Get This Look: Curtain Lights Make Magical Backyard Pergola

Get This Look: Magical Backyard Pergola

Revive a pergola by lighting it up!

In mid-May, our pergola was a sad sight. So faded and needing cleaning, we didn’t enjoy our backyard nearly as much as we should. We saved money by restoring our tired pergola and outdoor furniture with power washing and staining.

Installing string and curtain lights made what was once mildly unwelcoming into a magical space.

Buying a new pergola would have been the easy way out of this problem. But we have teen boys. We wanted to show them that just a handful of hours and a gallon of stain could solve our problem without burdening our household budget.

I hope they remember this gentle lesson when they have homes.

Sorry, we don’t have many before photos. We didn’t realize when we started this project how much we would like it and how pleased we’d be with the results.


The Pergola

David power washed the pergola and the Sunbrella fabric covering. I had convinced myself we’d have to buy a new canvas awning, but Dave was hopeful. After taking down the watery-leaf-covered canvas and power washing it, he put it in the washing machine.

I was skeptical.

After a wash and drying outside, the awning looked fantastic and shrank a little. The process restored its original snap.

We waited overnight for the wood to thoroughly dry. Then Dave and the boys applied stain.

The Furniture

We power washed the Sunbrella cushions and the metal furniture bases. They went from dull to clean and bright-as-new.

While the cushions were draining and drying out, I ordered a fresh set of outdoor furniture covers to keep them looking great. (Amazon basics. Unexpectedly good quality for under $100 total.)

Tips and things we might have done differently

Lift the pergola and get that tarp under the corner column. Especially when teens are helping, enough said.

Stain a small section to test the stain if you don’t care for stain surprises.

Here is a photo of the stain and awning. (The cushions covers arrived by 8 am.)

New pergola furniture

The glass mini lights we used to light the ceiling are shown in the photo below. We used ten strings of 100 clear bulbs on green wire in 2 circuits/runs.

Notice that we gently looped the light strings around the ends of the cross boards instead of driving nails into the wood.

Curtain Light Unpacking Tips

These lights in the image below are pure white LED curtain lights. These photos show what to expect when unpacking curtain lights. Super-tightly wrapped at the factory; we like to hang then unroll them while slightly pulling on the “icicles” to straighten them. For parties, plan to install the curtain lights a couple of days in advance to allow for natural straightening of the wire.

Warm white LED Curtains are shown below.

This images shows the incandescent curtains and strings we installed for our final installation.

A few days later, we added a fern to that big empty clay pot. We added a drip line to keep it watered.

We also installed a misting system under the outer edge of the pergola. Our next project is control the amount of water running into the system. It currently works as an outdoor shower.

The deluge is a little awkward when trying to eat hummus and pretzel crisps with a glass of Prosecco.

I hope this project has been an inspiration to look at outdoor spaces with new eyes to see what power washing and stain might refresh. A Christmas stash might already contain lights that can be repurposed for summer parties. If the project requires light purchases, measure carefully. Add 10% to estimates to account for swag and irregularities.

More Tips

We used glass (incandescent) light strings and curtain lights (8-feet long) in our final install. Remember that a maximum of 500 bulbs of glass mini lights can be run in series. That’s five sets of 100 bulbs or ten sets of 50-light strings. Connecting more than these limits pose a fire hazard and will blow most fuses. If the lights and any other appliances plugged in add up to more than 1000 watts, use additional extension cords to divide the project between separate standard breakers.

Questions about your electrical setup? Please consult with a master electrician.