The Art of Pergola Design (5)


I get a lot of questions about pergola’s, arbors and trellis’ . . . a lot. for good reason. Structure adds a lot to the designed landscape. With structure you bring order, refinement, extension of the house architecture, definition of space, etc. I would say these are good things

Plus; if done well they can look really cool, bringing mystery, romance, intrigue, solitude, craftsmanship, even nostalgia to the designed landscape.


So I have decided to post these dimensions for a simple arbor/pergola for those of you who are looking for some pleasing dimensions to work with. I would say this design is at the more simplistic end of the scale, but this pergola is doing it’s job-bringing scale and defining the space where it is to exist.

Doing it’s job, that’s what matters. It’s part of the place and space, not out of place.

pergola, pergolas, pergola-design, pergola-drawing

[ I almost always use 6×6’s for my post. ]

Why 6×6’s?

Using smaller dimension limber, say 4×4’s, a arbor/pergola just looks too weak, like it’s going to fall over at any minute. Especially if there are multi-layers of cross-pieces sitting on top of the pergola. 2×2’s sitting on 2×6’s sitting on 2×10 beams, that a lot of weight . . . structurally and visually.

This visual weight should be an important part of your design process, and how you hold up(post, columns, pillars, etc.) that visual weight means the difference between a successful design, and a not-so-successful design.

These dimensions are for a project where the post sit on top of a seat wall and the entire pergola anchors the end of a patio space. By sitting and anchoring the seat wall the pergola helps define the space.

How? With the vertical and the overhead elements(the pergola) anchoring the end of the patio, it brings a sense of enclosure to the area. Along with the ground floor of the patio.

Remember this drawing?

This was the initial concept drawing that was shown to the clients where we got the approval to proceed with the project. This rendering showed the relationship between patio, fireplace, seat wall, and pergola.

That rendering is where I tried to show how the pergola will look in the new landscape. How all the pieces fit together,.

If everyone approves-the green light is given. Then-we get to business with the numbers for the dimensional lumber. That’s where the sketchbook drawing comes into play.

The contractor will not take the dimensions, and my lumber take-off and come up with a final price for the clients.

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. Still feel this Pergola needs some arms that ‘envelope’ the patio seating area – rather than be JUST a backdrop

    I understand how you would think that, I’m now even considering the idea. I probably will not go that way so I can save all views from this seating area down to the lake. it has strongly been suggested to me that the owners will not sit on the seat wall, but on chairs on the patio looking down onto the lake, so they want structure but in limited form.

  2. The heavier the structure the more integrity. Wrapping 6 x 6’s is right, however with this size structure, I might question 2x material.
    Even without the ‘arms’ mentioned before, it is certainly better than w/o

    I agree here also, those 2×2’s might turn into 2×4’s . . . btw, do I know you?

  3. I’m seeing the use of such words as quality and integrity in these postings yet “wrapping” a column to make it seem like a piece of wood that is larger, is of higher quality and has integrity seems to be an un-authentic practice.

    If a larger wooden column or beam is desired then why not use a larger piece of wood, say 7x or 8x or even 16x if needed. Do your clients not know the difference? Are they easily fooled? Do they even care?

    Good point, not all clients notice, they all seem to care about the end product . . .

    If quality is so important, to be constrained by dimensional lumber is artificial. For creativity to be limited in this way is tragic.

    Ah, no one said that this would be the final suggestion(s) still being discussed.

    With regard to landscape design, what does quality really mean to a up-market client?

    I well-thought out design, better materials, construction that is beyond code, done with solid materials, and a strong attention to details-cut no corners. Off the top of my head.

    Rick, I am interested in your thoughts as well as those of our fellow bloggers.

  4. i have a question. if i have a gutter on the facia, do i have to remove the gutter in order to install a header? my wife does not want four corners just two. she want’s me to tie on to the house. is that possible? please get me out of this mess. thanks delmar

    I have seen plenty of pergola supports tied to the house, plenty. that is . . . will the gutter still work okay. You are not going to mess up the flow of the gutter are you?

    I hope you can get out of the mess by building a beautiful pergola, and still have a working gutter!

  5. My home is basically a two story box, 26 ft wide, with a one story section that is 22 ft wide.

    I have a deck on the two story section that is 14 ft wide x 12 ft deep. I would like to extend the deck to 20 ft in width. Then add a pergola over the entire deck which would make it 20 ft wide x 12 ft deep.

    Are there any guidelines to the ratio of the width and depth when adding a pergola over a deck.


    Keeping the deck in scale with the house is the most important thing. next would be making the deck large enough to allow for the things you need to have on the deck AND still have enough room/space to allow for the movement of people. I hope that helps.

  6. I am looking to build a pergola over a 18’x16′ brick patio. The patio is on the back of a two-story house. I was planning on building one that covers the entire space. I have two questions:

    1. from an aesthetics pespective, would it look better to attach such a large structure directly to the house, or am I better off making this a free-standing pergola. I plan on using 6×6 beams as the foundation posts.

    2. I will be setting the posts on concrete bases. Am I better off setting the posts directly in the concrete or should I pour the bases first and then secure them using post anchors?


    I prefer to have the free-standing version as opposed to attaching to the house.

    columns attached to brackets that are “sunk” down into the concrete piers. Longer life span for the wood, and a good look.

  7. What is the recommendation on how to place the 2×2’s on the top of the pergola to get the optimal shade. I have southern exposure, so the sun travels left to right.

  8. Does it or does it not drive you out of your mind when homeowners insist they want a huge pergola on just 4 posts because they don’t want to Obstruct the view…

    I get 3 calls a week–makes me want to just hang up on them.

    Great Blog! I’ll be back to dig in deeper!


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