DIY Projects

Patio Shade Ideas: How to Choose

Choose the best patio shade idea for your deck or backyard with this guide! Should you use a gazebo, pergola, umbrella, shade sail, awning, or something else entirely?

collage of patio shade ideas with a pergola, outdoor umbrella, and outdoor curtains

Today let’s talk shade!

I come from a long line of pasty white folks, and 10 minutes in the sun is enough to turn us lobster red. I’m not even exaggerating. So shade is pretty important for us if we’re going to spend any length of time out in the sunshine.

Shade is one of the first things I consider when designing any outdoor living space, and so should you! Today I want to talk about the shade structures and other options available.

The right one for you will depend on factors like your budget and how permanent you want your structure to be. You’ll also want to consider whether you need just shade, or shade and privacy.

We’re going to go through the pros and cons of each patio shade idea to help you determine the very best choice for your space and budget.

Now for the Patio Shade Ideas…

Gazebo

A gazebo is a permanent or semi-permanent structure with a roof. This is what we chose for our own outdoor living room because we need both shade and protection from the rain (yes, it rains here in Seattle even in August!).

And that roof makes it possible for us to put our cushioned outdoor furniture out in April and leave it until October without mildew. You can read all about our experience with it in my Gazebo Review.

Last year we bought a mosquito net that is made to go with our gazebo, and it works fantastically well! I’ll do my best to get a photo of it up on the blog later this Summer!

gazebo outdoor living room patio shade idea in low light with outdoor curtains, chandelier, and outdoor fireplace

Gazebo Pros

  • shade
  • provides a structure to hang lighting
  • provides a structure to hang curtains
  • provides a structure to hang mosquito netting
  • permanent roof provides cover for winter furniture storage
  • protects furniture from rain
  • doesn’t need to be assembled and taken down with the seasons
  • you could potentially mount a TV inside (why though?)
  • we hang an outdoor movie screen from ours once in a while

Gazebo Cons

  • one of the most expensive options
  • requires a patio or deck
  • not easily moveable

Pergola

A pergola is similar to a gazebo, but it doesn’t have a roof, or at least not a permanent one. Here are a few examples.

modern pergola patio shade idea with paper lanterns and outdoor sofa with cushions
Image: DIY Network

modern pergola structure patio shade idea with outdoor sofa and palm trees
Image: Bloglovin

And you can add seasonal shade- usually with either strips of fabric woven through the overhead beams, or growing vines up it. My grandparents had a great pergola over their back patio that was covered in grapevines. Isn’t this pergola covered in wisteria stunning?

outdoor dining room with pergola covered in wisteria for patio shade, pendant lights, and an outdoor fireplace
Image: This Old House

Here’s an example of a pergola with shade fabric over the top from Tee at Beauteeful Living.

pergola patio shade idea covering deck dining space

One of the big advantages of a pergola is the ability to have shade in the Summer and not shade in the Winter months.

If you’re going to put something right up next to your house where it will be near windows, this is a pretty big deal. I know I would be very sad to lose any of the natural light coming in my windows, especially in the dark dreary months!

Pergola Pros:

  • can provide shade (if covered in vines or fabric panels)
  • shade can be seasonal and doesn’t have to block light in the Winter
  • structure to hang lights
  • structure to hang curtains
  • structure to hang outdoor movie screen or whatever you like
  • can place a fire pit under

Pergola Cons:

  • one of the more pricey options
  • doesn’t have a permanent roof for Winter storage
  • doesn’t protect from rain
  • not easily moveable

Shade Sail

A shade sail is probably the most inexpensive option here, assuming you already have posts, trees, or a building to attach it to. I’ve seen them for as low as $20-30, plus the cost of hardware. It’s also possible to arrange multiple sails to achieve different amounts of shade coverage.

Kathy and Steve from The Garden Glove show you how to choose and install shade sails in this post. They also have some great hardware recommendations.

two overlapping shade sails over a patio dining space

A shade sail can also be the perfect thing if you just have a small space to cover, like this sandbox from Do It Yourself Danielle.

two small boys playing in sandbox covered in a blue shade sail

Shade Sail Pros:

  • very inexpensive
  • good option for renters
  • temporary and easy to move or adjust if needed
  • can be removed in colder months

Shade Sail Cons:

  • no protection from rain
  • no structure to hang lights and other privacy features
  • may need multiple sails to cover the desired area
  • there may be gaps in the sun protection (think strange triangle-shaped sunburn on your arm)
  • may need to install posts or build a structure to attach sails to

Umbrella

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume most of us have experience with large shade umbrellas. They’re a favorite of restaurants and coffee shops.

An umbrella is perfect for providing shade to a dining table or small sitting area. It’s relatively inexpensive, and can be taken in for the off-season.

It also doesn’t take up much storage space. Keep in mind it will require a stand or table with a hole in the middle to keep it upright.

Check out this beautiful outdoor living room from Made by Carli.

outdoor living room with white outdoor umbrella, outdoor sofa, and chairs

Here’s a fun tasseled umbrella DIY from my friend Robin at A Home to Grow Old In:

outdoor dining set with shade umbrella with blue tassels

Wendi from H2O Bungalow has a great tutorial to make a planter umbrella stand.

patio seating area with DIY planter umbrella stand and umbrella

Umbrella Pros:

  • inexpensive
  • easy set-up & take-down
  • doesn’t take up much storage space
  • shade only when needed
  • great for smaller spaces
  • great for renters
  • may be able to hang string lights from it

Umbrella Cons:

  • only covers a small space
  • may need to be replaced every few years

Awning

When I think of an awning, the first thing that comes to mind is the scallop-edged monstrosity that hung off the side of my grandparents’ camp trailer. But there are definitely more modern options out there. The great thing about a fabric awning is that it can be rolled up and even removed completely during cooler months. This means it doesn’t have to block the natural light coming in your windows in the Winter.

Other PATIO sHADE Ideas

Remember the sun isn’t always just shining straight down. Depending on the time of day you want to use your space and it’s location, standalone curtains could be the perfect thing! And they certainly provide privacy and block anything ugly nearby. This tutorial from Heather at Southern State of Mind is a perfect example!

colorful deck seating area with outdoor curtains and string lights as a patio shade idea

I hope this helps you choose the best shade structure for your outdoor living space! Having the perfect amount of shade at the right time of day can make all the difference. That is, the difference between you sitting in your comfy chair reading a book outside and going back inside.

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collage of backyard shade structures including a pergoala, umbrella, gazebo, and shade sail

Be sure to check out my other outdoor living posts!

more backyard ideas…

70 Outdoor Rugs Under $150!

Easy DIY String Light Poles

patio dining room with easy DIY string light poles and vertical garden

Boho Porch Swings Reveal: Small Front Porch Decorating Ideas

Outdoor Living Room Reveal

outdoor living room in gazebo with outdoor curtains, sofa, chandelier, and outdoor fireplace

Outdoor Lighting 101

low-light photo with glowing lanterns and candles in outdoor living room

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11 Comments

  1. Wow, I love the photo of the pergola with the tan cloth used as a roofing shade, curtains, and a retractable shade! The design lets in the perfect amount of light to highlight the whicker table! About a week ago, I was talking to my godfather, and he mentioned that he wants to use his patio more often, but it is just too bright. It gets too hot for him out there. I wonder if some kinds of retractable screens like these could help him use it more.

    1. Hi Greta! Yes isn’t that pic so cool? So many people have great outdoor spaces they never use because of something like that. If you can find an easy fix like a shade that’s perfect! I’ll bet you can find something like that on Amazon or Home Depot. Good luck!

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