Building Our Front Pergola

Adding character to our tri-level home was one of the first projects I wanted to tackle. In order to make the outside match our inside, I knew we’d need to get creative and break the mold with transforming our traditional 1970’s home. The idea of building our front pergola over the tri-level portion of the house didn’t really come to me until a few months of owning the house. After months of driving up to the house and feeling bored with the exterior, I knew we’d need to add an extra layer of character that would transform the house from the labeled 1970’s tri-level into something we’d love today. 

One day, as we were backing out of the driveway, I told Todd to stop the truck. After months of staring at the front of the house, I finally knew what it needed to make the big transformation we’d been looking for. Sure, just painting the house was a big step, but the exterior needed a finishing touch… an element that would take it to the next level. It needed a pergola. 

Explaining my idea to Todd took some creativity. Having never seen a pergola on the front of a tri-level house, I took to Pinterest, pulling inspiration and showing him as many pictures as possible. I could see it in my head, but translating exactly what it would look like was the more difficult part. And if I was wrong, and we added this distinctive feature to the front of the house and it looked terrible, I was going to feel really bad. 

We sat on the idea for a few months, and I kept going back and forth in my head asking myself if it was going to make the “tri-level” portion of the house feel even that much more top heavy? I certainly didn’t want that, but I also knew adding shutters to the windows wouldn’t be enough. It needed that extra touch… that extra level of character to really embrace the tri-level, almost making if look as though the two were meant to go together. 

When we scheduled for the handyman to replace our windows, I told him about my idea. We developed a plan, and while it still felt slightly risky, we went for it. After he had the windows installed and the new window trim in place, he started building the pergola. 

One of the key elements, was the corbels. They needed to be large, but not too large to where they’d dwarf the windows. I searched high and low for the best priced corbels and ended up finding Architectural Depot. Their prices were the best I could find, based on what we were looking for. In the end, we went with four corbels, sized at 26″ tall, 24″ deep and 4″ thick. This is the style we chose. It felt classic, but not too ornate.

To save some money, we went with the rough sawn version, knowing we could give them a quick sanding job before painting them white. 

They primed all the boards, and then added two coats of Super White exterior paint in Satin by Benjamin Moore. I wasn’t around for the entire process, but I did try to take as many pictures as possible. 

They started with the top board first, which would be the board the actual pergola would sit on.

They used a 2 x 4, and notched it to fit around the new window trim.

Once they had them fit, they took it back down and primed, then painted it. At this point, I had to skip off to work.

Next, they added the corbels, then started building the actual pergola! 

For the top portion of the pergola (the boards that stick out), we used 2″x 8″ boards cut to 20 1/2″ long. We didn’t want them to stick out too far past the soffit, but I also didn’t want it to feel like it was tucked under it either.

Just with this much of the pergola done, I knew we’d made the right decision to add it. Instant character. 

As far as spacing went in between the boards, we decided on 12 inches, but with the length of the house not matching that perfectly for even spacing, he “floated” some of them an inch or two, but still created an even appearance between the boards, and making sure one of the boards was directly in the center of the house. 

Once he was done, the house was transformed!

Landscaping is still in full swing, so don’t mind all the dirt, but it’s amazing what adding the pergola has done for the exterior…

We have a house with character. It doesn’t look like your normal tri-level home anymore.

We’re still not done either! We’ll be adding window boxes (that match our front window box) to the two upper windows. We’ll also be adding shutters to the windows, and we’ll eventually be replacing all the corner trim with new white trim…

In the mean time though, we are loving, loving, loving the transformation we’ve created. 

Sometimes it pays to take a risk. This pergola is proof of that. Even though it’s not something I’d ever seen done on a tri-level, didn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. We’ve received so many compliments, but more importantly, this house feels like home. 

And as much as we love how far the exterior has come along this year, landscaping is going to make such a dramatic addition. After working on the sprinkler system all summer, it’s finally finished and we’ll be seeding the yard today!

And in other news, the window box plants are doing amazing! It’s going to be hard to change them out for fall… I’m mentally preparing myself for it. More on that when the time gets a little closer!

And, there’s no way I can share a post like this without showing a picture of where we started… 

Our New Windows by The Wood Grain Cottage

….  we’ve come so incredibly far! And we’re only just getting started!


  1. Hi Shayna
    Great posts and I love your designs and ideas. I was reading thru this post and you keep
    referring to your home as a bi-level. I don’t know if it is different in Colorado but in Michigan we call the style of your home a tri-level. A bi-level is when you walk into your front door and you choose to walk up stairs or choose to walk downstairs. Thanks for a great blog. I look forward to your next post!

  2. So pretty! Do you still have the HVAC unit on the roof? Interested to see the finished product. Y’all are doing a great job!

    1. Thank you! One of the first updates we did to the house, was removing the swamp cooler and installing central air and a new furnace. The house was previously electric heat in the ceilings! We’ve loved having central air this summer! 🙂

  3. Fantastic! It’s going to look so awesome when you get the window “dressing” (planter boxes etc) and the landscaping done. You can barely recognize it now!

  4. I love all the changes you’ve made! It looks just so homey and beautiful! I think your pergola looks like eyelashes for the new upper windows! Adorable but it also makes it look complete now! Way to go!

  5. This is my favorite of all your house remodel…inside and outside. Absolutely love it! Since your window boxes are doing so well, could you just add a couple of fall items to them? I think Those plants you have could really play well for the fall season. Just too pretty to give up!

    1. Thank you! I agree! When I planted the plants this summer, I was trying to think of fall as well. I’ll definitely be keeping some of the plants and adding to it! I just can’t make myself change it yet! 🙂

  6. Wow!! What a change! Looks wonderful. No one would believe it’s the same house if you didn’t have pictures. The pergola adds so much to the plain front and the window boxes will be the perfect balance to finish it all. Can’t wait to see what’s next and how the yard will add even more.

  7. What a difference! Good job!

    A question though about replacing corner trim? Are you going to sort of “outline” the house with white vertical trim? I like vertical corner trim boards but not sure how white ones will look. Just curious as to what you are thinking there. Whatever you do will be terrific.

    1. Thank you! Our current metal corners are in really rough shape. The previous occupants of the house really beat and bent them up. We’ll be replacing all of the corners with new trim, and I’m leaning on painting it white to match the window trim. Most likely, we won’t do it until next year, so I might change my mind and paint it the same color as the main body of the house. We’ll see what a year brings! Either way, I think it will do wonders for the house!:)

  8. This is BAD ??I am so sorry but I have to tell the truth. It should have stuck out by at least 2 more feet or forget it. Its not architecturally balanced with the rest of the home. But it is truly amazing how much you’ve improved this home. Fix the pergola and you’ve got it???

    1. Thanks for your opinion, but we love the way it looks. We played around with different lengths and the longer the top boards were, the more top heavy the house felt. It feels very balanced and I wouldn’t change a thing!

  9. Your house looks amazing. Love the pergola idea. I’d love to use the same idea over our garage door
    on our shed in the backyard.

  10. Looks amazing! What color is the house? We are getting ready to paint our tri level and I love this color. Thank you

    1. Thank you! Our exterior color is Useful Gray by Sherwin Williams. The trim is Super White by Benjamin Moore and our door is Onyx by Benjamin Moore. 🙂

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