Outdoor living rooms are still where today's families set up shop once the barometer sheds its winter coat.

And while some opt for poolside clubhouses with convertible screens, tricked out with changing rooms, built-in grills, fridges, bars, TVs and fireplaces, others seek the simplicity of a campout in a tree-side clearing, but softened with comfy seating.

The pergola or pergola-inspired porch has become the shelter of choice for the latter, often open to the stars but sheltered from the frying sun by crossbeams and greenery, retractable fabric or solid roofs "” and kinder to the bottom line.

"I've seen an uptick in the past six to seven years compared to 20 years ago," says Todd Walters of Pendery Construction in Loveland. "People ask for pergolas when they have large open spaces and want to keep that sense of openness as opposed to screened-in rooms. They want them where they have a space but are looking for some shade and a way to incorporate landscaping with a more natural feel."

The Mark Ulliman family of Sycamore Township is one of them. Their roofed pergola/porch was an evolution. "We are campers. We like the outdoors and like to entertain outdoors," he says. "My wife wanted a patio. I wanted a firepit. I said, "¢Wouldn't it be great if we had one all the time?' So we added a roof. Then we thought we'd add a chimney to pipe the smoke and keep it out of people's eyes. Now we have both."

Their C-shaped shelter was designed and built by Neal's Design Remodel in Blue Ash to complement the addition of a pool someday.

History says pergolas developed from the green tunnels found in gardens in late Medieval and Renaissance times, made from shoots of willow or hazel bound together to form arches woven with long slats for climbing plants to create a shaded and dry passageway. By the 17th century, they began to resemble structures seen today, built on stone or brick pillars with crossbeams.

Now they are used as walkways, extensions, connectors and freestanding structures, often over hot tubs.

"They add a layer of detail that's not necessarily forced," says architect Ryan Duebber of Pleasant Ridge, "something almost like an arts and crafts sort of movement in terms of how attractive garden features are and how it softens the architecture."

"It's timeless in effect," and despite an Asian appearance, "There are a lot of different profiles you can fashion to complement different architectural styles just by the way the ends are cut "”modern or traditional "” with little changes in detail to complement the house in a simple way."

"And it's easy to add because it's basic framing and not as costly as building a structure with sides."

He recently designed a rough-sawn western red cedar open pergola/porch combination built by Eagle Custom Homes and Remodeling of Loveland.

The family had an existing freeform back patio but wanted some sun protection, a privacy screen and a structure that would complement the existing upscale transitional style home with a high-ceilinged great room opening to the patio.

"The challenge was the height of the roof and the volume of the family room for a direct connection," Duebber says. The height of the peak was 19 or 20 feet "so we added things to reduce the seemingly scale by adding masonry post bases with tumbled stone to make the columns look less vertical and be more proportionate . . . and double columns to create mass and balance."

Lower timber features also brought the edge of the height down, and truss elements were added within the porch roof to reduce the height of the space. Horizontal louvered screening was added to the gabled end for sun protection and privacy. The decorative pergola forms a backdrop to the grilling area and a more intimate patio space. The roughly 21-by-23-foot area now includes a covered seating area with a ceiling fan, plus the accent pergola and grilling area.

When architect Ashli Slawter of Fort Thomas was asked to expand a poolside outdoor living space on a century-old classic Tudor, she designed a double-arched stone living space above a garage and added a pergola on stone bases using rough sawn cedar to mimic the home's beamed accents.

"Pergolas are great for partial shading because they add layers of texture and allow you to introduce greenery. Together they soften the hardscapes," she says. "In this case the pool is considered a hardscape area."

"I would say people are requesting more of the pergola coupled with a covered deck area," she says. "When you build a deck, you don't use it when it's raining and when it's really hot and sunny. But if you add a bead board ceiling and a fan, even a fireplace, you've created a living space, and you have the ability to put nicer furniture out there. The fan keeps the bugs away without screens. The fireplace keeps you warm, and you end up using the space nine months out of the year in many cases."

"It's much more enjoyable than a screened-in porch, which puts a layer between you and the outdoor environment. It's open and you still feel outside, but protected.
Ashli Slawter architect,
(859) 630-5289 or

Eagle Custom Homes and Remodeling,
(513) 965-0455 or

Neal's Design Remodel,
(513) 489-7700 or

Pendery Construction,
(513) 965-9393 or

Ryan Duebber architect,

(513) 351-5141 or

From Top to Bottom:
Architect Ryan Duebber used stone bases, architectural details and louvered sides to make a smooth transition between this pergola/porch combination and the high-ceilinged great room in a home by Eagle Custom Homes and Remodeling.
This backyard getaway by Neal's Design Remodel builds on a pergola-like base adding a roof and fireplace.
The addition of a poolside pergola, designed by Ashli Slawter, softened the double-arched stone outdoor living room addition to a Fort Thomas Tudor.

A pond-side pergola provides a focal point for a lush garden patio and outdoor dining room by Thornton Landscaping.
Material Options

Natural woods, especially cedar and redwood, are smart choices because they are designed for exterior use, says Todd Walters of Pendery Construction. And architect Ryan Duebber says mahogany, Douglas fir and "exotic" woods like tiger wood and epa can also be used. His pick for his own structure was massaranduba, a South American hardwood. "It's a very dense and stable wood. And it will last forever in terms of breaking down." (For responsibly forested woods, see the Forest Stewardship Council at www.fsc.org).

Treated lumber, mostly pine, has been a popular choice in the past because of its low cost (half the cost of cedar, for example). But, "It's not aesthetically as pleasing" as hardwoods, says Duebber, "and over time it doesn't wear as well." And Walters warns that treated lumber is "still very wet when it's used, and it has to be allowed to dry thoroughly before painting and staining "” "and a lot of people don't want to go that route."

To retain the natural color and avoid graying, most woods have to be treated routinely with a sealer or stain. And no matter what material you choose, all have to be cleaned periodically or airborne dirt, algae, mold and mildew will result. Oxygen bleach, not regular household bleach, is recommended by most experts.