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How to Choose Throw Pillows: Getting the Right Pillow Sizes & Arrangement

Knowing how to choose throw pillows can present a tricky dilemma. Choose the wrong pillow sizes, numbers, or arrangement, and it feels fussy, overdone, and can even be uncomfortable.

But throw pillows are a necessity for almost any spot where you sit or recline. They bring a living space together and make your bedroom feel cozy. Throw pillows can change up the look of a room from season to season, and they make seating inviting. So, if you want your home to evoke feelings of comfort and warmth, throw pillows are almost certainly a must-have.

So how do you strike the right balance? Here, I’ll go through 7 tips on how to choose throw pillows that will complete the look of any room.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

1. Pick Your Color Palette

When you're ready to choose throw pillows, the first step is selecting your color palette. What are the main colors of the room? Are there specific accent colors that you want to highlight or introduce? Throw pillows are the perfect way to incorporate color and texture into the room design.

If you’re working with a designer, you’re probably familiar with a mood board, but even if you’re doing DIY room design, a mood board can be a helpful tool. Add swatches of your fabric, inspiration photos, and paint colors to your board, to help you choose the right mix. You may want to pick three or four colors to start as your palette.

Your pillows will have the most impact if they’re within a similar color family. It can be fun to combine several different shades and tones. Play with texture too. Choosing different fabrics and textures in the same color scheme feels cohesive yet unexpected and interesting.

2. Play with Patterns

We’ve explored ways to mix patterns, and throw pillows are a great way to play around with patterns and start practicing your mixing skills. Whether you're combining several small patterns or really going bold with deep colors and wild prints, throw pillows offer an excellent opportunity for experimentation.

If you're new to mixing patterns, start with a few pillows with a few solid or semi-solid patterns (a stripe, woven, or even a floral block print can read "neutral" in some situations). Then add one or two patterns that feature a similar color scheme or another accent color that you want to highlight.

Design + Image: Studio McGee

Add in one or two bold pillows with graphic patterns, deep tones, or different shapes to mix things up and add visual interest to your arrangement. Keep in mind that texture can also act as a pattern. So, if you are nervous about combining several bold patterns, try mixing similar colored pillows in various textures.

3. Experiment with Throw Pillow Sizes

Most throw pillows are 18" x 18" or 20" x 20," but you may prefer something a little larger. For example, when I style with throw pillows, I like to go for 24" x 24" pillow form inserts but a 22" x 22" cover. Using a larger pillow to stuff the cover makes it appear fuller and fluffier.

Don’t feel tied to square pillows in standard throw pillow sizes only. You can find some great round, lumbar-type pillows, and even large rectangular throw pillows. Spherical pillows are having a moment, and I happen to love this linen option. There are many varieties, and having a nice mix can create an interesting and welcoming vibe. Larger pillows feel more luxurious, and too-small pillows can feel a little awkward or out-of-place.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

You may also want to experiment with pattern sizes as you experiment with pillow sizes. Large patterns will often feel more appropriate on larger pillows. Mix up a few throw pillow sizes and pattern sizes for an informal, fun look. You can always trade a pillow or take one away if it seems to be the wrong size for the setting.

4. Test Even or Odd

How should you arrange your throw pillows? Once you have amassed several throw pillows that you're ready to style on a sofa, bed, or chair, you'll want to play around with the arrangement. There are some guidelines, but choosing throw pillows is often a matter of trial and error in most cases.

Generally speaking, an odd number of pillows will feel modern and casual. Grouping three or five pillows on a couch or bed feels creative and relaxed. Odd numbers of throw pillows feel at home in a living room or any place you like to hang out, watch TV, read, or visit with friends. Start with the “less is more” theory and go with three pillows to start. Aim for balance—a larger pillow on one side, two smaller pillows on the other or three pillows on one side (two pillows of varied heights plus a smaller lumbar) and a throw layered on the opposite side. The arrangement will feel cleaner and more deliberate with fewer pillows.

Photography: Jennifer Lavelle

An even number of pillows, on the other hand, will feel more formal and traditional. This principle applies in most areas of design: even numbers feel formal and odd numbers feel casual. Even numbers may feel more appropriate in a bedroom or a formal sitting room. If you trend toward a more minimalist design, start with two beautiful pillows on your bed or couch and see if you like them. You can then add one to two more if you want more impact.

5. Pick Complementary Pillow Sizes & Shapes

There are many pillow options out there. Beyond the standard 18"-24" square, you could also select round, cylindrical, or rectangular pillows. Playing with the different shapes of throw pillows is a way to add whimsy and visual interest to any couch or bed. Unusual-shaped pillows add an element of charm to a space.

Round pillows in solid colors often feel very Mid-Century Modern, and they can be a great way to add a pop of color, provided that it fits your style. Also, play around with the different sizes available—and these often can be found in velvets, bouclés, and other textures.

Design: Amber Interiors via Shoppe Amber Interiors | Photography: Abby Cox

But again, avoid the tendency to overdo it with throw pillows. They can start to feel cluttered and fussy if you include too many small pillows in your arrangement. Instead, start with two pillows of the same size, and then add a third or fourth pillow in a complementary size and shape. Larger pillows should go on the outside, and smaller pillows should move toward the middle of the arrangement.

6. Look for Healthier Options

Like many textiles in your home, throw pillows can be filled with less-than-ideal materials. Most throw pillows you pick up at retail stores are filled with polyester, which contains ethylene glycol and other not-so-great chemicals. Like other textiles, throw pillows can off-gas, releasing these chemicals into your home.

Alternatives like down can be a good option, but keep in mind that down fill tends to lose its fluffiness quickly. Definitely follow the guideline above to overstuff your pillow covers to keep a nice full look. Some down processors also use bleach to clean the feathers and less-than-humane conditions for the birds, so it's essential to research and look for Responsible Down Standard Certified. I personally like ComfyDown pillow inserts, available on Amazon.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

Other people prefer down alternatives like silk cotton or Kapok (a soft, hypoallergenic fiber from the seed pods of the Kapok tree). Look for a cotton or hemp cover for your pillow to reduce the chance of allergens and dust mites. Like bedroom pillows, it’s important to choose healthier throw pillows as well.

7. Overstuff and Style

Once you’ve procured your pillow covers and inserts (or found the perfect throw pillows to complement your décor), it’s time to stuff and style. As I mentioned above, I highly recommend going one or two sizes up on your pillow inserts (especially if you choose down fill). You want full and fluffy throw pillows.

Most people like to style throw pillows by fluffing and then pulling on the four corners. Once the pillow is taut, you’ll give a little “chop” to the center. This creates a flattering dent and really helps the arrangement feel finished and polished. The “chop” however is not always necessary, and loosely styling your throw pillows can provide a more organic, relaxed look.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

The great thing about styling throw pillows is that you can change them up as you go along. These relatively inexpensive decorative items are a great way to transform a room as the seasons change by playing with color, texture, and more. You might utilize lighter linens in the spring and summer and deeper velvets and wools in the fall and winter. Try adding a deliberately curated "pile" on the floor or arranging a few pillows in a breakfast nook or another unexpected spot.

Finally, a word to the wise, don’t overdo it with throw pillows. Again, less is more. You don’t want the space to feel too overwhelmed by pillows. Instead, they should be eye-catching accents that bring everything together.

Have fun styling and rearranging your throw pillows. In the comments below, let me know what challenges you've faced when incorporating pillows into your room design. I'd love to help!

X Lauren

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