How to Choose the Best Shade Structure for Your Outdoor Space — Boxhill & Co., LLC
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A cantilever outdoor patio umbrella shades an outdoor lounge area with modular sectional and round outdoor coffee table.

How to Choose the Best Shade Structure for Your Outdoor Space

Are you ready to throw some shade? Not the dramatic kind, but the cool, comforting shade that makes your outdoor space the place to be! While umbrellas might be our specialty, we understand that every design space has unique needs that may call for different solutions. Whether you’re looking to add some architectural flair to a garden area or just need a quick spot to hide from the midday sun, we’ve got the scoop on all the top patio shade structures.

Why discuss shade structures we don’t sell? Because our commitment goes beyond just selling umbrellas—it's about ensuring you find the perfect solution for your design vision and practical requirements. We're dedicated to guiding each client and designer towards products that aren’t just visually appealing but are built to last. Selecting the right product from the start is key to achieving both style and durability.

So, let’s dive into exploring the top patio shade options available, from classic pergolas to modern sail shades and everything in between. By the end of this guide, we’ll also steer you towards additional resources on outdoor umbrellas and introduce you to our curated collections of modern patio umbrellas, perfect for any design aesthetic.

What types of patio shade structures are there?

  • Pergolas

  • Awnings

  • Sail shades

  • Umbrellas (including parasols and cantilevers)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of different patio shade structures?


A pergola is an outdoor garden feature forming a shaded walkway, passageway, or sitting area of vertical posts or pillars that usually support cross-beams and a durable open lattice, often upon which woody vines are trained.

Ideal Scenarios: Perfect for creating a permanent, stylish outdoor space in gardens, patios, or on decks. They're ideal for those who appreciate architectural aesthetics and want to integrate climbing plants or hanging decorations.

Advantages: Adds architectural interest to outdoor spaces, can be customized with lights, fabric, or plants, and enhances the overall value of the property.

Disadvantages: Usually more expensive and time-consuming to install, provides less shade compared to solid roofs unless additional coverage like fabric is added.

IImage via Jonathan Borba


Awnings are secondary coverings attached to the exterior wall of a building. They are typically composed of canvas or acrylic cloth on a metal, iron, or steel frame.

Ideal Scenarios: Best for areas that need temporary or adjustable shade, such as over windows, doors, or decks. They're suitable for both residential and commercial properties looking to reduce direct sunlight and heat inside.

Advantages: Retractable options allow flexibility with shade, helping to control the amount of sun exposure. They also help in energy saving by cooling down indoor areas.

Disadvantages: Can be damaged by extreme weather if not retracted in time. Fabric may fade or deteriorate without proper maintenance.

Image via Sara Sadeghloo

Sail Shades

Sail shades are pieces of fabric stretched and anchored in a tensioned fashion over a seating or play area, typically triangular or quadrilateral in shape.

Ideal Scenarios: Ideal for modern landscapes and outdoor areas where minimalistic and stylish shade is desired. They work well in both residential and commercial settings, especially where temporary, seasonal installation is preferred.

Advantages: Provides a contemporary look, customizable in various colors and shapes, and relatively inexpensive compared to permanent structures. Allows for creative and flexible installation options.

Disadvantages: Offers less protection from rain, requires proper angle and tension to ensure water runoff and durability, and may need readjustment over time.

Image via Skyler Smith

Umbrellas (including parasols and cantilevers)

Umbrellas and parasols are portable, freestanding shade structures with a central pole and a canopy. Cantilever umbrellas are supported from the side and above, allowing the canopy to extend over a seating area without a central pole obstructing the space.

Ideal Scenarios: Great for flexible and movable shade in pool areas, cafes, or patios. They suit those who need adjustable, temporary shade solutions that can be moved as required.

Advantages: Highly versatile, easy to move and adjust, available in various sizes and styles. Cantilevers offer unobstructed shade and seating arrangements.

Disadvantages: May require heavier bases to prevent tipping, limited coverage compared to larger structures, and susceptible to damage in high winds.

Note: If patio umbrellas seem like the best fit for your space, you may want to check out some of our other articles:

The Ultimate Patio Umbrella Shopping Guide

Explore our definitive guide to choosing the perfect patio umbrella. This article delves into key features like size, material, and type—ranging from essential poolside umbrellas to stylish pagoda options. Whether you're integrating an umbrella into a small café setting or a large poolside area, our guide ensures you select the best outdoor umbrella for durability, aesthetics, and functionality. Discover tips on maintaining your umbrella and insights into the latest trends in outdoor shading solutions.

The 5 Best Patio Umbrellas of 2024

Discover the top-rated patio umbrellas of 2024 with our expert reviews. We spotlight the best poolside umbrellas, from stylish poolside umbrellas with stands to robust floating pool umbrellas. Whether you're looking for an iconic pool umbrella or a practical poolside shade umbrella, find the perfect option to elevate your outdoor leisure.

Featuring the Classic Parasol, Breeze Outdoor Lounge Chair and Sofa from Boxhill

Well, There You Have It!

Now you know just about everything there is to know about outdoor shade structures—only joking! While we hope this guide has illuminated your design process and search for the perfect shade, we understand it's just the beginning. If you find yourself pondering over the perfect outdoor umbrella for your space, we're just a call away:

  • Thinking, “I really want an outdoor umbrella for this patio, but is it too windy?” Give us a call.

  • Wondering, “Is there an umbrella that’s lightweight yet durable enough for poolside use?” Yes, there is, and you should give us a call.

  • Debating between cantilever and parasol outdoor umbrellas for tables in your dining area? We have all the right questions to help you draw your own conclusions.

Moral of the story? We’ve got you covered.

With over 20 years as outdoor furniture specialists and landscape designers, we excel at bouncing ideas around and coming up with clever solutions.

And if you’re a trade professional, don’t miss out on our special complimentary program designed just for you. With a dedicated trade concierge to assist you, we take the hassle out of sourcing the right products—shade solutions and beyond—for your outdoor projects. Let's make your design visions a stunning reality.

Call Us: +1 (520) 351-0053 (yes, we really answer!)

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