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Ask the Designer: Throw Pillows

Often times when someone finds out I’m an interior designer they respond with, “Oh! So you pick out throw pillows!” (Insert eye-roll-emoji here) Yes, yes I do. I also do a lot of other things, but pillows and other finishing touches are an integral part to creating a finished space that feels like home. With that in mind, I wanted to address all your burning pillow questions with this quick guide for selecting the perfect throw pillows.

Pillow Basics

First, let's chat about the basics. If money is no object, then by all means get the highest quality, most stunning pillows you can find. If you do have a budget in mind, then I would start with purchasing quality pillow inserts (I've had good luck with these). You can have the most beautiful throw pillow in the world, but if it's flat, smushed, and lumpy then it'll leave your sofa looking lackluster. Many throw pillows that have the fill sewn inside the cover deflate quickly and will need replacing. A good quality insert with a cost-effective cover will last you much longer. I do suggest purchasing the highest quality covers you can afford for longevity. Look for natural materials that can easily be thrown in the wash.

Pillow Style

Now that we've got the basics down, let's talk about color, texture, and pattern. Pillows are a wonderful opportunity to bring in a pop of color or reinforce colors you already have in your space. If you're on the fence as to which colors to incorporate, first decide on warm tones or cool tones. By selecting a general palette you can more easily mix and match pillows while avoiding that psychedelic, hodgepodge look.

Once you have have a color scheme selected you can consider pattern and texture. Matching is the not the aim of the game! Generally, I think it's a safe bet to have at least one solid-colored pillow in the mix and then layer in patterns and textures that pull in the color of your solid pillow. For instance, if you have a blue and orange ikat pillow like this one, I would consider adding a blue velvet one and maybe an orange color-blocked lumbar to the mix.

Pillow Arranging

Let's look at a few popular pillow arrangements. The golden rule as far as I'm concerned is that you still need to be able to sit on the piece of furniture in question. If there isn't any room to sit with a pillow behind you, then skip the pillow and add a throw blanket for some color. And please, don't "karate chop" your pillows. Just don't. Moving on.

The Rule of Three is good to consider when arranging throw pillows. When we think about something being balanced, you might assume that means symmetrical, and sometimes it does. However, three of something feels more balanced to our eye than two does. Consider this first pillow arrangement below. We have two standard pillows and one lumbar. The sofa feels balanced but it also isn't boring because the lumbar pillow is a little unexpected. This is also a good arrangement if you're already dealing with something lopsided (sectional with a chaise, two different end tables, etc.)

Ok, but what if that drives you nuts and you need it to be balanced? You can certainly give into that urge. In this case we're skipping the lumbar pillow, because two lumbars always looks a little odd, and going for two more standard squares. In this case the solid color is framing the patterned pillow and making it the focal point. Gorgeous!

Our last example is for the person who just can't get enough. I see you! We've upped the ante with a lumbar in the middle of the sofa. This is as balanced and symmetrical as they come but still really interesting to look at. In this case I would be sure that everything in the room is also balanced (two identical end tables with identical table lamps, etc.). Anything that isn't symmetrical in the room will stand out like a sore thumb. If you're going for it, then go for it!

No matter what or how many pillows you choose, make sure they bring your personality into the space. I believe that a well-designed room doesn't necessarily require creativity, but it always requires personality. If you love it, then that's what matters most! If you still find yourself stumped, please get in touch! I would be happy to chat with you about your pillow woes. No one should ever be unhappy and pillowless!


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Hi there! My name is Erin and I'm the owner of Erin Davis Design, a virtual interior design firm founded in 2017. Here on my blog I serve up tips for creating a home that's functional, beautiful, and right on budget. I hope you'll cozy up on your sofa and stay awhile! 

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