Roof ideas for pergolas – including retractable designs: 11 looks for your yard

These roof ideas for pergolas will give your outdoor structure extra versatility and style

Roof ideas for pergolas – outdoor sofa on patio with caribbean blinds pergola
(Image credit: Caribbean Blinds)

Need some new roof ideas for pergolas to give your garden structure a boost? We've got you covered.

Everyone knows what a pergola looks like; they're traditionally made from wood but sometimes sturdy steel, with four columns supporting a (generally) slatted top. They provide shade, structural definition, and an element of privacy to any outdoor zone, so make a great addition to seating areas, or even a garden bar or kitchen. But when it specifically comes to the roof of a pergola, there are plenty of options that you may not have previously considered. These can add practicality – some can be easily retracted or lit up with recessed spotlights, for instance. But they can also offer aesthetic appeal too.

We've brought together some of our top roof ideas for pergolas below. And if you're on the lookout for more shade ideas for patios, our guide will provide plenty of inspo.

Roof ideas for pergolas: 11 cool covers for boosting style and shade

From contemporary styles to designs that are totally unique, these pergola roof ideas will soon have you feeling inspired for your own backyard.

1. Add extra shelter with a clear plastic top

wayfair pergola with garden bar and corner sofa

A colorful set-up from Wayfair

(Image credit: Wayfair)

A wooden pergola like this is a classic choice, and as shown here, looks fantastic over a corner sofa. However, if your plot is prone to temperamental weather, a bit more shelter overhead may be in order.

A budget-friendly solution is to attach some corrugated plastic roofing to the beams. That way, you can still use the space even if it's raining. Plus, you won't be blocking out any additional light, so it will still feel bright and airy. This type of roofing is super durable and easy to clean, too.

There are plenty more pergola ideas in our dedicated feature if you're after more style suggestions.

2. Try an adjustable design

pandora leaf pergola from cuckooland on patio

(Image credit: Cuckooland)

If you're after patio cover ideas, how about something like this? The sleek design comes with an easily adjustable handle, making it simple to pull the panels open and closed depending on the weather.

We think the steel and aluminium frame in a cool gray color is ideal for contemporary spaces. Pair with a modern sofa and a streamlined coffee table to finish the sophisticated scene.

3. Add an awning

robert dyas monaco metal pergola

(Image credit: Robert Dyas)

Love the look of our awning ideas? These retractable canvas shades aren't strictly for the sides of houses – you can bring them to your pergola, too.

In this design, all you need to do is use the pulley to fold the canvas shade neatly to one side if you want more sunshine. The cream color makes a chic contrast against the gray metal, too. And, when the colder weather hits, the canvas can be removed and stored somewhere safe to prolong its lifetime.

4. Embrace a beachy theme

little greene paint on covered outdoor kitchen

This stylish set-up features paint colors from Little Greene

(Image credit: Little Greene)

If you like the sound of a beachy theme for your outdoor seating space, then a laid-back look like this could be the solution. True, it's more enclosed than a traditional pergola design, but it will certainly help to keep you cool in the height of summer. 

The white hue keeps the space light and bright and looks great when paired with pale decking. It would make a lovely retreat for a shaded daybed or hammock, or why not set up a stylish prep area for alfresco cooking like in this scene?

5. Go smart and chic with a retractable style

outdoor living pod in garden from Caribbean Blinds

(Image credit: Caribbean Blinds)

Adjustable designs are great if you're after tech-savvy roof ideas for pergolas. But this style above doesn't just have rotating panels (that can stop at any angle) – the whole thing can be pulled over to one side, too. This allows maximum control over the amount of sunlight your outdoor living space gets, and is also useful for when it starts to rain.

And who needs separate outdoor heating ideas when you can have integrated heaters on your pergola? This one sports infra-red ultra low glare designs, which can be mounted either to the cross beams or the posts. Drainage is a factor to consider too – this one has a concealed guttering system to effectively deal with rainwater run-off.

It's an ideal pick for a contemporary entertaining space and will really help create an extension of your home all year round.

6. Try a more rustic look with bamboo canes

pergola made from bamboo canes over path with lighting by John Cullen Lighting

This illuminated pathway features lighting by John Cullen Lighting

(Image credit: John Cullen Lighting)

Now for something a little more rustic. This overhead framework has been formed by tying together bamboo canes around the tops of deciduous trees. As the trees continue to establish, their new growth and leafy foliage will be trained across the pathway, creating a cocooning canopy of green.

For now, the scene still looks enticingly charming, especially with the dramatic impact from a series of uplights.

Don't forget, you can find lots of gorgeous outdoor lighting ideas in our feature.

7. Illuminate the scene with spotlights

hot tub from hydrolife on raised deck with lit-up pergola

This modern garden includes a hot tub from HydroLife

(Image credit: HydroLife)

Lights can be part of your roof ideas for pergolas, too. This design already blends seamlessly into its surroundings due to the matching color scheme and similar style, but it's the recessed lighting that really boosts the sense of cohesion.

It's a great way to add a dose of nighttime ambience – whether your pergola shelters a hot tub or a comfy sofa.

8. Make a statement with water

pergola with waterfall in 'VTB Capital Garden – Spirit of Cornwall', designed by Stuart Charles Towner with Studio Evans Lane for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

'VTB Capital Garden – Spirit of Cornwall', designed by Stuart Charles Towner with Studio Evans Lane for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

(Image credit: Neil Hepworth/RHS)

If you've been tempted by the designs in our water feature ideas gallery, then how's this for a eye-catching look? Granted, it's in a show garden, but if you've got the budget for something bespoke then it's a surefire way to make a stunning statement.

The water from the reservoir on the top cascades down a sleek panel of glass into a pond below to create a waterfall effect. The soothing sound and sight will give the seating space beneath tons of added atmosphere – a great way to set the tone for a peaceful afternoon outdoors.

9. Adorn with climbing roses

pathway with rose covered pergola

Pep up a path with climbing plants

(Image credit: Clive Nichols/Jacky Hobbs/Future)

Looking for something a little more natural for your roof ideas for pergolas? Then think about investing in some of the best climbing plants to create a canopy of beautifully-fragranced blooms.

Sure, you'll need some sort of structure to begin with to support the climbers. But it doesn't have to be anything ornate, as long as it's structurally sound. Roses, jasmine and honeysuckle are perfect picks for a romantic, cottage-garden style and will up the sense of romance for any outdoor seating space or pathway.

10. Give your outdoor room a remote-control roof

modern pergola with lights by pool, designed by Garden House Design

(Image credit: Garden House Design)

A larger structure with solid side panels may be more practical if you want to guarantee outdoor use all year round. Take this design above for example, which offers a poolside zone for relaxing and entertaining in style.

The roof includes LED lights which emit a cozy glow, as well as built-in rotating blades which can be adjusted to provide the amount of shelter needed. Both are operated by a handy remote control – how's that for high tech?

'Ideal for those who want to "live life outdoors", a remote-controlled sliding or retracting fabric or aluminium louvered roof permits the user to play with light and shade, offering an open-air alfresco feel when left fully open, and ensuring a completely water, wind and even snow-tight roof when closed,' says Stuart Dantzic, Managing Director at Caribbean Blinds.

If you're feeling inspired, you might like our garden room ideas too.

11. Try trellised details

pergola with trellis top

A gently arched trellised panel makes an attractive detail

(Image credit: Clifford Jones/Future)

Trellis ideas for gardens are super versatile features; they can be used for screening, for making a blank fence or wall more interesting, or for growing plants vertically. But as seen here, they can be used up high too, as a decorative accent to your pergola's roof.

It's a subtle but certainly charming design feature which looks good as is. But, if you've combined the structure with climbers, it will provide an additional support for a fuller display.

What angle should a pergola roof be?

Traditional pergolas tend to be more or less flat at the top (at a 90 degree angle from the posts). However, if you have a permanent solid roof on top of your design, or one that can close to create a solid surface, then you may want to opt for a slight angle by increasing the height of the structure at one end. This will prevent rainwater from pooling in the middle of your pergola and leading to potential damage, as instead it will help it to drain away. The amount of slope needed depends on the size of your structure (the larger the roof, the higher the angle will need to be) and also the weather conditions of your region.

As mentioned, some designs have cleverly integrated drainage systems already installed, so whether you pick an angled roof or not is more dependent on your preferred style. Do bear in mind, however, that an angled roof may make add-on accessories, such as side panels, more complicated to fit – especially if you're opting for a bespoke creation.

Fancy a spot of DIY? You can find step-by-step advice on how to build a pergola in our guide.

deluxe outdoor living pod by caribbean blinds

(Image credit: Caribbean Blinds)

What is the best roof for a pergola?

The best roof for a pergola does depend, to a large extent, on individual style and budget, but also how much shelter you need for your space.

An attachable canvas awning is versatile and generally one of the more affordable choices. With some pergola designs, you can pick from a variety of hues to suit your garden color schemes. And, they're ideal for controlling the level of shade, especially if they can be pulled open and closed. They tend to offer less shelter during heavy rainfall though, and it's best to take them down over the winter months for storage.

Corrugated plastic or metal can be added to an existing pergola structure for a low price and are both very durable. They're great for keeping your space dry (and the sound of rain pattering overhead can be rather soothing), however attaching them directly onto the beams overhead means they won't be adjustable. Firstly, this can make the space below heat up quickly. Secondly, in the case of metal sheets, it means that the area will almost constantly be in shadow. With plastic, the sunlight will still shine through, but you'll be protected from harmful UV rays.

High-tech louvered roofs are more costly, but have the benefits of being adjustable, allowing air flow when needed, and in some cases, are water-tight when closed. 'Optional windproof screens, ambient LED perimeter lighting and instant infra-red heaters provide the ultimate luxury, all-weather, outdoor living space that gives the customer complete control of the elements, 365 days a year,' adds Stuart Dantzic, Managing Director at Caribbean Blinds. They work well if you're a fan of modern garden ideas, but might not fit your style if you prefer a more rustic vibe.

Finally, a canopy of climbing plants can be a beautiful thing and is a natural way to provide additional shade and (some) rain shelter for your pergola. It's an ideal solution for more laid-back zones, but does require maintenance to keep it looking healthy (for instance, climbing roses will need a prune in winter). Also, bear in mind that any deciduous plants will lose their foliage over the colder months, leaving your pergola much less sheltered – not ideal if you're planning on using the space all year round.

Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.