Creating Your Backyard Oasis

with a pergola or Gazebo

One of the joys of summer is being outdoors, surrounded with pleasant views, unharried by the cares of the world.  If you are looking for outdoor happiness, a well-designed and properly sited timber frame structure, like a pergola, gazebo or outdoor bar can transform a pleasing backyard into an oasis of wellbeing and delight.

The Checklist:

To make the work of planning your get-away a little easier, here are the top 10 things you’ll want to know before you spend a dollar on designs or materials. Good design starts with a location, examines how a space will be used and then creates a shape and features for that space that help you maximize your comfort and enjoyment.

First, let’s narrow down the best spot for your oasis:

  1. Review your yard’s exposure to all the things that will have a bearing on your enjoyment. Think about the times of day when you’re most likely to use your gazebo or pergola – what’s happening at those times with sun, shade, neighbours, street noise and the like?  Do you have a wind-sheltered spot?
  2. Next, where are your favourite views? Move around your yard and note the views you like, as well as any that you’d rather not see. Plantings and privacy screens can often help with the latter, so don’t count out a location if it scores well in #1 but has a view to the neighbour’s tool shed – the solution can be beautiful.
  3. For your top locations, think about the path your family and guests will use to reach your gazebo or pergola.  Look for any issues that might affect ease of access.  Remember that distance matters: the closer it is to your home, especially your kitchen, the more you’ll use it and enjoy it.  Being close also reduces electrical runs, path materials and makes every transit between home and oasis easier.

How do you want to use your outdoor space?

  1. Consider how many people you’ll routinely have and the largest number at any one time.  A properly sized space will range between 1-1/2 and 2 times your “everyday” group size.  For larger gatherings, having a patio area as part of your oasis is an easy way to provide room for those additional guests.
  2. Is food preparation and outdoor dining on your menu?  Outdoor kitchens can be compact and simple, and they can also be large and lavish.  Think about the kinds of meals and cooking style you prefer and list the essential elements you’ll need to achieve a hassle-free food prep experience. 
  3. Other Outdoor Features to consider: Think fireplaces, water features, hot tubs, TVs, special lighting, pizza ovens, swings, hammocks and whatever completes your definition of relaxation and refreshment.  Some of these are large and need careful consideration in your design while others can play a part in creating privacy and hiding a less desirable view. 
  4. Do you hate being bugged?  No surprise: mosquitoes, wasps, and flies can make it a challenge to fully relax outside. Thankfully, window and screen materials for gazebos have seen big improvements in variety, functionality, and toughness.  Your gazebo designer can recommend a solution and make sure that window openings make best use of your preferred anti-bug defense.

The shape, style, and material used to make your backyard oasis will enhance your use and enjoyment:

  1. Shape alone, could easily be its own blog topic. Simply stated, square and rectangular pergolas and gazebos are the go-to solution if you’re after the most efficient and affordable space.  Hexagon and octagon shapes involve more material and joinery ($$) but have more wow factor, especially when you step inside a gazebo and look up at how the roof timbers converge.
    Single slope roofs, also known as shed roofs, are simpler to build and can provide a more contemporary feel.  Ask your designer to show you the different roof types or visit our “Look Book” to see the many ways you can configure the shape of your get-away.
  2. Sidewall height needs to allow for at least a 6’-8” (2m) clearance under the eave beam, with 7’ to 9’ heights being most common.  Roof slopes from shallow to steep are a personal choice.  You may want to match an existing building on your yard or let your oasis be its own thing.  Overhangs of 12”-24” are typical, but again, your preference rules.  If you matched the roof pitch of another building, matching the overhang also makes good sense.
  1. If you’re a person who loves wood, this one can be a difficult consideration, but here’s some help:  Cedar is the gold-standard material for handling weather.  It comes in a variety of species with “western red” and “northern white” being the most common.  Both are highly rot-resistant and can be allowed to go silver or helped along with a moisture repelling finish like Sansin’s Wood Sealer. Douglas fir and white pine need to keep dry feet and we recommend using a post stand-off to keep columns clear of puddles.  A good three-coat stain finish is essential.

For more contemporary designs glue-laminated posts and beams can do wonders, allowing longer spans and high-capacity connections, while keeping a sleek, minimalist look.  

Ask your designer to see examples of available wood types.


Pavilion – a roofed structure, free-standing or attached to a larger building.  Is typically open-sided but may also be enclosed by walls.
Gazebo – an open-sided, free-standing, roofed building usually located in a natural area like a garden or park.
Pergola – an open roof structure that provides shade and can also support climbing vines that provide additional shade and privacy.