How to Style Throw Pillows, According to Design Pros

Learn the secrets to arranging pillows on all sizes of beds, plus the perfect formula for your sofa.

bedroom with textured wall and colorful pillows

Better Homes & Gardens / David Land

Throw pillows, whether on beds or sofas, are an integral part of your home's decor, but they can also easily be overlooked. In the design world, texture reigns supreme, and throw pillows hold court among the most impactful ways to create a more layered look. “Pillows are icing on the cake, cherry on top of the sundae,” says Kathryn Lott, owner and designer of Kathryn Lott Design. “They bring the house to life by adding color, texture, comfort, and style.” But beyond aesthetics, pillows also make a home feel inviting and lived in. They welcome guests to sit down and stay awhile in comfort. 

Pillows also allow for a sense of expression that’s both functional and oftentimes at a lower price point than something like custom drapery panels, says Kathleen Varner, a Birmingham, Alabama-based stylist. “I love what I’m seeing lately with all the custom pillows designers are putting together,” she says. “Putting a lot of thought into mixing patterns, textures, and really thinking through the trim can truly create mini pieces of art.”

Here, we uncover the dos and don’ts of arranging pillows on beds, sofas, and even chairs so you can put the perfect finishing touch on every room. 

bedroom with rug and artwork above bed

Better Homes & Gardens / Kim Cornelison

How to Arrange Pillows on a Bed

Can there ever be too many pillows on a bed? Probably, but don’t think of it as an exact formula. “I think there’s a right amount depending on whether or not you are more of a minimalist or love a layered look,” says Varner. On her own king-size bed, she opts for two king-size pillows, two extra-large Euros (known as Dutch Euros), and a bolster pillow. She utilizes a similar formula on the twin beds in her home, essentially cutting the equation in half: a standard pillow, a Dutch Euro, and a small bolster for each. “If you are a minimalist, I like just two standard pillows on a twin or four for a double, queen, or king that are appropriate to the size of the bed,” she suggests. 

When it comes to color and pattern, use pillows to draw the eye to the bed. “I’m all about the impact,” says Lott. “I like sticking to neutral bedding and having the accent and highlight come from the pillows.” When Varner selects throw pillows, she often looks around the room to draw inspiration. “It’s definitely an opportunity to pull a room together. Maybe your bolster matches your curtains, or you use the same blue tone in your pillows that’s in a large painting in your room,” she says. “I think the pillows can really pull the room together and make it make sense from a design standpoint.”

living room with large leather couch and natural light

Better Homes & Gardens / Jay Wilde

How to Style Couch Pillows

Start with two to four pillows for the sofa, depending on its size, says Varner. A smaller sofa is better served with two pillows, while a larger sofa will likely need four. As for what that looks like, Lott suggests flanking the ends of the sofa, layering a large pillow with a smaller accent in front. 

Your sofa is also an opportunity to make a statement with both texture and pattern. Varner just advises keeping an eye on what else is going on in the room before selecting throw pillows for a couch. For example, a dominating wallpaper might warrant a more subdued approach to sofa pillows.

Regardless of your pattern choices, leaning on texture like shag or velvet to add interest will serve your space well. “I really think this is an area of your home where you can be a little more trendy or do something funky,” says Varner. “[Fabric is] easy to play around with and doesn’t have to be a huge investment to make a statement! Just make sure the pillows are pulling from some other small detail in the room.”

bedroom with collection of artwork

Better Homes & Gardens / Adam Albright

How Often Should You Change Throw Pillows

Should pillows change at the start of a new season or remain tried and true all year long? It’s a matter of opinion. Lott says that making seasonal swaps allows for warmer or cooler fabrics, while also keeping things fresh. As long as you select a fabric and style that you love, Varner thinks a more long-haul approach can be a winning choice. It’s truly best left up to your wants and needs for your space. 

No matter which route you choose, you’ll likely find yourself fluffing up those pillows on the regular. To keep throw pillows fluffy, Lott gives this rule of thumb: “Pillows already have a defined shape; highlight that, nothing over the top and stark.” That severe-looking chop? It’s a no-no. If a simple fluff won’t do, Varner suggests a light chop for a little extra volume without the drama.

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