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Arbors offer protection from the sun

Kent Fields/ Special to the Town Crier
A retractable fabric arbor adds a custom design element.

Arbors are one of the best ways to define an outdoor room if you are considering a space for dining, lounging or cooking. A typical wood arbor can be used to create shade while letting filtered light in through fixed shade boards. New designs on the market enable homeowners to determine the amount of light for their outdoor rooms.

Sun protection

Some clients have light sensitivity, sunburn easily or have a predisposition to skin cancer. For them, I recommend a louvered arbor because it provides total sunblock protection. With a louvered system, you can either manually or mechanically open or close moving panels to create more light or shade.

Such a system is ideal for those who want to use their space year-round in any type of weather. Many clients enjoy the option of being able to grill in the rain or read a book while lounging on a hot, sunny day.

Client Arnie Papp, who has the louvered system, shares: “I have experienced no leakage at all in the arbor, so I feel very confident about it protecting my furniture, grill and TV, which saves me money in the long run.”

Lot sizes vary in Los Altos, and sometimes the best location for an outdoor room is close to the house. Many times I design an arbor attached to the house on one side, giving clients easy access by extending their indoor living areas directly into an outdoor room. On the other hand, depending on the sun’s orientation, it can also darken the adjacent interior room, so it requires careful planning.

Having the flexibility to control the amount of light penetrating from your arbor is a great bonus. If you opt for a mechanized louver, you can program each section to open individually or as a scene. For example, Papp opens the section by his sliding doors in the morning to let in light, then closes it before noon to keep the heat out and his indoor living room cool.

In addition to louvered systems, there are also arbors with fabric panels that retract either by hand or via a motorized remote control. While you won’t be keeping dry in the rain, it’s still a great way to get sun protection when you want it and an open feel when you don’t.

Design considerations

Arbors are entirely customizable in size, height, materials, details and fabrics. Working with a landscape designer, you will be given choices based on the type of arbor you’ve selected. Because arbors are built to last for decades, take your time and consider the long-term effect.

You’ll also want to be aware of any city setbacks, easements or height restrictions on your particular lot. To find out any limitations, call the city planner and ask to discuss the rules regarding accessory structures.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to accessorize your arbor to make it feel like a real outdoor room. Heaters can keep you warm, while fans and misters can be added for a cooling effect. If you entertain at night, good lighting is a must. For fun, you can even connect a TV and sound system for movie night or to watch a game. The possibilities are endless.

Julie Orr is a landscape designer. For more information, call 648-8020, email [email protected] or visit

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