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Seeking an outdoor oasis: Pergolas create room-like space

Motorized louver systems provide ample sunlight when open (left) and protection from elements when closed (right). Deckmasters / Special to The Forum1 / 4
Pergolas create a room-like space for outdoor kitchens and seating areas. Deckmasters / Special to The Forum2 / 4
Wood-burning firepits are not safe to use under pergolas due to risk of fire and charring; instead, natural gas firepits are recommended. Deckmasters / Special to The Forum3 / 4
Today’s pergolas can include features such as lighting for evenings spent outdoors. Deckmasters / Special to The Forum4 / 4

They're prominent on Pinterest, the star of HGTV and the epitome of Joanna Gaines' style. Pergolas dominate the outdoor landscaping scene, adding character to front porches, outdoor kitchens, backyard seating areas, gardens and above natural gas firepits. But Deckmasters' manager Josh Smook says they're nothing new.

In fact, the first reference to a pergola dated back to the 1640s during the late Medieval period when builders created tunnels or pathways made from wood shoots bound together to form arches with woven plants and green growth, according to Fifthroom.com.

"(Pergolas) have been around for awhile but with the internet's help, it has grown 10-fold in even the last five years," Smook says. "It's been a demand from landscapers and homeowners in general."

Not only are pergolas popular in the residential realm, they're taking off for commercial use outside banks, restaurants, parks and beyond.

From Medieval to modern

Smook says in 2017, people are spending more time at home. To create a more inviting space outdoors, homeowners are implementing intimate landscaping — including pergolas — to add more living space."A pergola is one way to give yourself an oasis outside without traveling," he says.

"The current trend is the dark chocolate. Everyone is using darker colors for (pergolas) right now," Smook says. He estimates Deckmasters sells approximately 50 percent of pergolas in the chocolate color, followed by 35 percent white and the remaining in an adobe or tan hue.

"There's a lot of building trends that come and go," Smook says. "With these things, it's a long-term investment. It comes with a lifetime warranty — you're never going to replace it," Smook says. "We like to keep (pergolas) in neutral colors that are going to stand the test of time — so those three colors really kind of do it."

In the Fargo-Moorhead area, two types of pergolas are common: low maintenance aluminum and real wood, specifically cedar.

Deckmasters pergolas are made of aluminum and therefore low maintenance. To appear more natural looking, the aluminum is wood embossed.

"This gives you the look of wood without painting or staining, ensuring minimal maintenance," Smook says.

Kits are customized for each individual space and packaged for DIY or hired installation.

Josh Amundson, president of FM Home & Patio, says that while maintenance-free kits last longer and are easier to put together, they come with a higher price.

For those who have an affinity to cedar, advantages and disadvantages exist.

"When we do wood (pergolas) we can manipulate the wood to do whatever we want it to do. It's a lot more craftsmanship so it ends up getting pricey for people," Amundson says. "Cedar is naturally resistant to mildew and rot, so a lot of people like it to go its natural gray which makes it maintenance free."

However, chance of deterioration over time whether it's elements, bugs, birds, insects, decay of wood from moisture is much higher than that of an aluminum pergola.

Amundson also doesn't recommend painting cedar pergolas. "I try to talk people out of doing that because if you get any scars in that paint, water gets in that scar and it can't get out because the oils of the paint are holding it inside," he says. "It weakens the structure."

Instead, he recommends transparent stains such as Penofin Oil.

Advanced features

In recent years, pergolas have advanced. Today's pergolas come with a plethora of options and add-on features.

• Lighting. Whether it's as simple as outdoor string lights or mounted fixtures and chandeliers, lighting allows homeowners to enjoy their outdoor space long after the sun sets.

• Fans. Outdoor fans — rated to withstand outdoor moisture and temperatures — are made of treated woods and metals and can be hung to create airflow on warm summer days.

• Shades. "We're seeing more and more people trying to do drop-down curtains and things for the sides to offer shade," Amundson says. Curtains or shades can be coiled back up out of the wind or tied columns. For more tech-savvy homeowners, remote-controlled motorized shades are also available.

• Heaters. "It gets cold at night and you can easily be out there with that little bit of heat," Smook says. Infrared heaters can be mounted on pergola beams, creating overhead heat. Electrical wires are easily run through hollow beams of an aluminum pergola.

• Motorized louver systems. For those wanting a reprieve from the elements, louver systems provide adjustable shade and light. "They move back and forth with a toggle or a remote and gutter systems run out," Smook says. Having the ability to completely open and close, louver systems provide overhead protection without running the risk of snow loads come winter.

Homeowners needing a backyard refresh might want to consider a pergola. "It brings a 3D element to that area instead of just a flat space," Amundson says.

Smook agrees, pergolas serve more than one purpose.

"It's a good aesthetic very for everyone — whether it's a homeowner, a neighbor — it just improves the look of people's backyards," he says. "It's an all-encompassing item. It's shade, it's aesthetics, it's a separate room without being a room. It really ties a project together."

Alexandra Floersch

Alexandra Floersch has worked for Forum Communications since February 2015. She is a content producer and photographer who enjoys writing about finance, fashion and home.

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