Pretty Pergola Ideas: Start to Finish in 14 Hours

White Painted Wood Pergola DIY Project | Pergola Ideas

$500 and a weekend were all it took to build this gorgeous pergola.

Yum. Just imagine brunch on the amazing pergola that Jamin and Ashley, of the Handmade Home blog, built for less than $500. It was the finishing touch on their backyard, which they've been upgrading for awhile.

Building a pergola isn’t the easiest project — but with enough planning and free labor from family and friends, it only took Jamin and Ashley about 14 hours to make theirs.

Here's the before picture:

Before the DIY pergola

Notice how some easier changes — paint color, shutters, planter, and trellis — have already given their home’s exterior a lift. With the pergola, Jamin and Ashley definitely have added a wow factor to their backyard.


Jamin and Ashley break down all the supplies and steps for building a 10-by-10-foot pergola in their how-to tutorial. They really go into detail, and you won’t need to be super-experienced to do this project.

Basically, here’s what you’ll do:

  • Buy posts and planks to fit the size pergola you’re planning to build. Select pine wood if you’re planning to paint it; western red cedar if you want the natural look (but be prepared to seal it.)
  • Set the posts by either anchoring them to concrete or sinking them into a cement-filled, 2-ft. deep hole. Make sure your posts are plumb in all directions, or your pergola will lean like Pisa.
  • Add end beams.
  • Add knee braces to the end beams and posts (knee braces are the 45-degree supports that stiffen the structure so it can’t lean).
  • Decide spacing, and add rafters (Jamin and Ashley call them “cross beams”). If you want to grow vines up your pergola, set rafters about 12 in. apart so there’s plenty of support for vines.
  • Add 2-by-2-inch lattice (Jamin and Ashley refer to them as “top beams”). The lattice is key to providing shade.
  • Paint; or sand and leave wood au naturel. Preserve natural wood tones with a clear exterior sealer or stain.

Wood rafters paintred white for pergola

Make More Shade

Jamin and Ashley decided to add shade by training Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) to grow up the structure. The plant smells great and sports beautiful, trumpet-shaped yellow flowers. When the vine fills in, the shade will come.

Carolina jasmine planted at the base of DIY pergola

Here are three other classic vining plants that make great shade:

  • Clematis has beautiful summer flowers.
  • Trumpet vine (Distictis) flowers attract hummingbirds.
  • Grapes grow fast and have big leaves for shade (Vitis has virtually no fruit).

Think twice before growing wisteria up a pergola. It’s a beautiful plant, but can become very heavy as it matures, stressing the structure it covers.

Check out the other stories in our Perk Up Your Patio series: Turning Mason Jars Into a Creative Light Fixture and Making a Vertical Garden Out of an Old Window Frame. Then, vote for your favorite.

Be sure to check out our other amazing project series, including our laundry room redo ideas, our fabulous pantry projects, and these delightful stairway makeovers.

Housing And Real Estate Expert Lisa Kaplan-Gordon
Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.