Garden shade structures – choose the right one for your outdoor area

by Kremy

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Garden shade structures differ in construction methods, durability, flexibility and materials. However, they are essential for our comfort and provide us protection against sun rays or rain. As weather becomes more and more pleasant and warm and summer months approach each day, we are increasingly reminded of how nice it is to spend our time outdoors. We need to prepare a suitable and comfortable place to relax during the time we spend time in the garden. A shade structure is a necessity as it provides space for family gatherings, friends entertaining or a quiet rest with a book on a sunny afternoon enjoying the beautiful landscape. In addition, a shade structure becomes a part of the landscape design and a main decoration in the backyard which means that homeowners need to consider carefully the material and style of the main building and the overall design of the landscape. To achieve a pleasing visual effect you need to match the style of the garden structure with the style of the main building and the environment. Of course, any structure should meet your requirements for functionality, comfort and convenience, as well as your personal taste as far as appearance is concerned. You can add such a structure at any time and have a beautiful place for daytime or night time gatherings. We shall look at different types of constructions which will provide the shade in your backyard, their advantages and disadvantages and will give you useful ideas how to arrange a visually pleasing and functional outdoor area.

Garden shade structures – planning the construction


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You do not need to be a professional architect to build a pergola or gazebo in your backyard. On the first place you need to determine where exactly your structure will be located and for what purposes it will be used. Those who prefer a quiet rest may choose a remote corner but if you need an outdoor entertaining space it will be better to have it in proximity to the main building in order to have an easy and quick access to the kitchen for example.

Think of the size of your garden shade structure. Obviously, the dimensions will depend on the available space and your individual needs as well as the function of the structure. Some garden shades structures – gazebos or pavilions, for example – would need a foundation.

At the planning stage you need to choose the shape of the structure. Rectangular shapes are a good choice for landscape designs with geometric lines and an excellent option which can comfortably accommodate a large number of guests.

Round garden shade structures usually are not very large. They are a good option if you want a more intimate atmosphere and entertain a few guests.

Polygonal structures are an alternative to the round ones and most often those are gazebos. These are beautiful structures and a good option for a DIY project if you choose pre-fabricated panels.

Consider the access to the shade structure. You may need a garden path leading to your shaded area when it is located at a distance from the main building.

Another consideration to keep in mind is the protection from rain and wind. Obviously, the main function of your shade structure is to provide protection from sun rays, but there is no reason not to use your outdoor area on a cloudy day, right?

Think of lighting options as this will allow you to spend pleasant evenings outdoors, consider the type of furniture that you need – whether dining furniture, sunbeds, lounge furniture, etc. Depending on the type of your garden structure you may plan an outdoor kitchen, a fireplace, why not a pizza oven?

Garden shade structures – types and materials

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Once you have determined the location, the size, shape and the function of your garden shade structure, you need to choose the type, style and the material for your garden shade structure. There are many and different options to choose from. Canopies, pergolas and gazebos are the most popular options but if you prefer a more contemporary look, you may opt for shade sails. Whichever type you choose, do not forget that the shade structure has to blend harmoniously with the overall landscape and exterior design and the main criteria for any structure are its functionality and attractive appearance. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of the main types of garden shade structures.

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Arbors are small freestanding structures constructed with lattices and often having an arched top. Most often arbors are used at the entrance of a yard or garden or as an element of the landscape design connecting one part of a garden with another but they are a good option as a shelter for a bench or a swing and look beautiful with climbing plants. Arbors are a good DIY shade structure project as they can be bought and constructed from a pre-fabricated kit. The most popular material is wood, but you can opt for metal or vinyl, depending on the particular garden design and decor style.

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Pergolas are one of the most popular garden shade structures. They are larger than arbors and provide more options for customizing the outdoor area. Due to the fact that their roofs are open-framed, pergolas provide little shade themselves. However, they are an excellent support for climbing plants or vines which gives them a fantastic appearance. Another option is to use textile as a pergola canopy. A pergola can be freestanding or attached to the house and one of the main advantages that it offers is the good shade. Typically, pergolas are large enough to accommodate a dining furniture set or patio lounge furniture. The market offers many styles and sizes and a variety of materials – wood, aluminum, vinyl, etc.

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Gazebos are freestanding structures which usually have hexagonal, octagonal or round shape and a peaked roof, but the variety of designs is almost endless – the number of sides may vary as well as the type of the roof, they may be completely open or with beautiful lattice sides. Usually, inside the gazebo there is a built-in seating, a dining table and the overall appearance is often romantic which makes gazebos a popular element of the landscape design.

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Garden canopies are usually light structures and and can be custom-made or pre-built. While the construction is permanently fixed, the shade is provided by fabric and typically customers have a choice between enclosed designs or designs with open sides (optional sides). Some models can be de-constructed and moved to another part of the yard or transported. Canopies are a good choice for small backyards and patios as they are one of the most practical space-saving options.

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Shade sails are an excellent choice as a garden shade structure in contemporary styled exteriors. These structures have a beautiful appearance and, despite that the structure itself is solid, the sails look as if they are floating. In general tensioned shade structures resemble canopies and the tension is providing the support not a framework. Shade sails could be stretched in a loose way or more tightly if you prefer to see their shape. Usually the sails have a strict geometric shape –triangular, rectangular, round – and the height and angle of the sails can be adjusted which allows you the greatest flexibility since you can adjust the shade as per the changing angle of the sun. Typically, the construction of shade sails includes a permanent structure and optional rtemoval of the sails during winter months. The market offers a variety of options and you can consult with professional to see what configuration will suit your particular needs in the best way.

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Curtains, awnings and roller shades are another practical solution which is suitable for outdoor areas with limited space. They need permanent support and hardware and can be mounted on the side of the building or freestanding. A major advantage is that the curtains can be manufactured from almost any type of fabric and DIY project fans can make their own curtains to add to the atmosphere and ambiance of the outdoor area. Awnings and roller shades are manufactured by waterproof or water-resistant fabrics which provide a good shade but do not block the air flow. Whether manually operated or motorized, awnings and roller shades are a great addition to any exterior. The color choices and fabric patterns are practically limitless and you can choose the one matching your exterior design, personal taste and preferences.

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Garden pavilions differ from other shade structures as they usually have support along the outside edges of the shade area. Pavilions come in a wide variety of designs and the options vary from pre-fab portable models to custom made structures from wood, vinyl or concrete which support a solid roof.

Tips and ideas for the style of garden shade structures

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You wouldn’t want your pergola, gazebo or other type of shade structure to look like an enormous patch right into your backyard, would you? That is why it is so important to choose not only the right type of structure for your outdoor area but to choose the right style so that it blends harmoniously into the entire garden environment. Its architectural style and exterior decoration should be matched with the architecture of the main house, and the dimensions and shapes should correspond to the garden size and landscape. Of course, the world of exterior design ideas knows no boundaries and there are many styles to choose from – classic, rustic, Mediterranean, Italian, Moroccan, oriental, beach style, modern and contemporary and each style features different materials and overall appearance.

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Classic style is strict and based on simplicity. The shape of the garden structure can be rectangular or hexagonal. The simple roof dome, clear lines, symmetry and proportions, the lack of ornaments and decorative elements are the typical features of this style.

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The style of Provence will appeal to all who prefer a more relaxed and romantic atmosphere in the backyard. You can add some elements from other styles like rustc or Shabby chic, which will work greatly with the Provencial style. Choose soft, pastel colors for the decoration, wicker furniture or wrought iron garden furniture are the best choice. Accessorize the outdoor area with decorative ceramic plates, candelabras, ceramic bowls, candlesticks, fruit pots, etc.

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Modern style allows you to combine natural materials with artificial ones. You can choose an aluminum pergola or a pavilion with almost any shape – square, round, rectangular or irregular – open or closed. Usually modern shade structures are flat roofed and accommodate lounge or dining furniture, often both, if there is enough space, a barbeque or a bar counter.

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In a Japanese garden you need an outdoor structure to reflect the philosophy and style, the atmosphere of charm and serenity which are typical for this style. Natural materials are a must. Avoid color contrasts and bold vivid colors. Avoid excessive decoration as one of the main rules of the style is minimalism and simplicity.


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