How To Select & Style Throw Pillows Like A Pro

Hi friends, I hope your week is off to a great start! Over the last few months, I’ve been making some updates to our living room, so I’ve had throw pillows on the brain. It all started with giving our TV console a makeover (you can read about the updates and the process here). Isn’t that always the case? You make one change to a room and it spirals into additional updates? Ha! I’ll do a full post on the living room makeover soon (still hunting for some new lighting!), however I do know that many people get overwhelmed when trying to select pillows and pillow covers. Want to learn how to select throw pillows like a pro? In this post, I discuss how I select pillows, the formula I recommend for mixing and matching patterns, insert selection, arranging pillows, and of course all of my favorite pillows and covers!

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how to select throw pillows

I had to laugh when I recently came across a quote that said “throw pillows are like the adult version of stuffed animals.” That couldn’t be more true! You can never have too many (although I think my husband would disagree with that statement)! They really add personality to your living room, but it’s important to know how to select throw pillows so that they successfully tie all of the colors in your room together. Using the right combination of pillows is the number one way to make your living room feel cohesive. While you’re not likely to switch up your furniture, rug or your artwork all that often, updating your sofa pillows is a relatively inexpensive way to update the overall look of your room without spending a small fortune.

Before we jump into some of your most frequently asked questions about how to select throw pillows, you should know that there is not one “right” way to style pillows on a sofa. It’s very similar to artwork in that it’s personal preference. Sometimes I like a symmetrical look, other times I crave an asymmetrical look. In the winter I like a cozier look so I may add an extra pillow or two. In the summer when it’s hot, the less fabric surrounding me the better so I may remove pillows for a more minimalist look. So use the below information to guide you, but have fun playing around with what YOU like!

How Many Pillows Should I Place on My Sofa?

Tip number one on how to select throw pillows. The number of pillows that I recommend placing on your sofa really depends on the size of it, as well as whether you’re going for a modern or casual look, or a traditional look. It also largely comes down to personal preference. If you like a traditional look, an even number of pillows works well as it will create the symmetry that a more formal space craves. However, if you’re going for a more casual look, an odd number of pillows is ideal.

If you have a standard size sofa that is meant to comfortably fit up to three people, I typically recommend:

  • Two square pillows on each side of the sofa for a traditional look (even number, total of four)
  • Two square pillows on each side of the sofa, plus a rectangular lumbar pillow for a casual look (odd number, total of five). Or, for a minimalist look – one square pillow on each end of the sofa, plus a rectangular lumbar or smaller square pillow (odd number, total of three)
how to select throw pillows
Photo credit: Serena & Lily

If you have a long sofa, I recommend two on each side. Plus, one or two in the middle so that each part of the sofa has some color and texture.

If you have a sectional, you more than likely have a casual style. So in that case, I’d recommend an odd number of pillows. Either two OR three square pillows on each end, with two square and a lumbar pillow in the middle for a total of seven or nine. Whether you decide to anchor both ends of the sofa with two or three square pillows is a personal preference. I’m more of a minimalist and don’t like to have to move pillows off the sofa to make room for sitting, so I’d be more inclined to select two for each end of the sofa. However, you may find three pillows on each end to be more pleasing to the eye if your sectional is on the longer side and you have a very large room with high ceilings.

What Size Pillows Should I Use?

Throw pillows should be proportionate to the furniture they’re placed on so you’ll want to take the size of your sofa into consideration when selecting pillow sizes. For a more custom, designer look, I recommend placing a large square pillow on the ends and then decreasing the size of the pillows as you move toward the center of the sofa. So as an example, you may start with a 22” pillow on the end, followed by a 20” pillow and then a lumbar pillow.

  • If you have a standard size sofa, I typically recommend either a 22” and 20” square pillow combination or a 20” and 18” square pillow combination. For your lumbar pillow placed in front, I recommend a 11”x19”, 13” x 19” or a 14”x20”. 
  • With sectionals, I typically recommend either a 22” and 20” square pillow combination, or a 20” and 18” square pillow combination. For your lumbar pillow placed in front, I recommend a 11”x19”, 12”x20”, 13”x19” or a 14”x20”.
  • If you have a long or deep sofa, you can go bigger with 24” and 22” square pillows, but 22” and 20” square pillows can be used as well. For a lumbar pillow, a 13” x 21”, 14”x20”, 14”x22” or a 15”x21” is ideal as they are a bit larger than your standard lumbar.

What’s The Best Way To Select A Color Palette?

When completely designing a room from scratch, one tip is to consider start with a pillow that you love that has three or four colors. Then you can pull those colors from the fabric to source other pieces for your room (lamps, artwork, books, rugs, etc.) that have these same colors. This will give your room a more cohesive look, and it’s sometimes easier than buying everything else first, and then trying to find a pillow that happens to have all of the colors in your room.

However, in reality you’re not always going to be designing a room from scratch. You might just want a few new pillows to give the room a fresh look, or to update it for the current season – especially if you’re changing out seasonal accessories. In that case, take inventory of what’s already in the room and the colors that already exist. When you start pillow shopping, look for ones that include your dominant color (roughly 60%), secondary color (30%) and accent color (10%). 

For example, in the photo below there are pinks and blues scattered throughout the room via the artwork and coffee table books, and these colors are brought into the pillows as well. What gives this room a cohesive, well- thought out look is the spread of these colors throughout the room vs. placed in one corner of the room.

how to select throw pillows
Photo and design credit: Megan Molten

If you’re unable to find this color combination in a single pillow, you can look for an assortment of pillows that have these three colors.

If you’re like me and have a neutral living room, but have some pops of blue and white you can absolutely carry these into your couch pillows. You can simply add interest by varying the shades of blue and incorporating pillows with embellishments, which I get into below. 

Is There a Formula I Can Follow to Make Mixing & Matching Pillows Easier?

The answer is yes! This is where I think most people get tripped up, and second-guess if the pillows that they’ve selected actually go together. The good news is that as I mentioned there’s no rules. What’s most important is that YOU like what you’ve picked out!

First, decide whether you like a symmetrical look or an asymmetrical look. Typically you’ll see symmetrical looks in more formal or traditional living rooms – meaning the pillows in the left corner of the sofa match the pillows in the right corner of the sofa. 

how to select throw pillows
Example of a symmetrical look. Photo and design credit: Megan Molten

You’re more likely to see asymmetry in more casual living rooms. However, you can certainly play with asymmetry even if you do have a more traditional space (and vice versa!). See what works best for you! You may actually find that if your space is SO symmetrical that mixing and matching pillow prints can make the space pop!

In terms of a formula for how to select throw pillows, I typically look for:

  • One solid pillow
  • One medium (or large) patterned pillow
  • One small/simple patterned pillow. If you’re like me and love stripes, they would fall into this “small/simple pattern” category (same goes for plaids, which I love to incorporate around the holidays)

However, if your room already has a lot of different patterns (perhaps on a chair, a rug or via wallpaper), I’d recommend skipping the large patterned pillow and replacing it with a second solid or simple patterned pillow so your room doesn’t become too busy.

How Can I Add Interest & Depth To My Living Room Using Pillows?

Pattern and color mixing is important, but texture should not be overlooked, especially when styling a coastal living room. Because muted and neutral colors are typically used in coastal decor, texture is an essential element that adds interest to a room. To add texture and depth to your living room, look for a couple pillows with the following:

  • Embroidery
  • Decorative trim such as tassels, pom-poms or fringe

Be careful not to go overboard with too many embellishments on your pillows though if you want your room’s main focal point to be a gorgeous pendant light, or a stunning piece of artwork. Also, if you plan to lean against these pillows and they aren’t just decorative, make sure to keep comfort in mind. No one likes a scratchy or lumpy pillow 🙂 

Varying your pillow sizes as I discussed earlier in this post will also add both interest and depth to your space.

Is There A Certain Fabric You Recommend?

If you have my free modern coastal design guide (which you can obtain by providing your name and email below this blog post), you know that cotton and linen are some of the most used fabrics in modern coastal design. They are light and breathable, and enhance the natural look of your home. So for this reason, I always look for pillow covers made out of these two fabrics. 

What’s The Best Way to Visualize and Narrow Down My Pillow Options?

I do most of my pillow shopping online since that’s where I find the largest variety of fabric, and shops that offer multiple pillow sizes. The only caveat is that some of these pillows and pillow covers are often non-returnable since they are custom made at the time of your order. 

So I highly recommend getting fabric swatches, when that option is available. It’s worth the few dollars that you’ll spend on each and makes it much easier to visualize what the pillows will look like paired together. 

Another option if you’re feeling unsure is to utilize my interior styling and sourcing services to get the look you’re after. I have a knack for pairing patterns and textures, and can work with most budgets. All you need to do is email me at hello@casuallycoastal.com and I can help you select a variety of pillows for your space!

Should I Buy Pillows or Pillow Covers?

It’s really a personal preference! While I do use a combination of both in my home, I prefer to use pillow covers whenever I can. Changing out pillows is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to update the look of a room based on season or for holidays. However, I don’t have the closet space to store tons of different inserts so I prefer to have one set of inserts and simply change up the covers. Pillow covers take up much less room, and it provides flexibility to use the type of insert that best suits your family’s needs and comfort.

How Should I Select Inserts For My Pillow Covers?

First and foremost you’ll need to decide if you want feather-and-down inserts, or inserts with a synthetic filling. Feather-and-down fill inserts in my opinion look more luxurious, are more comfortable and have more give. If you like the look of a “chopped” pillow, you’ll also want to go with a feather-and-down insert. Feathers provide firmness, weight, body and support, while down provides softness and comfort. The ideal ratio for decorative pillows is 10%-25% down and 90%-75% feathers – not too firm and not too soft.

Of course if you are allergic to down or feathers, are in need of a budget-friendly option, or prefer a stiffer pillow you’ll want to go with an insert with alternative down or another synthetic fill. Synthetic inserts do hold their shape better and don’t require as much re-fluffing as down and feather inserts do. 

Selecting the right size insert is extremely important to achieving that plump, luxurious look that you’re likely looking for. Plus it ensures that it fills the corners of your cover. 

  • You generally always want to size up 2 inches on your inserts. So if you have a 20”x20” pillow cover, I recommend a 22”x22” insert. 
  • There are a couple exceptions to this rule though. Pillows less than 18” and lumbar pillows generally only need an insert that’s 1” larger. Very large throw pillows (24” or larger) work well with inserts that are 3” larger.

Before buying a pillow cover, do read the full description though. I just recently bought a cover that stated in the description that the pillow cover was intentionally made smaller than the intended insert size to ensure a snug and proper fit.

Here are some inserts that I either own or recommend:

What’s the Best Way To Arrange Pillows on My Sofa?

Here are my best tips for arranging pillows on your sofa: 

  • As you move towards the inside of the sofa, the pillows should get smaller. Visually, your largest pillows should be in the far corners, and your smaller pillow should be on the inside.
  • In most cases, you’ll want 2-3 pillows of varying sizes in each corner of your sofa. If you have an L-shaped sectional with three corners, I recommend a group of pillows on each end, as well as in the middle corner.
  • In terms of where to place patterned and solid color pillows on your sofa, you should consider how many other patterns are present in the room. However, once again, it really comes down to personal preference. If you don’t have any other patterns present in your room, you may want to place your solid pillow in the corner and any patterned pillows towards the inside of your sofa so that they are most visible. However, if you have a side chair with a bolder pattern and want that to be a main focal point in the room, you may want to tuck your patterned pillows in the corners and your solid pillows in front. Play around with various combinations and have fun with it!

Do You Have Any Favorite Places to Shop for Pillows & Covers?

For sure! I almost always start my pillow and pillow cover search on Etsy, Serena & Lily and arianna belle.

Now that you’re feeling more confident in how to select throw pillows, let’s get to the fun part! Many sellers on Etsy offer customization – so once you find a fabric you love, you can buy it in almost any size, which is so nice! I could spend hours and hours just looking at different fabrics on Etsy – there are that many to choose from! Some of my favorite sellers on Etsy include Porter Lane Home, Linen and Cloth, Fourteenth Floor, and One Affirmation.   

Serena & Lily pillows can be pricey but they are statement pieces and the quality can’t be beat. I especially love this shop when I’m looking for a pillow with extra detail such as embroidery, tassels or pom poms. Plus, they have a large, gorgeous selection of blue and white pillows, which is the color that I gravitate towards for my own home. Their large selection of pillows in coastal colors makes mixing and matching a breeze!

arianna belle offers quite a bit of customization – from sizing, to pattern on one side or both. I also love that she has an entire page dedicated to pillow combinations that work well together, which is helpful if you get overwhelmed by too many choices, or you need some inspiration. I have also personally found that she has excellent customer service.

From here, I also look at Target (I like many by these brands: Project 62, Threshold designed with Studio McGee, Hearth & Hand with Magnolia, and Opalhouse), Pottery Barn and West Elm.

Can You Recommend Some Pillows & Pillow Covers?

Absolutely! There are SO many beautiful pillow covers out there that would look perfect in a coastal home. These are some of the ones that I saved while shopping for my own pillow covers, but there are so many more out there! While custom covers made from quality fabrics such a linen can be on the pricier side, I’ve included pillows across all budget levels, including a recent pair of 20”x20” covers that I picked up from Amazon for only $15.99!

Phew! I know this was a TON of information but I hope this post has increased your confidence in how to select throw pillows for your sofa! As always, I love helping you create the perfect look in your own home so if you have questions please leave them in the comments below! I’m also available to help you source pillows and can work with most budgets – just shoot me an email at hello@casuallycoastal.com and I’ll be in touch!

XO,

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