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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leave aREPLY

  1. 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

  2. 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…

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

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.


  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.