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Outdoor shade structures needn’t just add shade to your outdoor space they can also add an interesting and colorful focal point to summer outdoor living. 

There’s plenty of creative ways to build or buy a beautiful shade area for patio or garden spaces.

Permanent shade structures like hardtop gazebos or pergolas are brilliant of course, but for more agile solutions then there’s pop up canopies, beautiful soft top gazebos or cantilever umbrellas. 

Finding a backyard shade structure is easy enough, choosing the right one takes a little research and thought.

That’s why our experts have curated a list of inexpensive patio shade ideas as well reviewing permanent shade structures like hardtop gazebos and pergolas. 

There’s plenty of interesting ideas to look at so let’s dive right in.



To help choosing between a gazebo or pergola let’s compare the differences between these two high end outdoor shade structures. 

They’ll both provide shade and an interesting outdoor focal point but there are a number of things to consider before deciding which is more suitable for your outdoor space.

The first of course is the roof.

A pergola doesn’t have one!  Well not a waterproof one at least. Its primary function is to add shade, so they are generally topped with fabric or a louver system. 

Depending on the model and construction material the visual impact of a pergola when compared to a gazebo is one of airy brightness.

A pergola has a lightness of touch that is difficult to replicate with a hardtop gazebo. 

Pergola and gazebo kits are the most popular buys but of course there are high end bespoke models available too.

Let’s look at them both in a little more detail.

Pergola structure

Pergola Shade Structures

The Queen of outdoor shade structures the pergola isn’t just great shade it can be a really stunning outdoor feature too.

Interestingly a fairly recent survey of home owners found patio pergolas to be twice as popular as gazebos . 

If a retractable canopy model is chosen then the fabric color can be beautifully coordinated into your outdoor design scheme. 

You’ve tons of style and fabric options to choose from when purchasing pergolas. 

There’s a fine choice of wood, vinyl and metal framed models with either retractable canopies or louvered roofs and depending on the construction material a pergola is quick to assemble and lightweight.

So lightweight in fact many aluminium or metal pergolas can be disassembled quite easily when the summer season is over. 

That obviously extends the life of your pergola investment. 

Because of the complexity of build wooden and vinyl pergolas are generally considered permanent outdoor structures. 

Wooden Pergola

Some home owners install a wood or vinyl pergola to train plants around the columns and over the roof structure.

This is obviously a long term project. In this case a quality high end pergola should definitely be considered. 

It would be a shame if after several seasons of growth a magnificent Honeysuckle or Clematis canopy tops off a rusted out or rotten pergola.

Pergola Pros and Cons


  • Fast and easy to build
  • Can be very lightweight
  • Interesting focal point
  • Easily styled with fabric or plants
  • Airy through breezes
  • Some models don’t require a concrete base 
  • Relatively inexpensive


  • Not weather proof
  • No bug curtains
  • Can’t be used in winter
  • No Floor
Kozyard Hardtop Gazebo
Kozyard Gazebo. Find on >>

Gazebo Shade Structure

A hardtop gazebo can be a real show stopper in the right outdoor space. It’s the elegant king of outdoor shade structure that has functionality year round. 

Depending on your state with a little heating it can be used through the winter months for outdoor socialising or dining.

Like its little cousin the pergola you’ll find gazebos in either wood, vinyl or metal. The difference is a gazebo is always topped with a roof, generally steel but you’ll find polycarbonate too. 

Polycarbonate is lightweight so if you’re siting your gazebo in weight restricted area then this is a great option. 

There’s plenty of sizes and shapes available including octagonal and hexagonal if you’re looking for a traditional old school look to your outdoor space. 

Kozyard gazebo curtains

Some gazebos can also double up as convenient winter storage for pool and garden furniture through the cold months.

Installing a gazebo can be quite a major financial investment.  Because of its weight it generally requires a substantial foundation adding to the cost of installation. If bought and installed correctly though it can add value to any property.

A carefully chosen a gazebo garden feature that harmonises and focuses an outdoor space will definitely elevate a property above others on the realtors listings.

Gazebo Pros and Cons


  • Multi-purpose
  • Plenty of Options
  • Extend Your Living Space
  • Protection From The Elements
  • Curtains and bug screens
  • Investment Value


  • Complex Build
  • Cost: North of $1500 



A shade umbrella needn’t be just a colourful focal point to shelter from the sun. 

Depending on the type chosen a sun umbrella can be a quite dominating feature in the garden or pool area. So choosing an one that harmonises with the space around and underneath it is important. 

Picking the right one can be a little more challenging than simply choosing a colour and size. 

Of course there are plenty of size and colour options to choose from, but there’s also a number of different types of shade umbrellas that are really made for specific jobs.

Cantilever umbrella shade area

Offset Umbrellas 

The offset umbrella’s canopy has no central pole; so it gives completely unrestricted shade beneath it.

That’s why it’s so perfect for protecting a table setting.  This type of umbrella can really enhance your outdoor decor but needs to be chosen with some care. It can overwhelm the space.

The almost architectural quality of the best cantilever umbrellas can beautifully define the space below them. They are a rather dominating visual feature so they need to be carefully coordinated with the area they are shading for the best visual impact.

Cantilever Umbrella Pros and Cons


  • High end visual impact
  • Follows the sun easily
  • Unrestricted shade


  • Expensive
  • Large weighted base required
  • Not easily transportable
ABCCANOPY Patio Umbrella
ABCCanopy. Find on >>

Classic Patio Umbrella

Everyone knows these old friends. They’re much more portable than an offset umbrella and are available with canopies ranging from 6 foot through 15 foot diameter. So ideal for individual pool-side shade up to protecting an entire six person table setting.

Unlike an offset umbrella the large diameter most classic patio umbrella aren’t easily adjustable for the sun. An obvious minor drawback for extended outdoor summer lunches, especially if the pole is sited through the centre of the table.

There’s only a few things to consider with these shade umbrellas.  Rib and pole material, size, color and how to secure it from the wind.

Like offset umbrellas some of the larger centre pole patio umbrella have a crank system to deploy the canopy. A few turns of the crank lever and you’re good to go.

A tilt feature is one to look for before buying a centre pole umbrella, it allows the canopy to be angled towards the sun as the day progresses.

Classic Umbrella Pros and Cons


  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to stow away in winter
  • Almost unlimited color choices
  • Highly portable
  • Replacement canopies often available


  • Centre pole can restrict in some settings
Soft top Outdoor Shade area

Soft Top Gazebos

We love these outdoor shade structures.

Not as portable as a pop up canopy, and not as permanent as a hardtop gazebo. A pop up gazebo lives somewhere between the two, giving owners the best of both worlds.

They can have a really appealing visual impact too, working well as a centre piece in your garden, adding shade during the day and a great dining area at night.

ABC Gazebo. Find on >>

The beauty of soft top gazebos is that they’re available find all shapes, sizes and designs.  You’ll find hexagonal, square or rectangular footprints to suit your space and outdoor design scheme. 

Many high end models also have curtains and bug screens to add to their desirability. On some of the larger gazebos a planter can or lighting be hung from built-in centre hooks. Nice!!

A soft top gazebo kit is easy to build too.

Just a few hour in fact, so many owner pull them down when the summer season is finished. However with the right winter preparation the structure can be left outside through the cold months. The canopy does need removing though.

Soft Top Gazebo Pros and Cons


  • Very affordable outdoor shade structure
  • Foundation often not required
  • DIY level build
  • Curtains and bug net often included
  • Many shapes and designs available
  • Can be take down in winter


  • Canopy will fade with UV exposure
  • Not super resistant to rain
Pop Up Canopy Tent
EROMMY Canopy Tent On

Pop Up Canopy Tents

The most versatile, portable and the most bang for your bucks. The pop up canopy is the foot soldier of portable outdoor shade structures.

Take it to the beach or a tail gate party. Use it to add shade to your back yard, cover your hot tub or an outdoor dining area. The use’s for a pop up canopy are endless.

They’re easy to transport, easy to deploy and easy to tear down and there’s plenty of sizes and colors to choose from too.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive solution to providing shade at home, at an event or on the beach the a pop up canopy is your go to solution.

Canopy Tent. Find on >>

Canopy Tent Pros and Cons


  • Super portable
  • Easy to put up
  • Quite lightweight.
  • Super versatile


  • Fades over time with UV exposure
  • Not really waterproof
Patio Awning
Diensweek Patio Awning. Find on >>

Retractable Awnings

A handy way to shade a patio area adjacent to your home. The best retractable awning are elegant when deployed and unobtrusive when not, a retractable awning is is the answer to easy instant shade. 

Perfect for protecting your expensive patio furniture from UV damage and fade as well as adding an element of shade to the interior of your home.

Lot’s of buying options are available to you including motorised models that deploy the canopy at the touch of a button. Cool, and great for seniors !!

Retractable awnings offer an almost infinite number of decor options from solid colors through to striking candy stripes.

Most patio awnings also offer some resistance to rain but can pool quickly if the canopy is not taut. At the end of the day they’re sun shades after all

Installation is easy,  and and with a reasonable level of skill could be classed as a two person DIY project.

A retractable awning isn’t really an outdoor shade structure but it’s certainly is a great option for folks wanting fixed hassle free shade next to their home.

Patio Awning Pros and Cons


  • Easily deployed
  • Un-obtrusive when not in use.
  • Motorised versions available
  • No storage issues in winter


  • Fixed so can’t follow the sun
  • Level 3 DIY build

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