Pillows are so versatile with limitless uses: inside, outside, in any room of your home

Story by Meredith Coopman

Decorative pillows are a great way to express your personality, leading to fun decisions when decorating. Perhaps the easiest and least expensive way to transform, update, liven and add interest to a space is with pretty pillows. Pillows are so versatile: inside, outside, in any room. The uses are limitless.

The challenge is that there are a lot of details to consider. Not only are the uses limitless, but you can find a pillow in just about any shape, color, size, pattern, texture, etc. And that’s just the outside. Pillows can be stuffed with different kinds of fill. For the most squish, go with a feather and down insert (also the most expensive). Allergies? No problem. Synthetic down is also an option, and you can hardly tell the difference. Foam fills are stiffer and will hold their shape, but they look less lush.

Selecting Pillows

Consider your lifestyle, and what your room is used for, when choosing pillows. In a family room where there are kids and pets, select a practical, durable fabric. I speak from experience on this one. Spend a little extra on the stain-resistant finish or the wipeable fabric, or else you’ll end up replacing your pillows more often than you’d probably like. However, in a formal living room, it might make more sense to splurge on the expensive, beautiful fabrics.

Use pillows to make a room more cohesive by tying in a common theme. Inspiration can come from colors, patterns and concepts found in other aspects of the room, such as artwork, area rugs, furniture, etc. Adding decorative pillows that pick up elements in other areas of a room will give your decor a more stylish and polished look.

Also, pay attention to size and think about the scale of your furniture. Throw pillows that are too large on a smaller-scale chair will be bulky and look out of proportion. Pillows that are too small on a large-scale sofa, or too few of them, will look skimpy and out of balance. Standard squares are about 18 inches and go nicely on sofas with typical dimensions. Oversize pillows, 24 inches or more, create a more casual, comfortable feel.

For an easy, go-to, sophisticated look, combine shapes and textures. Layer larger, decorative pillows at the back or in the corners of a sofa and put a smaller throw pillow in front. You could also add a lumbar pillow or bolster to the mix to give your ensemble even more visual intrigue.

For a modern look, consider odd pillow numbers rather than more traditional pairs. A few big pillows look cleaner than a hodge-podge of smaller ones, which can sometimes seem like too much. Square pillows should be 18 to 24 inches across — just large enough to showcase a solid color or a pattern. Rectangular pillows are a little less expected and add a hint of surprise. Use fabric in a limited color palette and large geometric prints on smooth, tightly woven fabrics, like cotton and linen. If you love having lots of colors, then go for it and use colors from somewhere else in the room, while keeping in mind that more is often more and less is also often more.

For a traditional look, two or four large pillows arranged on either side of a sofa convey a sense of symmetry and order. The accurate size depends on how big your sofa is, but for eye-pleasing proportions, try pairing square pillows measuring 20 to 22 inches across with smaller squares or circles. Layering a variety of textures, patterns and colors keeps things lively. To help patterns such as plaids, paisleys and florals comingle without looking fussy, pair a busy pattern with a simple one in the same color family. A print paired with coordinating solids is also an easy go-to option.

For an eclectic look, stay away from even numbers. Three or sometimes even five pillows will create a pleasing irregularity without cluttering the sofa. Do something unexpected. Try two pillows in one corner with a third at the opposite end, or all three in the middle and nothing in the corners. Choose similarly sized pillows to tie together a diverse assortment. You might even prefer a few larger pillows, 18 to 24 inches, over a collection of smaller ones. Be open but not random with your fabric. You can have a couple of pillows that match or five pillows in five different fabrics, but make sure there’s at least one color or pattern in common to give the arrangement harmony.

On the Bed

I just love a good-looking bed. My husband and I have had countless conversations about why we need extra pillows on the bed. He will ask why we need pillows that we remove before getting into bed. Does this sound familiar? Too many pillows, which is easy to do, can and will look messy. Beds are hard. It always seems like a struggle to get the look just right if I’m trying this on my own or even if I’m buying a “bed in a bag.”

Over the years, I’ve found that this layout works (from back to front):

      Sleeping pillows (king size) in the back against the wall or headboard.

      Another set of sleeping pillows (standard size) or pillows with sham covers.

      Two to three (depending on the size of the bed) Euro square pillows with sham covers.

      Lumbar pillow front and center.

Of course, you can play with this layout and make it your own.


Decorative pillows and cushions are a great way to help transform your outdoor living space into a comfortable extension of your home. Use pillows that pull from the dominant color of the adjacent interior room. This will create continuity between your indoor and outdoor living spaces.

Parting Thoughts

When creating a mixed pillowscape, keep in mind that they don’t all have to match, but they need to relate in some way. This will help make the space feel refined and the décor purposeful. Another rule of thumb is that if you need to remove a pillow to get comfortable, then you likely have too many pillows. Most importantly, though, stick to what you love and don’t worry about what you should have.

Meredith Coopman has over 25 years of experience in architecture and interior design. She is currently the Design Director at InnSpace in Kalispell. You can reach her at meredith@meredithcoopman.com.