I don’t know about you, but I think about my sofa a lot. It may be because my front door leads right into my living room so it’s the first thing you see when entering my apartment. Or maybe it’s because I love my sofa too much and want it to shine bright like the beautiful star she is. In any case, sofa styling has been top of mind for me (HELLO MOTO, HELLO DEADLINES), so I thought this would be a great opportunity to break down sofa styling for both my and your sake. Grab your pens and notebooks because this is a “living room rules” post you won’t want to forget.
OUR 5 NO-FAIL SOFA STYLING RULES:
1. KEEP A COHESIVE COLOR PALETTE: This is an EHD rule of thumb. As you’ve likely heard here before, as long as you keep a consistent color palette (3-5 colors) you will have more success when mixing styles and patterns. Here’s a post on how to easily create one!
2. VARY SIZES AND SHAPES: For visual interest you want your pillows to vary in shape and size (i.e. mix in round, lumbar, and square pillows in different sizes).
3. ADD IN DIFFERENT TEXTURES: If you are going to mix solids and neutrals, textures can bring in interesting details without being too loud.
4. BALANCE OUT COLORS EVENLY: Each side of your sofa should have different colors sprinkled throughout (i.e. you shouldn’t have all of one color on one side).
5. VARY THE SCALE OF PATTERNS: Patterned throws and pillows are a great way to add life and intrigue to your sofa, just make sure that you mix in both small and large scale patterns.
Now that you have your basic guidelines, let’s take a look at past EHD projects and dissect how to execute how to style a sofa like a dang pro:
If you remember this version of Emily’s LA living room, then you might already know she was experimenting with a new rug and new sofa–trying to find the perfect match (which is not an easy task let me tell ya). While she wasn’t in love with this rug and sofa combo, the sofa itself is so GOOD and styled to perfection.
Why it works: The large scale patterns are layered evenly so neither side of the sofa is too overwhelming. The two solid but textured color pillows on each side and balance the patterns out so the overall look isn’t too loud but still visually interesting.
Here, Velinda styled the same sofa for a Feel Good Flash Makeover and went with a “more is more” approach proving that pillow combos are endless as long as those 5 golden rules are still applied.
Why it works: The color palette is kept simple with 3 colors (gray, white, and muted blue) and while there are multiple striped pillows present, each is varied in scale and textured so there is not too much of the same thing happening.[HOT_TIP title=”Hot Tip” content=”When choosing pillows and throws, consider the color and fabric of your sofa. Your sofa is the base so you want to make sure the textiles are not too similar so they complement each other.”]
Moving on to another iteration of Emily’s LA living room, we have this gorgeous custom Lawson-Fenning sofa styled minimally with a few pillows and a throw. Emily wanted the sofa to feel “clean, fresh, and purposeful” so she dialed back her styling so the curves and shape of the sofa would shine and speak for themselves.
Why it works: The two pillows are different sizes and shapes that complement each other while the throw blanket adds a large scale pattern to bring in more visual interest.
Here in Jess’s small space living room, she has a simple (but not at all boring) sofa that allows for a myriad of styling options. Going off the color palette of her living room, she peppered in pillows and a throw that would complement both the room and the sofa.
Why it works: She sticks to her color palette with the colorful pillows and added a large scale patterned lumbar to create some dynamic to the space.
Brady’s living room is cool, eclectic, and neutral which he so effortlessly exhibits in his sofa styling.
Why it works: Brady kept his styling rather neutral so he complemented his color palette by adding in A LOT of texture. His two main pillows are knitted and paired with a large scale woven blanket and leather lumbar, there is enough texture going on to be interesting (also note how the leather pillow brings in both warmth and texture).
First of all, if you haven’t checked out this reveal, do so immediately. It is a tear-jerker and the whole space is so special and personal (Sara designed it for her mom for mother’s day–it’s SO SWEET).
Why it works: The pillows Sara used pull from the color scheme of the room so the colors all speak well with each other. Since she uses more color, the patterns are small in scale so they work well effortlessly.
Tight Back Sofas
What makes tight back sofas different? Well, they are sturdier due to the lack of back cushions, usually have more of a structural shape, and (let’s be honest) they are not always the most comfortable–and that’s where pillow styling comes in.
As Bowser says in her reveal post, the shape of this sofa is cool and edgy just like her (seriously, she is the coolest). But what do you do with such a cool and edgy sofa? I am glad you asked…
Why it works: The color palette is consistent and (you guessed it) she varies the patterns and textures among the pillows and throw, while complementing the size and shape of her sofa.
This is one of my favorite versions of Emily’s LA living room because I just love how this sofa looks in her English Tudor home. It’s so simple and classic which allows for more modern pillow and throw options.
Why it works: The deep color of the sofa makes the room pop so the pillows don’t have to be “loud”. Notice that while there is scale variation, the “larger one” is more medium. This helps to keep the style still feeling classic. Also, that burgundy pillow is SO good. A fun unexpected (but appropriate) color is always a good idea.
Considering the size of the sofa and its firm structure, Sara implemented four oversized pillows to create a warm and inviting look (and p.s. she says this sofa is actually VERY comfy despite it being a more sculptural shape).
Why it works: Her color palette is neutral, each pillow is varied in size and pattern and she implemented texture with the round faux fur pillow.
Ahh this sofa is like the effortless cool girl who can pull off anything. There are tons of styling options that would make sense here because of its classic shape and black finish.
Why it works: Again, the color palette here is neutral and simple so the pattern mixing is where the real action comes in. Patterns and textures can allow for the colors to be tame while still creating an exciting moment. Also since this isn’t a big sofa, only having 3 pillows looks sophisticated and appropritate.
Sectionals are obviously larger sofas so you can play even more with pillows and throws OR keep it simple and let your sofa shine. Allow me to demonstrate…
The traditional gray sectional pictured here in Emily’s old Glendale home leaves so much room to play with colors and pattern.
Why it works: The color palette is spread out evenly so the pillows do not seem too heavy or overwhelming. In the same vein, Emily mixed patterns that did not complicate the styling but instead complement each other.
Arlyn’s living room reveal is so special and one of my favorite living rooms because of how personal it is to her. This sofa is obviously a show-stopper but that didn’t stop her from bringing in even more excitement with her pillow styling.
Why it works: Since the rest of the room is kept quite neutral, there is more space to play with pattern and color with pillow styling. Arlyn sticks to the 5 golden rules by varying patterns, implementing different size and shape pillows, and spreading them evenly across her sectional. Also, the throw draped on the end of the chaise is perfection.
This basement is one of my favorite reveals we’ve published on the blog, designed by the wonderfully talented Lea Johnson. It’s a hardworking, multi-functional space but I must say this sofa and styling steals the show.
Why it works: Since the sectional is bold and colorful on its own, Lea kept her pillows neutral in color but added more visual interest by mixing bigger varied patterns.
This sectional in the mountain house is VERY cool and VERY sculptural which is not always the easiest to style. Emily has talked about the pros and cons of this sectional before, but the one great thing about it is styling can be kept minimal and intentional.
Why it works: Like I said, the sofa is sculptural and interesting to look at on its own, but the 5 golden rules still apply. The pillows and the throw are cohesive with the color palette and are spread out so as to not crowd the sofa.
And now because it’s so fun, I pulled together some pillow and throw blanket combos to shop from:
1. Ticking Pillows | Dijon Cotton Pom Throw / Oversized Ivory Angled Stripe Lumbar Pillow | District Loom Vintage Pillow Cover No. 70 | Harlee Ivory Round Pillow | Oversized Cotton Textured Striped Throw Pillow with Fringe
2. Clique White Pillow | Chunky Stripe Fringe Throw Blanket – Hearth & Hand | Persimmon Mohair Pillows | Recycled Cotton Blend Pillow with Tassels / Pico 18″ Black Round Pom Pom Pillow | Ray Pillow
3. Gigi Pillow | Boucle Faux Mohair Throw Blanket | Taupe Diamond Cotton Chenille Lumbar Pillow | Woven Washed Windowpane Pillow | Square Woven Cotton Pillow with Fringe
4. 20″x20″ Bradford Two-Tone Tassel Pillow | Pico 18″ Black Round Pom Pom Pillow | Ticking Pillows | Oversized Ivory Angled Stripe Lumbar Pillow | Buffalo Check Plaid Design Cotton Down Filled Throw Pillow | Modern Threads Acrylic Knit Throw
5. Park Designs In The Meadow Plaid Throw | Daios Pillows | Leilani French Knot Design Throw Pillow Natural | Square Woven Cotton Pillow with Fringe | Round Throw Pillow Natural | Vintage Hemp Pillows
6. Oversized Cotton Textured Striped Throw Pillow with Fringe | Maize Sqaure Throw Pillow Black | Oversized Ivory Angled Stripe Lumbar Pillow | Oversize Chenille Shiny Waffle Knit Square Throw Pillow | Rayas Throw
7. Daios Pillows | Rayas Throw | Textured Solid Square Throw Pillow Neutral | Harlee Ivory Round Pillow | Caitlin Wilson Black Gingham Pillow | Clique White Pillow
8. Maize Sqaure Throw Pillow Black | Olive Shag Pillow | Ticking Pillows | Black + Beige Woven Lumbar Pillow | Oversized Cotton Textured Striped Throw Pillow with Fringe | Grid Throw Blanket
And finally, our handy guide to help you with all your sofa styling needs:
Alright my friends, if you made it this far thank you for sticking with me. I know we just went over a ton of sofa combos so hit me with any questions or concerns down below. xx
Opener Image Credit: Design by Brady Tolbert for EHD | Photo by Tessa Neustadt | From: Brady’s Living Room Refresh with the Citizenry
As a mathematician, I gotta love any approach to styling based on formulas and variables. Might I suggest that one additional dimension be considered: the number of pillows/throws used should be inversely proportional to how often a sofa is used, and by how many people. One or two grown-ups who sit quietly on a couch in the evenings can probably maintain a fairly complex styling arrangement, but when a bigger family is logging time day and night on a couch, two or three items are more than enough to manage. Thanks for your delightfully thorough analysis, Ryann!
LOL! So true- pillows on our living room sofa stay put but pillows on our family room sectional all end up on the floor somehow
You said it better than I did!
Thank you for this post! I absolutely love these really methodical how-tos; they’re what first got me into following Emily’s design stuff and they’ve really stuck with me for the years! And Ryann, I am def jealous of your couch and I’d make her a star too. However, I have a question that doesn’t really fall into what you’re talking about but I hope team EH can help: my built-in couch cushions suck! We got a steal on a Restoration Hardware leather sofa, the fairly common yet super practical and cute Maxwell in that same tobacco leather. It’s got two cushions on the seats and back, and I believe they are down-wrapped something which is THEORETICALLY a high end filling, right? They’ve always shed feathers even through leather which annoys and mystifies me, but more problematically, the back cushions have really lost their shape over the years (and in fact this happened pretty early on but it’s gotten much worse lately). The back ones kind of have a giant divot and squish down as if they were a soft throw pillow being styled with that karate chop look, you know? But not intentionally. And even when I take them off… Read more »
I think i saw Yellow Brick Home showing how added a bed pillow to each cushion on their couch to give them shape and fill the void after they had a similar issue
Just chiming in to say what Susan said! I have a beautiful blue velvet couch from Interior Define, but the back pillows SUCK. They look messy allll the time. So we put a king sized pillow inside each back cushion and now it looks fluffy and full all the time.
It depends on a sofa. A deep sofa isn’t comfortable without a pillow, and unfortunately these days most sofas in the States are too deep. That said, pillows are a nightmare around toddlers. If I knew that, I’d think a bit harder about that when buying seating
Are people…sitting on their sofas in some way I don’t understand? We have a sofa, a loveseat, and a daybed. Total # of throw pillows: 1 on the settee, 1 on the couch because sometimes we nap on them. Having three or four pillows on each one would drive me bananas; we bought these things because they’re comfortable, and I’d have to take the pillows off every time and put them on the floor, then put them back when I’m done. Nope. (See also: decorative pillows and shams on the bed.)
Me too. I have a couple of cushions, but they basically get in the way of people sitting on the sofa, comfortably.
In some pics, there are so many cushions, one would have to perch on the tiny front edge to actually sit?!?
I like the look, but practical? Nope.
Function comes before form on this topic, for me.
We use the pillows on our sofa to adjust our seating to be more comfortable. Almost every sofa I’ve ever sat on, I’ve used a throw pillow to support my lower back. For that reason alone, I like durable and soft pillows, with removable covers preferably. I have bought some less expensive ones (and expensive) that I like the looks of, but aren’t comfortable, so less useful. However, some of the large, firmer ones, are used by family to make a comfortable sitting place on the floor or to prop themselves on the sofa for a good lying down, watching TV position. But I agree that it’s easy to get caught up in making the sofa (or bed) look good, and ending up with stacks of pillows to manage when actually using the furniture. I go through phases, and during the pandemic, thanks to posts such as this, I definitely bought a few too many extra throw pillows. I’ve decided I just need to rotate as my my mood changes. Of course, now I need to store the pillows not in current rotation.
I agree. My favorite photo here is of Emily’s Lawson-Fenning sofa that sports two pillows and one throw; exactly what’s on my loveseat during fall and winter (no need for a throw in my climate from mid-March through late October).
My tight-back couch (thanks for featuring that style, Ryann) does need one pillow per person for back support.
I think this is a “different strokes for different folks” kind of thing. We (my spouse and I, no kids) have a 120″ cushion-back sectional with six throw pillows–it’s just the right amount if you ask me! When I cozy up on the chaise end to read, I use two pillows to cuddle up against the arm, plus one or two stacked pillows to raise my book. Other times, when my spouse and I watch TV, we each lean up against one or two pillows on one side and keep one pillow in between us on the other, so we can curl up and both snuggle up against something soft. I guess what I’m saying is that I love to be cozy, and I love throw pillows! I never find them cumbersome.
Yeah, I definitely agree too! And for the bed, I actually designed a long lumber pillow that’s easy to toss on (and off), so that you don’t need a ton of throw pillows on your bed to look like it’s been “styled!” (It also eliminates a huge pile of pillows on the floor while you’re sleeping! Haha 😉
If anyone is interested, my Long Lumbar Pillow collection is here: https://quinsby.com/collections/long-lumbar-pillow-covers
I would love to see “rules” for an L-shaped sectional. It is kind of like the couch w/ attached chaise option you show, but since the high back goes around the whole thing it always feels like I need pillows in more spots. But then I end up having the issues mentioned by another poster where we end up with a giant pile of throw pillows taking up space when the family piles onto the sectional.
Yes to a conversation about pillow dynamics… beautiful vs. have-to-move-them-every-time-you-sit-down.
A lot of these have 3-5 pillows plus a blanket which look beautiful, but we have a small house with one area for lounging so our sofa gets constant use by us, the kids, the dog. The pillows would end up mostly on the floor because they impede the seating space. We have 2 occasional chairs and one has a pillow in it to add color and texture and tie in with the art. It spends 99% of its life sitting on the floor NEXT to the chair. How about styling for a room that gets constant use? I don’t want to be folding blankets and restyling pillows multiple times a day. What are my options?
You said it beautifully. 🙂
my TWO pillows are always on the floor! My throw blankets, not fancy but could potentially keep the sofa cleaner if they stayed put, always sneak away to a bedroom. c’est la vie 🙂
Is it me or do other people notice a common theme to the rooms? A couch with two very neutral side chairs. Either a leather solid color or wood with whiteish or other neutral material. Maybe this is why the need to over style with pillows and throws to bring interest and balance into the room, or just for pictures. I echo the sentiments of minimal number of pillows for everyday living.
Love these collections- I have been needing to refresh my living room pillows for AWHILE now! Love this advice!
So glad not to see “chopped” pillows. A whole couch of them is the most uninviting sight. Reeks of “staged”.
What’s a “chopped” pillow?
See the top photo for an example: https://www.cushionfactory.com.au/lp/why-do-people-karate-chop-pillows/
It really does seem like 5 or 6 pillows on a sofa means it’s a sofa that doesn’t get sat on too often.
Of course I’m not looking at my sofa with 4 pillows on it and thinking I maybe need to practice what I’m preaching. 😉
Thinking of the “too many pillows for actual family living” comments – do you think it has to do with the fact that all of the designers whose living rooms are styled here either live alone or with one other grownup, and that the only one with kids has a family room where they really hang out and when they are in the living room, complains that not even the sofa cushion backs stay attached to the couch? Seeing it laid out this way makes me feel better that the throw pillows and throw blankets on our sofa get thrown to the floor. Even when I bought a basket to put them in it ended up filled with Legos instead. I think in my head I’ll retitle this post “Design 101: How to Style Pillows on a Sofa if I Need to Take Pictures to Sell My House.” Which is helpful! And makes me feel better about all the pillows currently on the floor.
My couch’s back cushions are almost like throw pillows because they don’t quite fill the entire back of the couch. I’ve never purchased throw pillows for it because I don’t want it to seem too cluttered. I just use a textured throw. Any ideas?
I really love this how-to and how it’s intended to be replicatable. One suggestion might be to make it more inclusive of different budget points. For example, I’m sure that there are many readers that enjoy seeing how you’ve laid out different combinations but many of us do not have a $400 plus budget to allocate to just the pillows on our sofa.
So, what about when you have TWO twin sofas facing each other?? I have the pillow sets mirror, but flipped…but is that too boring? HELP!!
Geez, I found ALL of these examples so overdone & overly styled…except the mountain house sofa, pillow combo.
Great tips and resources! I recently inherited a vintage velvet moss green sofa and currently have white & blue pillows on it with a black & white buffalo plaid throw. Need a pop of color with it but don’t know which would be best. Anyone have suggestions? Thanks!
I have revisited the previous post like this SO MANY TIMES. Thank you! Also a note, I was excited to see the round natural throw pillow in option 5 only to have my hopes dashed as it is the same one I have already purchased and returned to Target – that puppy is a 24″ round! Just a note to anyone purchasing through the links that this cute little round up isn’t necessarily to scale.
I was so hoping this post would finally address how to keep pillows from sliding off a leather couch. Are they taped on for the photo shoot? As soon as I sit anywhere on my couch, the pillows slide down to sit with me. Give me the secrets!
Thanks! I really appreciated this & and have put it in my bookmarks for future reference. Your info about colors and textures especially is helping me understand why something works or doesn’t. Or why something looks calm, vs. energizing.
Oh wow!! Really great ideas..
Wow.. ! Such a wonderful blog.
You have shared a wonderful blog..
I love all your ideas..
Oh wow!! Really great ideas..
I am so glad someone addressed the issue of “HOW DO I SIT WITH ALL THOSE PILLOWS”. We have a great room with 2 white leather sofas (Bernhardt) and 2 large swivel chairs (Lee Industries). I love to style the sofas and chairs with the pillows, but sitting with them (which we do daily) is a pain. So, do I just throw the 5-8 pillows on the floor when we are using the sofas? I have always followed the theory that beauty follows form and function. But I might just be wrong about this one.