How to Decorate with Throw Pillows; 5 Rules to Follow

Never underestimate the decorative impact of a toss cushion. Maria Killam

I never design a space without including fabrics for throw pillows because I truly believe they make or break a living room. Here are some guidelines to get yours just right:

1. If your cushions match your sofa (that’s usually standard when you buy one), grab them and run, do not walk, to give them to your nearest thrift store!! That’s the first step to update your look. The exception to this is if you have a large sofa or sectional, just as long as you also include the decorative ones that pull the room together.

2. If there’s a pattern in the room like in the ottoman [above] I never repeat it in the toss cushions I design for the sofa, personally I think it looks contrived. I like my toss cushions to have their own personality, like this media room [below]:

3. If you do have solid coloured cushions, make sure they are pulling together other colours in the room. Here Jeffrey Bilhuber has repeated the caramel tones of the chair in the toss cushions on the sofa as well as the orange to work with the drapery and tie the room together.

The solid toss cushions in this space by Eileen Kathryn Boyd are a huge piece of the elements that tie this space together! Without the cushions, it would not be even remotely as fabulous as it is now!

4. If you buy a patterned toss cushion (instead of a solid, like the ones shown above), make sure that pattern picks up at least one colour that is already in your space. This toss cushion [below] would be fabulous on a black sofa, but not as coordinated sitting on a blue one.

Part of the reason why this room by Ralph Lauren feels so luxurious and comfortable is because of the layered area rugs and kilims in addition to the wonderful and skillful combination of solid and patterned cushions. Notice that every colour in this room has been repeated in the cushions.

5. The easiest way to buy new cushions (without taking your living room with you) is to take a fan deck of paint colours (you can get one in any paint store, and every home owner should have one) and find the paint chips that match the furniture already in the space. Then when you are out shopping, you will have an easy reference already in your wallet for determining if that pillow will look just as great in your bedroom or living room as it does in the store!

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  1. Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions

    Love your tips, Maria! I always suggest changing out toss pillows as a way to change a space for little money. Your inspiration pictures really help reinforce that.

  2. I'm a total throw cushion junkie — I have way more cushions than I know what to do with!! Thanks for the tips on how to use them 🙂

    I LOVE the Eileen Kathryn Boyd room. The magenta & orange colour combo is fantastic — and it reminds me of one of my favourite Jamie Drake rooms 🙂

    Kelly

  3. Thanks for the tips, Maria. I am a throw pillow junkie, too. It's one of the best ways to totally change the look of a room. This summer I changed all my pillows…and painted artwork to tie everything together. We went with a softer, coastal palette of greens and blues – something I have never tried before. But it was fun! Now it's about time to change again…back to the fabric store!
    Smiles,
    Jane (Artfully Graced)

  4. I'm so excited about your sponsor! I spent $200 at Homesense last week based on your recommendation so they'd better be next. My vision is that all the places you love will show you the money!

  5. that post is so useful! i spent my weekend in IKEA to find some thing for my home but i doesn't buy so much because we don't have already a couch and dining table. nice post!!!

  6. Things That Inspire

    I always love your posts that contain tips! My throw pillows in the living room are solid, but pick up on the colors in the room. I am so tired of them, though….but the biggest problem is the rug, which I am even more tired of…some day, some day.

  7. Heather @ what's blooming this week

    I'm heading to the thrift shop right now. Have been redecorating and needed this article to help me with pillows. WAS going to cover them with the draper fabric – no more. But you've got me on the right track now – I'm in search of a coordinating fabric to pull it all together. Thanks.

  8. Maria,

    You are wonderful! Very good ideas you give us!
    I do know the importance of choosing the right cushions and pillows! As you have said it can make or brake a room!
    I especialy loved the image from Jeffrey Bilhuber with the orange curtains!

    Have a wonderful day,

    Greet

  9. FROM THE RIGHT BANK

    I LOVE pillows! It's probably my favorite accessory and even though I have way too many, I can't seem to stop buying them. 🙂 Your advice is great!

  10. Great tips! Stored them in my memory-bank. 🙂 Thank you!

    Fabricadabra certainly has a wonderful collection to offer, both in patterns, textures and colours. (As they are a U.S. based company I presume their prices are in American funds? I may have missed confirmation of same on their website.)

    Wishing U a great week Maria.
    -Brenda-

  11. Maria,

    Tossing colors around a room with pillows is like have a great colorful salad for a meal. It balances and shows great taste.

    Bette

  12. I needed this lesson. I'm going to come back later today for a closer reading. Thanks for being so sharing with your knowledge!

  13. Great post, Maria! I love throw pillows. And once again, you always find the best images to convey your point.

  14. great info as always maria!!! broken down so nicely. haha i love what you said about running to your nearest thrift store!!!Hee hee hee
    xoxo

  15. I know this is all about pillows (and lovely they are) but I have to say that the pictures grouped in the Eileen Kathryn Boyd room and how they are hung over wall detail caught my eye.

  16. Thank you, really useful!
    Can you offer any thoughts on size of throw pillows? I have one on my sofa that's bigger than all the others and I worry it (or they!) look silly… Is bigger better, these days?

  17. Hi Mrs Ben,
    Yes it is a US based company.

    And Struggler, 18 x 18 is a standard toss cushion size but it's perfectly alright to mix up the sizes.
    Maria

  18. congrats on your first sponsor- that's pretty exciting!
    great advice with pillows, too. I love 'em so much, i have a whole rainbow of options to rotate through for my living room. just couldn't chose!

  19. I could listen to your advice all day long!
    Thank you for the new pillow resource.
    They look yummy 🙂

    xo
    Brooke

  20. These rooms are beautiful! Pillows can make such a difference in the look of a room without adding too much expense.

  21. I love these selection of pillows! I would have tons more throw pillows in my home, but my husband and three boys think that "throw" means to throw them on the floor. I guess it's a guy thing…

  22. Hello, I absolutely adore your site and I just had to leave a note for you to say so !

    Your posts are interesting, creative and original, and your pictures are great too.

    Perfection !

    Thank you for sharing them all and best wishes… Happy September

  23. Maria,
    great post- I too am a throw cushion junkie -I make them, I buy them, I scavenge them…
    I love your tips, your blog and your wonderful aesthetic…
    Cheers!

  24. Hi Shari,
    It is beautiful and I don't know anything about it. Maybe email him?
    Let me know if he responds!
    Maria

  25. HI Shari,
    I was reading his book 'Defining Luxury' this weekend, and the art above the sofa is Jacob Hashimoto, a Japanese-American artist.
    Maria

  26. I have a red leather chesterfield sofa and have tried so many different throw pillows over the years…. I’ve yet to find the perfect pillows.

  27. My toss cushions are always sliding off my leather couch. Is there a special material I can make them from to help them stay put?

  28. You mention not having the pillows matching the cushions, with exception to having a large couch/sectional. Can you give a little more feedback on using pillows that match the cushions? I purchased a 3 piece sectional with 6 pillows, 3 of a floral print, 3 of the same color as the cushions. How does the solid pillows work best when they match the cushions. Any input will be greatly appreciate!

    • I would get rid of the pillows that exactly match the sectional, they just make them because they have the fabric and get a contrasting colour that matches one in the floral print that you like. Maria

      • Thanks Maria. I could have picked another color for the 3 pillows, but not having known better, I didn’t. I will see if I can change them. Thank you for your suggestion.

        D

  29. There’s a good chance a perfectly good pillow form is lurking inside and could even be down filled. All it really needs is a new cover, easily sewn or purchased online.

  30. What pillows (or fabric) will stay upright on a leather sectional? Every pillow slides down flat or my little dog pushes into them and again they are flat.

  31. Pillows can make a dramatic difference in making a room look cohesive and complete, but they are also a source of aggravation. They are always in the way when you actually want to sit on the couch. Also, family and guests see a pillow and don’t hesitate to punch them into a comfortable shape for relaxing. Seriously, what are you supposed to do with the pillows when you have guests and your furniture is going to be used for sitting on? If you remove them, the room looks incomplete and if they stay, they’re in the way.

    • I need my pillows in order to be comfortable sitting on the sofa since one of mine is a tight back and would be brutal without cushions and the other is deep and definitely needs them behind the small of my back. I’m guessing if your pillows are in the way, perhaps your furniture is too comfortable already, some leather sofas, while not decorator sofas, are definitely so comfortable that they don’t need pillows. If that’s the case, take them out before guests come over.