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  • Writer's pictureKori Steigerwald


Grey, silver and beige bedding with pillows

Do you know how to arrange throw pillows to make them look amazing? It’s not a secret – you just have to consider your pillow sizes, colors and combinations. I’m sharing what you need to know so you can easily style pillows like a design pro.

I’m not ashamed to admit that throw pillows are one of my favorite accessories for my sofa and master bed. It’s a great place to add some texture and color into my decor and it helps to tie everything in the room together. And the bonus of throw pillows is that you can easily switch them out for a quick change to your decor.

If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that we have way too many throw pillows. I honestly really don’t think that there’s any such thing as too many (as long as I’ve got a place to store them)!

Your Guide to Choosing Throw Pillows for Your Sofa

When you’re choosing pillows for your sofa, you’ll want to consider their size, color, texture, pattern and shape. Then it’s just a matter of styling them all to work together.

I might tell you that you can’t have too many throw pillows, but you can actually have too many at one time. Your throw pillows are meant to compliment your decor, not compete with it. If you pile too many pillows on your sofa, you won’t even be able to see it. A pillow arrangement is a lot like decorating a shelf. It’s a little vignette on your sofa and it’s a great place to add some personality to your decor.

PRO TIP: I like to make sure that all of my throw pillows have zipper covers so I can wash them. Fingerprints and dogs (cats, too!) mean they have to be hard working in our house. I honestly think pets are worse than kids when it comes to keeping my throw pillows clean!

Pink, grey and white cushions on a grey sofa

Throw Pillow Size

You might be surprised to learn that there are many sizes of square throw pillows. Or you may already know this and can’t decide which size is the best for you.

Here’s an easy rule of thumb to remember: The closer to the outside of the sofa the larger the pillow should be! Simple – right?

Well, it might be that simple, but pillows do come in all kinds of sizes. The most common sizes that you’ll find are going to be 18″ squares and larger – usually ranging anywhere from 20″ to 24″. There are also lumbar pillows – which are rectangular shaped – and circles, unique shapes, etc.

A larger sofa is going to need larger pillows; a smaller sofa will need smaller ones. Always choose your pillows so they’ll fit into the proportions of the sofa you’re working with.

PRO TIP: I like to purchase down inserts for my pillows. If you have an allergy then you should use the alternative fill, but the fill should be loose, not packed like foam. Foam is great for cushions, but I prefer my throw pillows to look soft. You’re going to want to purchase your inserts a little larger than your pillow covers so they fill out all the edges nicely. If your pillow cover is 22″ be sure your insert is 24″. Then your pillows will be pretty and plump!

Throw Pillow Shapes

Most throw pillows that you find are going to be square or rectangle but it’s also possible to find round ones and bolsters. Or maybe even a fun shaped pillow that you just have to own – like a pillow shaped like a llama!

Multi coloured cushions on an old metal bed

When I arrange throw pillows, I generally like to use a couple of square pillows and add in a lumbar to the mix. Sometimes a pretty round solid velvet is just what you need to tie things together. Play around with the shapes so your throw pillows make your sofa look amazing.

What Colors of Throw Pillows to Use?

The colors you use for throw pillows should do one of the following:

  • Add a pop of color

  • Tie together the color palette of the room

  • Make a bold statement

If you have a neutral color palette throughout your home, you’ll probably want to add more neutrals with some texture. If you’re adding some seasonal color to a space, then you might want to add a pop of color. Remember a pop doesn’t have to be a super bright color; it can be an accent color that you don’t see a lot of in your room. It can be a subtle pink that matches some flowers. Or green that ties in with your plants.

A bold color or pattern will look best if it’s paired with a rug or artwork which ties it all together.

I like to use colors that match the rest of the decor in my room. If your rooms are pretty open to each other, you have a pretty broad color palette to work with. Remember that you want your pillows to link your room together so try to find a color or pattern that shows up elsewhere in the room.


Texture gives your pillows, especially neutral pillows, more depth and interest. Even if you’re using the same color in pillows, different textures will change how they look together; so change up those textures for more visual interest.

Fabric swatch in different colors and textures

I’m especially partial to linen for my pillows. I love the way they feel, and I can find linen pillow covers in lots of designs, colors and sizes. For some variation I like to add velvet pillows as well.

If you’re using lots of patterns or contrasting colors in your room, then the texture is going to be less important. But if you’re using a single color or a neutral color scheme, be sure to mix up the fabrics. Texture can be rough (although I don’t recommend that for pillows) or smooth, nubby, silky, or shiny and smooth.

How to Combine Patterns

Patterns are fun but they can also be intimidating. The key to mixing patterns is to find something that they have in common. Generally, you’ll find a color that links pillows and then it’s easy to mix patterns.

White and grey sofa with black mirror and cushions

An easy way to do this is to think in a group of threes. Try mixing a larger pattern with a smaller pattern and a solid. You can mix a floral with a check and a solid, or a check and a stripe and a solid.

This is your opportunity to bring a pattern into your space that you love. If you’re afraid of color or pattern, then this can be a great chance to add a little of either or both in a small dose.

A throw pillow is a great opportunity to take a decorating risk. Or to try out a color in a small dose to see if you love it in your home or just admire it when you see it.

How to Arrange Throw Pillows

Now that we’ve got the basics down let’s talk about how to style your pillows.

Placing one or two pillows on your sofa isn’t always going to look the best. Throw pillows want to be layered onto your sofa and they’ll look best if you use different sizes.

Here is where you’re going to have to trust yourself and try a few things out. Because the real rules to decorating are that there aren’t any real rules!

Now, designers typically focus on odd rather than even-numbered groupings of decorative items. But if you find that a two- or four-pillow grouping works better for your space than a three- or six-pillow grouping, don’t hesitate to enjoy it. It may be smart, though, to use the same number of pillows on either side of a sofa, bench or window seat for balance.

When I arrange throw pillows on a sofa, I start with a larger pillow on each end – for example, a 20″-24″ size in the back – and then layer a smaller size in front of them. That usually will be an 18″. I like to add a little lumbar pillow in the middle just for fun, and because I like having 5 pillows instead of four.

Blue sofa with pink, grey and floral cushions

Using Odd Numbers

Generally speaking, odd numbers give the most visual interest, just like they do on a bookshelf. If your room leans more casual, then you’ll want to use odd numbers, but if it’s very formal you may want to use even numbers and keep your lines even.

Odd numbers will keep us visually interested in a room or display. We don’t realize that while we’re noticing things, our brains are processing it all rather quickly. An odd number slows us down.

How to Arrange Throw Pillows on a Sectional

If you have a sectional, you might want to add a mix of pillows to each end and then a mix in the middle section as well. It’s almost like decorating two sofas.

Grey sectional sofa in large living room

Be sure that your throw pillows are looking toward each other so they appear to belong together like the photo above. They’ll also fit on your sofa much better this way.

What’s a Common Throw Pillow Mistake?

The most common mistake that we all make when decorating in general is being too safe. We may do this in all parts of our home but avoid it when you’re shopping for throw pillows!

Your sofa and flooring are most likely a neutral color. They take up a lot of visual space in your home, so add in some pattern and color with your throw pillows. This is your chance to add something in a small dose that will give you a big win!

Still Not Sure About Mixing/Matching Pillows?

If you’re not comfortable with your ability to choose pillows, the following tips will help you mix and match fresh patterns and/or colors, allowing you to quickly refresh your room with a look that is coordinated but not matchy-matchy.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to experiment or shop that much, the “Rule of Three” is the perfect formula to guide your choices and simplify the process.

The “Rule of “Three”


First, choose a “color story” to follow for your pillow selection. It’s best to use three different colors pulled from other sources in the room, such as the wall color, the rug, or the curtains. If you choose a variety of pillows in different patterns, the look will still be cohesive if they at least share the same colors.

Here are a few examples of color combinations that always looks great together:

  • Dark blue + deep red + pink

  • Deep red + orange + deep green

  • Magenta + violet + mustard yellow

  • Dark green + gold + magenta


You can also mix and match three different patterns, as long as each pattern incorporates at least one of the colors in the three-color story you have chosen. Choose your “lead” pattern first, then the secondary patterns you select can contain just one or two of the colors.

Here are a few pattern mixing ideas to try:

  • One floral + one geometric + one solid color

  • One buffalo check + one toile + one ticking stripe

  • One chevron + one dotted + one knit texture


It’s important to think of the scale of your patterns when following the “Rule of Three” because you don’t want your patterns to compete with each other. Instead, choose patterns in three different scales, allowing one pattern to dominate.

Your lead pattern should be the largest pattern of the bunch, followed by a medium-sized print. The third pattern, then, should be the most subtle.

Break the Rules if You Want

Now that you know the “Rule of Three”, we should also say that all rules are made to be broken—especially in design! If you start mixing and matching your selection of stunning throw pillows following the formula outlined here only to find that four colors work best for you, or that you like two large patterns instead of only one, that’s okay.

Once you master the “Rule of Threes”, also consider these other principles used by designers:

  • Odd numbers look modern. When arranging your throw pillows, keep in mind that for a modern look, odd numbers work best—think again of three, or five.

  • Even numbers look traditional. For a balanced look that features symmetry, especially on your bed or couch, an even number of similar pillows, such as two or four, looks clean and orderly.

  • Fill matters! When shopping for throw pillows, consider the fill and how it will affect the appearance.

  • Mix textures, too! Pattern and color mixing is important, but texture should not be overlooked.

  • One economical way to change out pillows is to use pillow covers. You can change pillow covers out regularly to keep up with seasons, holidays and even your mood without doing major room makeover…plus, they’re easier to clean!

The Designer-Approved Way to Arrange Pillows on a Bed

Of all the design elements in a bedroom, pillows arguably leave the most room for creativity. These comfy toppers are not only essential for high-quality sleep; they instantly add texture, pattern, and personality to any bedroom. But of course, arranging pillows in an aesthetically pleasing way is more complicated than what meets the eye.

Before we dive into the following the suggested arrangements here, let’s define some terms to make sure we’re all on the same page on the vocabulary part of things.

  • Standard sham: a decorative rectangular pillowcase that fits a standard “sleeping” pillow (20”x26”)

  • Euro sham: a decorative square pillowcase that fits a 26”x26” pillow insert

  • King sham: a decorative rectangular pillowcase that fits a king size “sleeping” pillow (20”x36”)

  • Lumbar pillow: a small, rectangular decorative pillow that can vary in size – 12”x20” or 14”x20” are two examples of ones you might see.

All right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s go through these bedding ideas!

For a Luxe Layered Look

White, grey and natural tones bedroom setting

If you’re looking for a grand look fit for a main bedroom suite, you can’t go wrong with this layered, symmetrical pillow combination. While it requires roughly nine pillows give or take, it’s timeless and allows for a lot of different color and pattern combinations.

How to get the look:

  • Stack four standard-sized sleeping pillows on top of one another

  • Layer two queen or king-sized shams to cover the width of the bed

  • Add two large 20-inch square pillows in front

  • Finish with one long lumbar pillow in front

For a Relaxed Refinement Look

White and grey bedroom setting

There’s something so relaxed and refined about a double or triple sham situation. It’s clean and easy, but still visually appealing. You can play with solids or patterns, but we like something with a little bit of texture — bonus points for tassels or subtle fringe.

How to get the look:

  • Stack four standard-sized sleeping pillows on top of one another

  • Layer two queen-sized or three king-sized Euro shams in front

For an Effortless Minimalism Look

White and black bedroom setting

If you’re looking for no-fuss, pared back elegance, skip the shams and lean into well-crafted linens for your pillowcases. This look is minimal and even a bit utilitarian, giving off an effortlessly beautiful Wabi-Sabi feel.

How to get the look:

  • Rest four standard-sized sleeping pillows vertically against your headboard

  • Layer two smaller lumbar pillows in front

For a Hotel-Inspired Look

Metal 4-poster bed frame with white linen and zebra cushions

This look is inspired by the beautifully polished bedding at your favorite boutique hotel. These “bedscapes” almost always feature white Euro shams layered with a more playful pattern or luxe velvet pillow. The look is crisp, luxurious, and undeniably classic — especially when you give each pillow a clean chop.

How to get the look:

  • Rest two king-sized sleeping pillows vertically against the headboard

  • Layer three crisp white Euro shams in front

  • Add two large 20-inch square pillows spaced evenly in front

For a Pattern Play Look

If you love a more layered vibe that embraces color and pattern, this look is for you. It’s a traditional layered look, but with a hint of warmth, character, and whimsy. Work within a cohesive color palette, but feel free to mix and match textures, prints, and colors.

Cozy bedroom setting with red brick wall, blue and neutral colours

How to get the look:

  • Rest two standard-sized sleeping pillows vertically against the headboard

  • Layer two queen-sized or king-sized Euro shams to cover the width of the bed

  • Add another layer of two queen-sized or king-sized shams in a contrasting pattern

  • Bring in two or three 18-inch square pillows in front, in yet another hue and texture

For an Asymmetric Elegance Look

Black and white bedroom theme

For those who truly embrace eclectic and carefree design, forget symmetry altogether and mix an assortment of pillows in varying sizes, colors, and prints. Just make sure that there’s some sort of cohesive palette or style to bring the look to life.

How to get the look:

  • Stack two or four standard-sized bed pillows on top of one another

  • Mix and match four to five different pillows in a variety of sizes with complementary colors and patterns. Try mixing one 26-inch square pillow with two 22 to 24-inch squares, one 20-inch square, and a lumbar in front.

If you need help…

Please contact your friendly and experienced Interior Designer – ME!! – Kori Steigerwald – at (248-805-1980). Happy arranging!


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