismantle, gazebos are perfect for events (weddings, christenings, etc.) or simply for enjoying a bit of downtime during the summer months. Steel usually forms the gazebo structure while a woven fabric is used for the roof cover and sides (if featured).
How to choose your gazebo
The lifespan of the gazebo depends on the quality of the item, so it is worth investing in the best model you can afford. Gazebos are freestanding and can be fixed to the ground with screws (on hard surfaces) or tent-style pegs (if pitching on soil).
They may be rectangular, square or octagonal in shape. Models with UV-resistant polyethylene or polyester curtains are great for creating a modern outdoor lounge area used to host friends or shelter from a cool evening breeze. For ultimate comfort and style, choose a patterned canopy cover and kit out your space with a rattan lounge set and a few big cushions.
Various different materials can be used to form the gazebo structure:
Wrought iron is a heavier and corrosion-resistant material that can lend a romantic, country garden-style to your gazebo.
Aluminium is lightweight and naturally corrosion-resistant. A long-lasting material, aluminium combines elegance and style.
WoodWood is not often used to build gazebos. Structures made from this material are usually pre-constructed, octagonally shaped summerhouses designed for fixed installation. Most woods will require a protective coating if they have not already been exposed to a high-temperature or rot-proofing treatment.
Woven resin is very lightweight and remains strong over time, but its colours can fade.
The gazebo top cover can be made of:
- Polyethylene: number of grams per square metre (g/m²) indicates the quality, degree of waterproofness and durability of materials.
- Polyester: often water-repellent, g/m² also indicates degree of waterproofness and durability of the material.
Choose your cover wisely and opt for water-repellent polyester for increased resistance. If you want to add curtains to your gazebo, don't hold back! They are often lighter than the top sheet and as they are less exposed to the rain they don't have to feature the same water-repellent properties.
How to choose your pergola
A life-saver in the hot summer months, a pergola can become a real living space in its own right. As well as acting as a shelter from bright sunshine and poor weather conditions, it can be used as a supporting structure for your climbing plants. A true decorative feature, pergolas are great for adding a bit of charm to the front of your home or a garden path.
Just like gazebos, pergolas come in a range of materials:
WoodWood is favoured for its warm and natural appearance, but it must meet certain requirements in order to stand the test of time. Most wooden pergolas are made from treated pine or exotic woods such as black locust (also known as acacia). Wood can be heat-treated and rot-proofed. Nevertheless, maintenance is still essential. Heavy wooden structures must be embedded into the ground or installed with a solid foundation, such as concrete footings.
Wrought ironWrought iron is solid and heavy and can provide your outdoor space with a touch of elegance. Generally attached to both a wall and the ground, structures made from this material can act as an extension of the house. Iron should be maintained using a rust-proof paint.
Powder-coated steelPowder-coated steel is lightweight, corrosion-resistant and available in sleek, ultra-modern shapes. Watch out for scratches that will allow humidity to seep through the material and lead to corrosion. A hot-dip galvanised steel will provide the best level of protection.
AluminiumAluminium is a lightweight, weatherproof and corrosion-resistant material known for its durability.
When it comes to style, pergolas come in many different forms and you are sure to find one to suit your tastes.
- Do you love Japanese style? Choose a wooden pergola surrounded by bamboo screening and exotic plants.
- For a cottage garden feel, opt for a hexagonal or round pergola made from wrought iron and covered with pastel-toned rambling roses, jasmine or honeysuckle.
- Prefer a more modern look? Go for a stainless steel or aluminium pergola in a rectangular or square shape, topped with a brightly coloured cover.
Final tips for choosing your garden gazebo or pergola
Whether you’re looking for a gazebo or a pergola, don't forget the little additional touches: this is what will really bring your finished look together.
If you want to show off your new living space to its best advantage, it’s important to take care of the area surrounding it. Natural elements (plants or flowers) can be teamed with functional furnishings (garden lounge sets or dining sets) and decorative objects (solar lamps and lanterns, candles and decorative objects) to create the perfect space.
It's up to you to settle on a style and to decorate your pergola or gazebo accordingly. Just to add confusion to the decision-making process, a pergola may also be referred to as a gazebo, lean-to, canopy, awning or carport. There may be a lot of crossover in terminology but try not to get caught up in labels; the main thing is to roughly work out the structure you're after and how you want to decorate it. Once that’s been taken care of, all that’s left to do is relax!
Learn more about garden design and decoration
Anne, Painter, Cambridge 25 guides écrits
After 8 years of trade, I turned professional: I trained myself to be a painter and carpet layer either solo or with 16 years old comrades. 9 months later, following vocational school, my registration in Trades Directory, and the label ‘Artisan’ in hand, I created my company. And since then, I don’t even touch my brushes.
I’m a self-taught DIYer and decoration enthusiast, I love to find and restore furniture and to create unique decoration elements. I completed the restoration of my sister’s house, this was last summer, with my niece: electrical, tiling, finishing, plasterboard...we did it all. And today, if I can share my experience I'm happy to do it. A total DIY enthusiast joke: ‘What’s the difference between a clown and a DIY enthusiast? A sense of humor.’ Good Luck.
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