If your bed is awash in an endless pillow sea, or your couch’s bolster is deflated with loneliness, these guidelines are tailor made for you.We’ve all seen the beds covered in so many pillows that you could swim in them. Or the sofas with so many pillows that you can’t sit on them. It’s time to talk about throw pillow rules: what the guidelines are for pillow numbers, pillow placement and pillow selection for color and texture. I certainly empathize with all of you compulsive throw pillow buyers; it’s hard to resist that find at the discount store that goes perfectly with your living room style. But let’s all together now step away from the pillows. Less is often more. Your spouse and your guests will thank you.
1. Mix textures and patterns. When choosing throw pillows, make sure to select different textures and patterns to create the kind of interest and depth you’d find in a painting. That’s what we’re doing when we’re decorating — painting a masterpiece.
This sofa has two matching pillows, which create a level of symmetry. They’re shiny and probably silky to the touch, which complements the matte sofa fabric. A furry pillow amps up the texture, and a pattern amps up the sense of fun.
Nota bene: This mix of patterns is unexpected, but imagine the room without it. It would be like a quality blank canvas. The artfully matched patterns bring that canvas to life.
2. Use odd numbers. In general, no matter the furniture piece, odd numbers are best.
Perfection and symmetry can leave a room looking too-too; take one thing away to please the eye and add a feel of lived-in-ness.
3. Don’t match the sofa. A white sofa with white pillows is just too much (unless you know you’re breaking the rules and it looks amazing anyway).
In this room, the velvety blue paired with the stripey blue and the soft yellow throws is a great match. The sofa simply provides the blank sheet.
This sofa’s pillows do break our livability rule. If you love throw pillows as much as I do, just switch them out with the seasons to enjoy them all, just not all at once
Exception: Once you know the rules, you can break the rules with intention. These pillows break two rules: They’re paired in a even number, and they match the colors and fabric of the sofa. But wow, what colors and fabrics! The combo is a statement, and it’s clear that the decorator knew what he or she was doing. It just works.
4. Do complement the room. Use throw pillows as a way to pull a room together by picking up colors used elsewhere.
A solo orange chair like this one would look lost; an orange chair with two orange pillows nearby looks cohesive. The white pillow also picks up the white of the walls behind the sofa, the artichoke lamp and the coffee table.
Exception: In a neutral room such as this, one look-at-me pillow focuses the design and the inhabitants’ attention.
5. Leave room for living. Take it from Coco Chanel, who famously said to take one thing off before leaving the house: Take one pillow off your sofa. It will both avoid overperfection and leave enough room for people to sit without throwing your prized pillows onto the floor.
On a smaller sofa such as this one, three pillows are probably enough.
Nota bene: Window seats are easy victims for pillow smothering. But see how this bench’s two pillows actually invite someone to sit? This is what we want.
6. Soften modern spaces. Use the softness and cushiness of pillows to round the hard edges of modern and contemporary styles.
Think outdoor spaces, exposed-brick lofts and new houses with concrete floors. Throws on furniture in such spaces invites people to come in and enjoy that modern look you love so much.
Nota bene: Make sure your pillows are actually comfortable. Yes, discount pillow inserts are cheap, but they also can go flat fast. I’ve found that down inserts from Crate & Barrel, as well as Michaels, are firm and hold up well. The prices at both stores were about the same when I looked.
7. Use bolsters for chairs. In general, bolsters will help keep side chairs and wingbacks from looking lonely. But as opposed to full-on throws, they actually allow people to still sit on the chairs.
Exception: This vignette really needed the big graphic punch that this throw offers. A bolster in this pattern would still look good, but this square size also mimics the square-framed art. I bet this chair doesn’t get sat on much, and if it does get sat on, there’s a handy basket nearby for setting the pillow while putting shoes on to go out the door.
8. On beds, less is more. Two pillows, two sham pillows and one or two accent pillows should be the maximum number of pillows you allow yourself for your bed. The shams and the accents keep it comfy and cozy, and they can easily be arranged for daytime reading or resting. Don’t overdo it — the simplicity of this bed is what makes it.
(This bed does break the odd-number rule, but the symmetry of the pillows matches the symmetry of the art on the walls, making for a calm, serene space. I bet that just one of those yellow throw pillows would make the bed look too bare, and one more pillow for the sake of odd numbers would overdo it.)
Nota bene: You might not need as many pillows as you think if you use the stacked-pillow effect. These two pillows placed on top of each other add a layer of depth to the room. That one tossed-on patterned throw pillow is a perfect last touch.
9. Don’t karate chop. Whatever you do, don’t karate-chop your pillows. No exceptions. Why do people do this? Nobody knows. Maybe it’s thought that it makes the pillows look less contrived, but who really does this in his or her home? This is a beautiful, beautiful vignette. No need for martial arts.
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