Ford’s Colony Pergola

Apr 25, 2023

Hertzler & George was pleased to have the opportunity to work on this deck and landscape renovation project in Ford’s Colony. The house is a well detailed colonial style building that borrows from the architectural language of restored homes in Colonial Williamsburg. The client’s main concern on this project was the existing deck on the back of the house. It was about twenty years old and starting to rot. Made of low-end treated lumber, the construction and materials did not match the detailing of the rest of the house.

There was also the issue of location: The deck faced directly south and bore the full brunt of the summer sun. If you were thinking the deck didn’t seem very inviting, you would be right. Though the deck overlooked a classic four-square colonial garden, the clients weren’t able to take advantage of the view. Our task was to make this deck shadier and more inviting, upgrade it to the standard set by the main structure, and make it feel more connected to the yard. Luckily, the clients were open to significant changes, if it would get them the yard they wanted and if it worked with their budget.

One element that came early in the design process was the addition of a pergola to provide much needed shade both outside the house and inside the living room, which became uncomfortably warm during the summer months. As with many Hertzler & George projects, we first created a 3D model of the house to help the owners better visualize how the pergola would look. And with the 3D model we were able to accurately evaluate the pergola shadow patterns and how they would fall across the deck.

Our first concept was to do away with the deck altogether and build steps down to a lower landing. This would create a much greater sense of connection between the house and the yard, but as we went through the estimating process, the clients decided to reduce costs by renovating the existing deck rather than tearing it down. They still wanted the pergola though, so we looked at ways to incorporate it into a slightly modified deck. After a bit of back and forth on the details of the design, we came up with a final plan that met their budget and provided a beautiful, usable new back deck. The final design sailed through the Homeowner’s Association review and we began construction.


The finished pergola looks beautiful and provides much needed protection from the sun. It’s accentuated with traditional details like scroll cut rafters and paneled columns that complement the colonial architecture of the house. Painted the same color as the house trim, it becomes a natural extension of the primary structure. For the beams and rafters we used western red cedar, a durable, lightweight wood that is great for outdoor structures. And we doubled the rafters to give the pergola a substantial look. For the trellis and columns we worked with Trellis Structures, a custom builder of garden structures located in Massachusetts. They custom fabricated the teak trellis and cedar column covers to perfectly fit the deck.

We also replaced all the decking and railing. While the original Chippendale railing was pretty, this kind of railing is prone to rot due to all the angles that catch rainwater. The new, simpler railings will last much longer. For the decking, the clients selected ipe wood. Ipe is a very dense tropical wood, similar to teak, filled with natural resins which make it very durable. We looked at the possibility of using preservatives to maintain the rich color of the freshly cut wood, but the owners decided to take a simpler route by leaving the wood untreated and letting it develop its natural silvery color


While the pergola provides a great spot to view the garden, one of the biggest concerns for the clients was privacy. The deck was high off the ground and very visible from a neighbor’s porch, and another neighbor’s house looked down on it from a hill in the back yard. Since the owners did not want to create a walled fortress, we provided filtered screening through the use of a trellis and layered plantings.

Particularly important was an existing Leyland cypress hedge along the back property line. In our opinion, Leylands are a poor choice for screening, even though they are probably the number one plant sold for that purpose. In 99% of installations, they will grow far too large and they are also prone to being blown over, leaving ugly gaps in an otherwise solid screen. In this backyard they were overgrowing the existing garden, and required constant trimming. Thankfully, the clients were willing to take the brave step of cutting them down and installing a brand new hedge. We recommended Nellie R. Stevens Holly, a beautiful evergreen shrub. While not as fast growing as Leylands, the are much easier to manage and won’t grow too big for the garden.

But even without waiting the Clients are able to enjoy the pergola and the instant shade and screening it provides. In just a few weeks the yard has gone from a hot, uncomfortable place to an inviting retreat perfect for entertaining.

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Paver working on building a patio
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