What is a Patio Pergola?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

A patio pergola is a structure that is used to cover outdoor leisure areas. In most cases, the structure is made out of wood that is treated so that it can withstand the elements. In order to keep a patio pergola in good condition, it may be necessary to retreat the wood from time to time. The structure may be connected to the exterior of a building or it may be freestanding. Freestanding pergolas usually have four columns that support the roof while those that are connected to the exterior of a building may only have two columns.

A patio pergola is used to cover an outdoor leisure area.
A patio pergola is used to cover an outdoor leisure area.

The roof of a patio pergola usually has an open framework of interlocking pieces. This means that the roof offers a certain amount of shade, but does not entirely block out the sun. Many people who have patio pergolas find that they can successfully grow certain types of plants underneath them, especially if the plants are types that enjoy a moderate amount of sunshine. While most pergolas are made entirely of wood, there are some that have columns made of stone, brick, or concrete. This is usually done so that the structure blends in aesthetically with the adjacent home or building.

The size of a patio pergola varies quite a bit. A modestly-sized pergola could be used to outfit a small urban backyard. On the other hand, a large, almost rambling patio pergola could be used to cover the patio of a restaurant with a large outdoor dining area or an outdoor area on the grounds of a museum. This type of structure, while popular in residential garden designs, is also useful in public spaces and on the grounds of other non-residential properties.

The area under a patio pergola is often used for outdoor leisure and dining. In some of these cases, a patio pergola functions almost like a large umbrella for the furniture underneath. There are also people who use a patio pergola to cover a special feature on their grounds such as a rock garden or a hot tub. In all of these cases, it is common for people to choose materials and patterns that work well both with the building to which the pergola is connected and the aesthetic of the area underneath. White outdoor furniture, for example, might be complemented with a white patio pergola.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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@rundocuri- If you don't want to hassle with using stain to refinish your father's patio pergola, you might want to talk to him about paining it instead. I use to have one, and when the wood stain became old and worn, I chose to paint it white instead updating the stain. It looked fresh and stylish when I completed the project.

If you don't like the idea of painting the pergola white, another option is to paint it the same color as the house or as the shutters and trim. This creates a very nice, stylish look for the exterior of any home with a patio pergola.


Refinishing and staining a patio pergola is no different that refinishing and staining any other object. If you have used wood stain on a deck or even a piece of furniture, you have the skills you will need to do your father's pergola.

Before you tackle this project, it is important that you remove any old paint or stain. You can do this with a scraper or sander to make sure that the surface is ready for the stain.

When you apply the new wood stain, it is a good idea to wait for a good weather forecast before you tackle that part of the job. Several days of mild temperatures and no rain will ensure that the wood stain will set in place and dry, and look great for years to come.


I'm wondering if it is difficult to refinish and stain a patio pergola. My father has one, and has been hinting around that he would like to fix it up so that it looks better and lasts longer. I want to help him, but I'm not sure where to start with this project.

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