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Gazebo, Pergola & Pavilion, What is the Difference?

Updated: Mar 19

A Gazebo reminds me of “The Sound of Music.” The scene with Liesl and Rolf singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and dancing along the benches in the rain epitomizes the gazebo setting—the lawn on a large estate.

Maybe you don’t have a lawn—or a large estate. Does that mean a gazebo is wrong for you? Maybe, maybe not. But a gazebo is only one style of outdoor living space. If you enjoy outdoor living as much as indoor—entertaining friends, hosting family get-togethers, or enjoying the sights and sounds of nature—choosing the right space is an important decision. Understanding the features of the different styles available will help you decide which is right for you.

The difference between a pergola, gazebo, and pavilion

10' x 14' Artisan Pergola

What is a pergola?

Typically found in gardens, a pergola is a structure with vertical posts or pillars that support a sturdy lattice of cross-beams.  While the lattice overhead provides some semblance of shade, most homeowners choose to use the pergola to support woody vines like roses or wisteria.

Pergolas come in all shapes and sizes. A smaller pergola could serve as an arch over a walkway or gate in a fence. A larger structure that covers a patio makes an inviting area for garden entertaining. To provide both shade and ambiance to your seating area, plant vines like wisteria, honeysuckle, or jasmine.

While the material you choose for your pergola could be dictated by your surroundings and your homeowners’ association. Wood pergolas blend in nicely in wooded surroundings and can be painted any color you choose. Vinyl pergolas however are ordered in a wide range of colors and cannot be painted.

What is a gazebo?

A gazebo is a hexagonal or octagonal-shaped roofed structure with open sides all around. They are erected over the grass, a concrete pad, or its own decking and can be freestanding or attached to a garden wall. Gazebos provide shade, shelter from rain, and a place to rest and relax.

For larger pieces of property, homeowners often build gazebos in places where they like to hang out away from the home, like next to a lake or river. To provide extra protection from the elements you may choose to enclose the sides with lattice. Or, for occasional use, curtains. Providing cushions for the benches, or comfortable patio seating makes a gazebo a place to return again and again.

Like their cousin the pergola, gazebos come in a variety of materials. Wooden gazebos are stained for a natural effect or painted. Vinyl gazebos can be ordered from a variety of colors.


What is a pavilion?

The likes of parks and campgrounds, the pavilion is making its way into the backyard scene. A pavilion is a freestanding structure without walls with a roof much like a house. It is typically much larger than a gazebo or pergola and the perfect place for family gatherings on that piece of riverfront vacation property.

The pavilion’s larger size can accommodate more upgrades. Afterall, wouldn’t a kitchen at one end be a nice feature for family reunions? Or a fireplace for gatherings in cooler weather? You might even want to furnish your pavilion with anything from picnic tables to a big comfy couch.

If you belong to a property owners association, check their rules before building any extra structure. And, while you may have a wood or vinyl pavilion, the association may have their say in the matter.

Which outdoor structure is right for me?

When considering a backyard structure, choosing the right style to fit your needs can take some evaluation. Use, location, and style are all things to consider.

A gazebo or pergola offers more elegant outdoor seating than a pavilion. Both look lovely with flowering vines or planters and come in wood or vinyl.

Want a solid floor? Gazebos have deck floors, while pavilions are erected over  concrete or stone patios. So, if you want a garden structure to grow roses on, you don’t want a pavilion. And while those roses would look lovely on a pergola arching over a walkway or patio, a gazebo provides a larger sitting area. So, if you want to entertain in your structure, go with the gazebo.

For a more rustic location, choose a pavilion. These larger structures blend nicely into wooded environments or property away from home.

No matter which you choose—pergola, pavilion, or gazebo—having an outdoor living area adds value and style to your home. If you need assistance with design or color choices, consult with a member of Ulrich Lifestyle’s design team, today.

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