Pergola ideas - 10 ways expert landscapers switch up outdoor urban spaces

Choose from these inspirational pergola ideas to add a stunning design statement to your backyard

white pergola in modern urban space
(Image credit: Karelnoppe Getty Images)

Let's count the ways we love the latest pergola ideas. Most importantly, they add an extra room to your living space that's perfect for hosting, entertaining and relaxing. It's not just about practicality though. Choose the right pergola and it works as a lovely design feature in your garden, adding to the overall aesthetic in terms of what style and color you choose.

Pergolas can also be a key structural element in terms of zoning your outdoor space. As with all garden rooms, they divide up different areas according to how you want to use them. They can be used to offer privacy in a secluded corner or alternatively work as an open design that adds to the architecture of the space.

Pergolas also add shade and shelter, which is a real asset if your garden is a sun trap. They also offer the perfect framework for plants to scramble over and hang off, and anything that increases planting opportunities can only ever be a good thing.

So we asked the experts for some of their favorite pergola ideas. You are sure to find a look you'll love here.

Pergola ideas

1. Choose slatted cedar for dappled light

modern pergola in small urban garden

(Image credit: Natasha Nuttall Garden Design)

The forgotten corner of an urban garden can be transformed by the addition of well-designed pergola ideas. As well as adding design interest by introducing an architectural focal point, the space can be used as a quiet, dappled retreat for reading during the day or gathering round the fire pit in the evening with friends.

It's also the perfect structure for plants to romp over. 'Even in a small urban garden, an appropriately sized pergola can really add interest, provide some height and framing and a foil for flowering/climbing plants to grow along,' says the designer Natasha Nuttall (opens in new tab). 'The slatted cedar also shows off the dappled shade of overhead trees in a really lovely way.'

One of the most popular building materials for wooden pergolas is red cedar because of its all-natural look that fits so well into a garden setting. There are plenty of kits available online but if you have the budget why not consider a bespoke option to get exactly the look you want.

2. Keep things simple with sleek black lines

black painted pergola in urban garden

(Image credit: Justin Coakley Design at Ninteen)

The color black is currently trending in interiors, from painting accent walls in this inky shade to color-washing entire rooms in the dark stuff. But garden design has been in on the look for a few years now, mainly because of how durable and practical this color is. This is of course relevant when it comes to choosing a practical shade for your pergola ideas, as they tend to be high traffic areas.

Black is always a good choice for a modern garden as it matches well with almost any other shade. It works well for a modern sculptural pergola style if you want to add an even more contemporary edge. And when it comes to accessorising a black pergola there is a world of choice out there and lots of on-trend lines to mix and match to create the look you desire. 

If you want an ebony paint makeover for an existing wooden pergola or to paint a new one opt for a high quality, multi-purpose wood stain that protects at the same time and is suitable for the look you have in mind.

3.  Repurpose Crittall panels into a pergola roof

terrace garden with glass pergola

(Image credit: Brizmaker/Getty Images)

Crittall-style doors are an iconic look that never seems to date. As they tend to be used most for kitchen extensions that lead out into the garden why not pick up the look with pergola ideas in the same material to add a seamless design link between your interior and exterior spaces.

This super stylish Crittall-style roof panel houses an outdoor dining space that includes a neat kitchen area. It's a hard wearing and practical option that looks good too. It also picks up on the black trend that's big right now so is super easy to accessorise as well.

4. Integrate a lit pergola into your terrace

pergola design with garden bar

(Image credit: Industville)

There are lots of stylish outdoor lighting options for pergolas and a good starting point is to consider what the pergola will be used for. Is it for outdoor dining and entertaining or more a space where you want to relax and unwind? 

It's worth considering the garden lighting early on in the design process and not leaving it as an afterthought. Lighting plays an important role in enhancing the overall look and feel of your pergola. If possible, also have the lights controlled independently, so you can switch on only the ones you want to create the desired mood. To keep things flexible, try layering different styles of lights, which will then adapt to different uses.  

'Wall lights are perfect for providing a general level of illumination and a large single pendant hung in the centre of the pergola will create a very homely look, as well as being a statement to draw the eye,' says Industville's (opens in new tab) Marketa Rypacek. 'Alternatively, you may wish to choose smaller pendants and hang them in clusters which keeps lighting soft and creates a wonderful ambiance. 

These ambiant lights can then be further complimented through the use of more decorative candles, lanterns and string lights, depending on your preferred style.  

5. Include a pergola in your front yard design

pergola in front yard

(Image credit: Yardzen)

Attitudes are shifting about what we can do with front yard landscaping, according to the latest report from landscape design platform Yardzen (opens in new tab), who have their HQ in Sausalito, California. They tapped into their customer data (over 100K homeowners), which revealed that requests for functional front yard design features are up 150%. 

This includes the idea of incorporating pergola ideas in your front yard design with a strong emphasis on the social component that this offers. Front yards are no longer just aesthetic eye candy, but places to dine, gather and be seen.

This trend is driven by millennials seeking out design ideas that uplevel their outdoor spaces, functionally, visually and sustainably. The pergola and landscaping in this design which really elevates how you use your front porch are by Yardzen, and it's located in San Rafael, Northern California.

6. Use a pergola to work up a year-round space

modern urban garden with pergola and fireplace

(Image credit: Karelnoppe Getty Images)

If you want to make the most of your garden all year round add a pergola to your patio or deck as this is generally the most sheltered place in the garden. It will also feel snug if it’s partially enclosed by the back wall of your house or a boundary wall. Even better if your pergola has a retractable roof cover and sides to offer extra protection from the weather or night-time chill.

Set up an enclosed seating area around a statement fire place, fire pit or log burning brazier. Look for a simple, modern design with clean lines that works as an eye catching standalone feature in your outdoor space.

Finally add a selection of lighting for that all important soft glow at dusk. Try grouping together large lanterns on the deck for a stylish look.

7. Zone your space with a pergola

wooden pergola in garden

(Image credit: Matthew Wilson Gardens)

If you want to use a pergola to create the sense of a hideaway at the end of your yard, it's best to work with the existing landscape, especially if you're lucky enough to have established trees.

'One of the key existing features of this yard was a mature and very characterful hawthorn (Crataegus ‘Paul’s Scarlet’),' explains landscape designer and television broadcaster Matthew Wilson (opens in new tab). 'This tree has a pronounced lean, and it would have been easy to condemn it as unstable and cut it down.'

Instead, Matthew designed a simple western red cedar pergola to frame the garden path beneath the hawthorn and wrap around the old tree like a comforting embrace. The pergola posts were straight cut to provide very clean lines that contrast with the crooked hawthorn.

'The other function of the pergola is to help create a layer of privacy within the garden,' adds Matthew, 'which is helped by the addition of climbing roses and clematis that are trained to scramble over the pergola uprights.'

8. Go for a freestanding design in chic shades of grey

grey pergola with furniture and ornamental grasses

(Image credit: Kettler)

The joy of freestanding pergolas is that they can go wherever you want them to, and all that's required is simple fixing plates to secure them into position. Many of the latest luxe designs offer mix and match options such as sliding roof panels with UV protection, wind-diffusing side panels and built-in LED lights to light up your garden as day turns to night.

'Pergolas are popular as they allow you to make the most of your garden,' says Richard Searle of Kettler (opens in new tab). “Accompanied with the right outdoor furniture, you can use a pergola to expand your living room space so you get all the comforts of indoors outside. Pergolas are incredibly versatile, which makes them so well suited to patio and deck areas.'

Choose a design with a strong powder coated aluminum frame and you can leave it outdoors all year round for winter use too.

9. Try a pergola with a difference

modern blue pergola in rock garden

(Image credit: John Nash Associates)

While classic white, black and wood seem to dominate when it comes to choosing a pergola design, why not break out of the box and choose something a little different when it comes to color. Structural elements of a pergola can also be used in a deconstructed way to create an alternative look.

'This pergola was designed to create a perspective from a specific window in the house,' explains landscape designer John Nash (opens in new tab), who is known for his innovative gardens. 'The pergola straddles a stream leading to a cascade and pond. It is made of powder-coated steel, and the design had to be calculated by an engineer.'

This type of modern pergola design works really well in gardens that feature gravel and rock landscaping, as well as those with a Japanese garden feel.

10. Create ambiance for an entertaining space

white pergola in modern urban courtyard

(Image credit: Karelnoppe/Getty Images)

Pergolas have many uses when you’re entertaining in the yard especially when it comes to upgrading your space. Whether you plan to use one mostly during the day or at night a pergola lets you extend your space for socialising in style. 

This cool and stylish seating and fire pit configuration creates an area for drinks as the sun goes down or somewhere to chill in the shade after an alfresco summer lunch. And if the temperatures drop the fire pit will glow up the space at night.

If you're going for a contemporary feel pergolas can be left unplanted like this one to show off its strong architectural lines. Instead add lush pots of ferns and palms for a planting feel that has a tropical garden edge.

What is the best position for a pergola?

The best position for a pergola largely depends on its intended purpose. If it's going to be used to create an entertaining and dining space it should be sited near the house for ease of access to the kitchen. 

If you want to create an area to retreat to or a hideaway then the end of the garden is a good place to position it as the space will feel more private. Creating a ‘bespoke’ zone by positioning a pergola away from your house and turning it into a place where you and your guests can retreat to elevates it into a destination. 

Perhaps you're seeking to add a shady place where you can shelter from the sun, especially if you have a south facing garden. Pergolas provide attractive shade for sun traps like your deck or patio. Many incorporate open roof design features, using wide rafters to cast shade throughout the day. Planting climbing vines on the pergola or installing a solid roof will give you shade even when the sun is right overheard.

If you are including pergola ideas as part of your general garden design, look for spaces where it will fit seamlessly into your landscaping, such as a spot flanked by trees so it looks more natural. 

Maybe you simply want to position your pergola in the best place to enjoy a view which makes your choose the easiest of all.

modern black pergola with seating

(Image credit: Carbibbean Blinds)

modern pergola at night with lights

(Image credit: Your Garden Design)

How do you light a pergola?

Pergolas look especially welcoming when the lights are switched on at dusk and it's time for them to take center stage in the night-time garden. Carefully placed pergola lighting can help to create a small intimate area that simultaneously accentuates the form and texture of the pergola.

A well-lit pergola works as an architectural focal point at night, too. The freestanding, open structure is the perfect canvas for switching things up for night time use by adding integrated lights or festooning garlands of string lights.

'The lighting look in this bespoke pergola is achieved by pairing downlighters within the pergola and up/down lights on the house with spot lighting in the matching raised planters,' explains garden designer David Loy (opens in new tab). 'The underside of the pergola is clad in Siberian larch that has inset lighting.'

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Her first job on glossy magazines was at Elle, during which time a visit to the legendary La Colombe d'Or in St-Paul-de-Vence led to an interest in all things gardening. Later as lifestyle editor at Country Homes & Interiors magazine the real pull was the run of captivating country gardens that were featured. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own garden where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.