“Pillows show your personality in a fun way, much like art and décor and textiles,” says textile designer John Robshaw, known for his indigo, hand-blocked and ikat-printed cushions. “A sofa with a cushion on each corner is really boring. Express your personality and add different styles, colors and sizes.”
Beth Diana Smith, a designer from New Jersey, agrees. “The worst thing is a matchy-match look, like a green sofa with green cushions,” she says. “It feels lazy and unimaginative and creates a very boring look. The goal is to make your pillows feel curated.”
Your room will look more elegant with groupings of decorative pillows (sometimes called “throw” or “throw” pillows to distinguish them from bed pillows) in the middle of a sofa or at either end.
“The right and left sides of the sofa don’t have to match,” says Nicole Fisher of BNR Interiors in New York. “It’s an easy way to introduce a small pattern without a lot of fuss.” And remember: Designers often say odd-numbered groups are best, so choose three, five, or seven pillows, depending on whether you have one have a small loveseat or an oversized sofa.
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If you’re not comfortable mixing and matching on your own, some manufacturers, including Robshaw, offer pillow bundles: an assortment of pieces (often three to five) chosen by a professional because they go well together.
Pillows are available from many retailers and from Etsy manufacturers. You can also buy fabric and sew it yourself or have it made by a local artisan. Smith likes the selection at Jungalow as well as the extensive options at HomeGoods. Fisher likes the off-the-shelf cushions from CB2, Crate & Barrel and RH.
We asked Robshaw, Smith and Fisher for ideas on how to strengthen your pillow game. Here are five tips.
Treat your sofa like a canvas
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A cream or gray sofa is the perfect neutral for pairing cushions that express your style. If you like a calming natural color palette, stick to the tone of your upholstery and add interest with cushions of different shapes and textures, weaves, tweeds and tone-on-tone prints, says Robshaw. If you are not afraid to go bold, choose one color and then experiment with several shades of that color. Or mix multiple colors that pick up hues from other objects in the room. “The most important thing is to make sure all of your pillows are a cohesive color,” says Fisher.
Consider the function of the sofa
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If the sofa is for lounging and watching TV, make sure you have comfortable cushions with washable cotton or linen covers. Also think about pets and children; for example, a thick knit or faux fur isn’t ideal for someone with cats, and silk or velvet aren’t great choices if you have kids who eat on the sofa.
“On sofas, people often opt for smaller cushions. I like going bigger,” says Robshaw, who is a fan of 26-inch square pillows. “Increasing your cushions on a sofa is fun and dramatic. It’s more comfortable to have a big pillow behind you,” he says. If you have a long sofa, vary the shapes. A rectangular or kidney-shaped pillow allows you to “make a change in size and make it visually exciting,” says Robshaw. A statement shape that has recently surfaced on Instagram is a ball. Check out CB2’s velvet ball or Athena Calderone’s spherical shearling pillow from Crate & Barrel.
Don’t use the same fabric and color as your upholstery
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Smith says a green velvet sofa doesn’t look good with green velvet pillows; also no black leather sofa with black leather cushions. She blames furniture retailers for promoting this matchy-match look because many still include two matching cushions in the same fabric and color when buying a sofa. Smith suggests being more careful with your choices and looking for other materials, colors, or patterns. On a leather sofa, velvet cushions will soften the look. On velvet sofas, it tends to contrast with cotton and woven materials.
Take your time arranging them
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Arranging pillows is like creating a gallery wall, says Robshaw. “They put different sizes together and decide what looks chic next to what or which color looks good next to the other,” he says. “It’s a process.” You could make the process fun and get other opinions by throwing a pillow party: Buy a bunch of pillows you like, regardless of whether they’re related in color or theme, and invite one or Invite two friends to a demo and try different size combinations. Return anything that doesn’t work. Smith says it’s important to test the pillow combinations you can think of, especially if you’re mixing prints, which can be tricky. “Be sure to vary the size of the patterns. They can’t all be large prints; you have to mix small, medium and large,” says Smith. “It’s even difficult for a designer to imagine how cushions will work together without trying it out. You have to see it with the sofa.”