Discover the beauty of architectural composition, diversities’, purpose, and process of construction for pergolas and gazebos. You may never look at pergolas or gazebos quite the same again.

pavilion with family

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
~ John Muir 1838-1914

What is a Pergola?

cantilever roof pergola

Archetypical Pergola Perception

Pergolas are by design meant to provide the enjoyment of sunshine dappled with the comfort of shade. Commonly, the roofs are rafters supporting crossed over beams for latticed woodwork. The partially open roof is supported by colonnade-style with posts, pillars, or columns.


What is a Gazebo?

diy gazebo kit

Archetypical Gazebo Perception

Gazebos tend to be more elaborate in style, often hexagonal, octagonal or round. Primarily, since the 19th century, a traditional gazebo roof features a dome-style roof for a beautiful cathedral ambiance. Similarly to modern pergolas, gazebos are also supported with posts, pillars, or columns.

Calling shade shelters by the wrong name is not uncommon.

For example, a gazebo is mistakenly labeled as a pavilion or a pergola as an arbor.  Other constructions often used interchangeably include a bower, belvedere, gloriette, Ramada, kiosk, Alhambra, bandstand, rotunda, colonnade, etc.

Happily, misnaming an outdoor living structure it is nothing to overanalyze or bite the nails over – afterall, it is not a baby – but it is the reason for this guide.

dad holding twin babies

The Differences Between Pergolas & Gazebos


The ShadeScape® pavilion plan on the Interpretation of Architectural Identity diagram was designed for a ShadeScape® homeowner who ordered a pavilion with an open (pergola-style) roof.

As you can see, classifying some outdoor living shelters can get somewhat abstruse.

It is also one of the many reasons why Western Timber Frame™ is so well-loved. You can compose, mix and match ideas with almost any design you love your landscape with. That is, most anything you can dream of – as long as it can be engineered to stand strong for your grandchildren’s-grandchildren to enjoy it, too.

timber frame pavilion

Open pergola style roof on a ShadeScape® pavilion kit installed at a Gothic theme park called #EvermorePark in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Recognizing the fundamentals of structures with sub-class styles can help in the identification of an outdoor living shelter. The roof is what most often characterizes what type of shade shelter it is. Therefore, instead of beginning at the foundation, we will start at the top.

The Pergola Roof

The element that essentially defines a pergola is the top cover. Pergolas are classified primarily by the openness of a latticed roof that allows the sun to beam through. However, here is where it gets vaguerpergolas can also have a fully covered roof.

Louvered Roof

ShadeScape® pergola kit features a remote-controlled louvered roof that will open and shut at the click of a button. It gives complete coverage when it rains or opens to allow some light through on a nice sunny day!

Polycarbonate Roof

corrugated roof pergola

ShadeScape® pergola kit with a polycarbonate roof.  The kits can also have a canopy of acrylic or fiberglass letting the sunlight through with full overhead protection.

Shade Cloth Roof

latticed shade cloth roof

ShadeScape® pergola kit with weaved shade cloth. Shade cloth can cover in an umbrella-like fashion as well.

Custom Roof

louvered roof pergola timber frame

Pergola roof styles are not always latticed or cross-timbers. There are a variety of options and ways to cover a pergola as in this example: a pergola roof fashioned with solid wood louvered shade planks,

 Step Roof

cantilever step tier pergola kit

Pergolas with a step-style roof is a pleasing composition. It can also provide additional overhead in places such as an entryway or over windows. If the pergola roof is placed too high, it defeats the purpose of a pergola: shade.

Cantilevered Roof

cantilever roof timber frame pergola kit

Pergolas are also an easy way to extend the shade with a cantilevered style roof.  As you can see in the picture above, the cantilevered roof covers the complete patio living area with shade during the warmest time of the day.

Tiered Roof

Other styles choices for a pergola roof are: round, raised, tiered, barrel, oval, square, rectangle, step, and even a latticed domed shaped roof similar to a gazebo.

Barrel Roof


Solar Panel Roof

Solar panels on pergola


Pergolas are a fantastic solution upon which to mount solar panels. The flat roof allows panels to be ideally mounted with standoff mounting hardware for the maximum angle of incidence, and also allows for seasonal adjustment as needed. The roof can also be customizable with a pitch combined with a flexible site position that allows for maximum seasonal energy collection.

The Gazebo Roof

Gazebo Stereotype

Typically, people think of a gazebo as octagonal – an eight-sided polygon shape – with a convex style roof.

The most common shapes are:
• circular
• oval
• pentagonal – 5-sided polygon
• hexagonal – 6-sided polygon
• heptagon – 7-sided polygon
• octagonal – 8-sided polygon
• decagonal – 10-sided polygon
• dodecagonal – 12-sided polygon

diy gazebo plan

The domed, convex style roof – a classical characteristic of gazebos – achieves one of the highest levels of artistic expression and skill of architectural masters. Similar to dance, music, painting, and sculpture, the aesthetic effect of fine architecture can transcend to spiritual levels.

Gazebo roof

Domed roofs have been long associated with the symbol of power as it mirrors a cosmic canopy. There is such awe when entering beneath some of the great vaulted dome arched cathedrals throughout the world, some say they feel the presence of God.

Who doesn’t love the ceiling detail of the king post and braces on traditional style domed roof gazebos? It adds timeless elegance and style to any outdoor garden and patio.

Open Roof

Going against everything seemingly pergola – as shown in the examples of pergola roofs above – pergolas can still be a pergola with a fully covered roof. Similarly, gazebos; which traditionally have full coverage roofing sometimes feature a partially open-style roof.

The interior architecture of this 12-sided domed roof in Bethlehem, Palestine, Israel has multiple circular glass decorative inlays to allow for light. Gazebos, like pergolas, can have acrylic, polycarbonate, fiberglass, or other transparent materials that open the view and light.

Below are three examples of gazebos with an open-style roof.

Open Roof Gazebo
Open Roof Gazebo
Open Roof Gazebo

Tiered Cupola Roof


A tiered cupola roof is semi-open, letting in light and air to ventilate through the gazebo.

No Roof

trellis diy plan

Although gazebos can have partially open or vented roofs, the octagonal shape – so characteristic of a gazebo – without a roof on top, is a trellis; not a gazebo.

Sun-to-Shade Ratio

Solid wood has an inherent built-in natural thermostat. Like all trees, the larger the dimensional scale of the wood the better it can regulate a thermal equilibrium for amelioration of temperature.

Timber creates this perfect balance of atmospheric conditions for comfort better than any other alternative shade material.

Pergola Shade

How much and where the sun and shade span will vary on the design of a pergola. Western Timber Frame™ standard shade planks are closer together than conventional pergola kits to ensure that your pergola is at least an 85% shade coefficient. This is the perfect sunlight to shade ratio for human comfort, the equivalent of a good shade tree.

pergola lattices

Gazebo Shade

Most gazebos are designed for full protective coverage from the sun, rain or snow. Of course, if the roof features an open cupola or other open areas it will receive more light but give less protection from the elements.

Gazebos, (as in the pergola pictured above) sometimes feature latticed windbreaks, privacy walls, or have windows added in. Walls provide more than privacy or a windbreak; it creates additional shade.

Architectural Composition

Pavilion and gazebo combination
Pavilion and gazebos combination

In the composition of an outdoor shade shelter,  the distinct characteristics or visual expression of a gazebo are at times less distinguishable when integrated with other types of structures. In these two views of a ShadeScape® DIY plan are two halves of a gazebo attached on both ends of a cross-gabled pavilion. The design, though beautiful, may not be easily recognizable as a gazebo.


This too is a gazebo integrated with a pavilion. Connie, the owner of this ShadeScape® structure affectionately calls it her “gavilion.”

It is exciting to see the beautiful new ideas built with timber in old-world craftsmanship that continue to be imagined and built. But even without integrating shelter types, attaching or installing free-standing edifices together creates some beautiful outdoor living spaces.

gazebo with attached pavilions

In this ShadeScape® gazebo plan with attached pavilions, the gazebo is more apparent.


Part of defining a gazebo is most often in the shape of the roof, this one would be a bit more challenging to identify. The ShadeScape® gazebo plan has the angles of a gazebo roof as well as sporting some pavilion features.

Free-standing gazebos installed next to stand-alone pergolas; though they are separate structures, they compliment the space and give the benefit of both full and partial shade.


Since the root of the word gazebo is “gaze”, gazebos have long been stereotyped as a place for your eyes to canvass the surrounding landscape. Gazebos are the focal point of a landscape. “The magnificent view” to gaze on is the GAZEBO! 

The purpose of almost any type of outdoor living shelter is to take in the view of nature. It is the design and not the purpose that defines what a gazebo (or pergola) is.

Beyond the fundamental purposes of a pergola or gazebo, such as shade, sunlight, and getting out more in the outdoors, the way each person uses their outdoor living space is personal to their life.

sunlight gazebo roof

Pergola Garden Retreat

DIY pavilion plan

Pavilion/Pergola Living Room

outdoor kitchen

Outdoor Kitchen Gazebo

Some enjoy cooking outdoors, swimming, swinging, outdoor dining, exercise, and other activities.

Gazebos and pergolas are both used for about every outdoor living purpose there is.

Below is the etymology of pergola and gazebo and how they have changed in many ways people use them and view them down through centuries of time.

heavy duty pergola

Families and businesses will continue to find new beginnings, new ways to play, work and every day living in their own unique space in the outdoors.


Go back 500 years. . .

…the English language has changed and adapted so much it would be like speaking a completely different language. Geese would have been pronounced as gās. A glass mirror would have been written a myrrour of glasse. Our system of words for communication will never cease to change; it will continue to act in response to the needs of the people who use it.

Similarly, the meaning and vision of a pergola and gazebo have changed and adapted throughout time to the needs of those who use them. In the future, pergolas and gazebos will continue to transition in architectural concepts, and maybe even how we use them.

pergola pena park sintra portugal


Pergola – pronounced pr-gow-luh, – from Latin is a ‘projecting roof.’

Formerly, the antiquated term for pergola is a “bower” often used interchangeably with arbor.  or a bower. It meant an attractive abode or retreat, to dwell, inhabit, enclose or lodge, a balcony, room, chamber, private apartment, storehouse, raised stand, rustic cottage, and a shelter or covered place in a garden, made with bows or trees or vines, etc. twined together.

Today, in its simplest form, a pergola is a latticed roof supported with wooden pillars. In times past, pergolas defined an area of living space or an area of the yard. Sometimes fragrance was added by training plants such as honeysuckle, trumpet and grapevines, wisteria, or roses to grow up the sides and over the top as a covering.

Once upon a time ago, pergolas were much harder to distinguish. It could be anywhere from architectural support for a climbing garden, to a room, house or projection of one.

gazebo house


Gazebo – pronounced guh-zee-bow – (Prob. Humorously formed from gaze) has unknown origins. There are many hypotheses but the word gazebo, published in 1890, Webster’s International Dictionary is defined as (1) a Turret on a roof or a summer house. (2) A projecting balcony closed with windows. (3) A var. of Gazabo, to run away secretly.

In modern usage, gazebos are usually freestanding, most often open on all sides; while in the 17th and 18th centuries, a gazebo was often the extension of a home such as a balcony or projecting window, or turret on a roof. Part of what distinguished it as a gazebo was the long-distant view, a lookout or belvedere; which usually entailed a garden house set on a higher location. Based on the region or culture, a gazebo could also be referred to as a summerhouse, teahouse, pagoda, rotunda, etc.

The one thing that both pergolas and gazebos have always had a commonality in is they are both a lovely place devoted to the pleasure of the senses.

“Unto the painful summit of this height
A gay Gazebo does our Steps invite.
From this, when favored with a Cloudless Day
We fourteen Counties all-around survey.
Th’ increasing prospect tires the wandering Eyes:
Hills peep over Hills, and mix with distant Skies.”
– 1741 Wetenhall Wilkes

Construction & Installation

We usually think of buildings as a solid, stable structure; not a moving object. However, we actually live in a fluid environment. The earth is seismically moving in waves up and down as well as side-to-side in an ongoing micromotion. On top of that, wind loads add another factor to the moving force.

Western Timber Frame™ patented design The Dovetail Difference® creates an architecturally more responsible structure, allowing the wood to perform as nature intended, expanding and contracting while keeping a tight, joint and integral portion of the timber intact.

dovetail interlocking connections

The Dovetail Difference®

hipped roof
compare dovetail difference

There is no visible hardware, bolts, screws, hangers or other mechanical fasteners unless they are decorative in nature.

the dovetail difference test 11000 lbs

The patented design The Dovetail Difference®, the massive mortise, and tenon dovetail joint system throughout our timber construction process creates very strong, rigid joints.

On the test pictured this joint here didn’t give until it reached over 11,000 lbs.!

ShadeScape® kits are not just about refashioning for a new look but as a whole new way of living life every day. What is different about these kits is that it is not a pre-made one size fits all kit. They are only a kit in the sense that they come to your door ready to assemble. Every piece is cut and built to match homeowners’ requirements for a perfect fit in their backyard. Doing a redo such as a deck and a pergola kit featured here today is a simple process that can be done in person, over a phone or via email. After the kit is delivered, hassle-free, right to the front door.

If desired, Western Timber Frame™ has certified installers, or they can help find a contractor near the location of interest. They are, however, easy to install, going together somewhat-like a set of “Lincoln Logs” many of us used to play with as kids.

As for local building codes and engineering, Western Timber Frame™ has permit approval experts. It doesn’t matter where a person lives; a Design Manager is there to assist you past any hurdles. They will help get projects approved. It is much easier than some might think.

With up to a 120 mph wind ratings, and a tremendous snow load capacity, a kit will last for years to come. With superior construction techniques, properly engineered designs, and expert craftsmanship; a timber frame structure can be expected to last a lifetime.

birthday pavilion

Terri Mullin’s ShadeScape® Pergola Installed

timber frame pergola kit

“My husband and I were looking at building a pergola and happened upon Western Timber Frame In our research. And the journey began. We emailed them called and talked about exactly what we wanted. After also speaking with other Pergola builders, we were sold on them. The workmanship is beautiful and as sturdy as our house…


…My husband and I along with the help of his 72-year-old dad had it up in three days. The dovetails were top notch. Once they slipped into place, they were not going anywhere. Tight!! The hardware was very high quality and came in its own little Rubbermaid tub. Their customer service was personal and professional. I highly recommend Western Timber Frame for any of your outdoor building needs.” Teri Mullins, Kentucky

pavilion test


Timber frame pavilion in shop assemble


pavilion in snow

A pergola or gazebo extends your outdoor living time, creating an inviting area to gather with family and friends.

pergola kit winter snow

To view, the process of construction see Easily Build a Fast DIY Beautiful Backyard Shade Structure.

Get the Free Ultimate Pergola and Pavilion Guide

Get the Free Ultimate Pergola and Pavilion Guide

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