Guide to Choosing Throw Pillows

Guide to choosing throw pillows

We’re always touting how easy it is to breathe new life in your room simply by switching out throw pillows. It’s true, a group of new fabrics and colors can give your space a totally different feel, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to cull through all of the thousands of great throw pillows in every shade imaginable to find 4 or 5 that will work well for your space. There’s an overwhelming selection out there, which makes the process confusing! Well, we want to make things easier for you. Consider this our guide to choosing the right throw pillows for your room.

Living room with blue and white color scheme

First, there are a few principals you should always keep in mind:

  1. Choose one cohesive color palette and do not veer from it. You’re going to get the most impact if all of your pillows are either in the same shade or in a pair of complimentary shades.
  2. Shoot for a symmetrical arrangement, whether it’s on your couch, bed, or a window seat. When you’re layering several different fabrics on top of each other, things can get really busy, really fast. We like a symmetrical arrangement because it keeps things feeling orderly and polished.
  3. One simple print, one busy print, and one solid. This is a basic formula that’ll help you narrow down your options. Another way to think about it is — one small print, one big print, one solid. Your busy/large print should be on your largest pillows or the pillow that is front and center, as this print will usually set the tone for not just your pillow arrangement but the rest of your room. Plaids and stripes work well as small/simple prints.
  4. As your move towards the inside of the sofa, the pillows should get smaller. Visually, your largest pillows should be in the far corners, and your smaller pillow should be on the inside. But also for comfort, it makes the most sense to add the large 22 or 24″ pillows on the sides, where you won’t need to move them out of the way. A small 12×20″ pillow right in the center won’t make you feel like you’re perched on the edge of the couch because the pillows are taking up all of the room!
  5. Although decorative, pillows are really meant to add comfort to your upholstered furniture pieces, so don’t go overboard! We’ve all sat down on that couch that is so packed to the gills with throw pillows that you feel like you’re being shoved into a bag of marshmallows. This is not the situation you want to create, so if you have to ask if you have too many, take on or two away!

Once you have these basic principles down, you’re ready to pick out fabrics! This is the fun part, but also the time when we become the most confused. There are just so many options! To narrow it down, consider the style you’d like to create in your home.

Orange and blue color palette in living room

Bold Solids

If your room already has a lot of patterns, like a patterned sofa, dramatic curtains, or a vibrant rug, take your pillow fabrics down a notch. Or if you really like color but don’t want to use a vibrant hue on large pieces (like your sofa or club chairs) just use solid pillows in very vibrant hues.

Here, we chose two colors that are on the opposite ends of the color wheel (called complimentary colors), a spicy orange and a cool blue. Colors look extra rich and vibrant when placed next to to complimentary colors, making the overall look much more dramatic. Individually, they look nice, but together they really sing!

If you’re starting from scratch, find a fabric, an art print, or an accessory as a jumping off point. For example, we picked the gorgeous plaid throw on the back of the sofa and let it inspire the rest of the space. The spicy orange and navy are both found in the blanket, so we picked pillows in solid shades for maximum color impact!

Pillows above: 26″ Basic Pillow Cover in Garrison Linen Spice Basic and 22″ Basic Pillow Cover in Garrison Teal.

Spicy orange throw pillows on a sofa

One Color, Three Patterns

If you want a group of pillows in just one color, choose three different fabrics that work together. We used a very organic, bold print as our jumping off point (the floral pattern in the center), and we balanced the color on the sofa with bold velvet pillows in the corner and plaid pillows in the middle.

The basic key here is balance. The bold pillows in the middle and in the corners help to balance the off-white sofa and lighter plaid pillows. The feminine floral print (our Rayna fabric) in the center is balanced by a more masculine plaid print on either side. And the patterned pieces are a balance to the solid pieces.

So when you’re putting together different fabrics in the same color, just ask yourself, “does this pattern balance this pattern?”

Pillows above: 22″ Basic Pillow Cover in Queens Velvet Persimmon, 22″ Basic Pillow Cover in Brooks Gray, and 12×20″ Basic Pillow Cover in Rayna Coral.

Neutral color palette in living room on pillows

Warm, Neutral Colors

Even if you want to keep your color palette neutral, you’ll still need a few throw pillows to bring texture and pattern to your space. For this combination, we chose a color palette of off-white, taupe, and chocolate.

We started with our busiest print, our Leo Brown fabric, then we brought in a much larger print in a complimentary color, our Buffalo Check in Taupe. Finally to tie these two prints together and act as a backdrop, we chose a solid chocolate brown linen pillow with a contrasting flange.

Pillows above:26″ Basic Pillow Cover in Garrison Linen Cappucino, Buffalo Check Pillow in Natural, and 12×20″ Basic Pillow Cover in Leo Brown

Pink and Orange pillow color palette

Simple but Fresh with Analogous Colors

If you like color but want a group of pillows that aren’t too loud, choose colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, or analogous colors. These are colors that have a lot in common but are different, which makes for a color palette that is quieter and more polished.

For the sofa above, we chose pink and orange. These two colors are neighbors on the color wheel, but they’re still a great pairing. We also picked two art pieces to hang over the couch that reinforce the pink-and-orange combination.

For a quieter combination of patterns, we chose a very small stripe in orange (in the center), two larger off-white pillows with an orange medallion, and two solid pillows in Suzanne Kasler’s Peony fabric.

Pillows above: 22″ Basic Pillow Covers in Suzanne Kasler’s Peony Linen and 12×20″ Basic Pillow Cover in Small Stripe Mandarin Linen.

Blue throw pillows on an off-white couch

Use Solids as an Exclamation Point

We love the way a well placed solid pillow in a vibrant color can act like an exclamation point on your couch. A rich, sapphire blue stands out the most, even though there are patterns and other colors here too. A solid pillow may seem like a boring choice when there are so many lovely patterns out there, but in the right space, one solid pillow in a bold color can really establish a color palette that may have been hiding.

If you want to breathe new life into your space with very little effort, use a couple of solid pillows in a bold color in your space. Pull this color from other patterns on your upholstered pieces or in your accessories, then use that color in punches throughout your space. This is a strategy Suzanne Kasler talks about using in the spaces she designs.

Pillows above: 22″ Basic Pillow Cover in Ellie Indigo, 20″ Basic Pillow Cover in Courtney Peacock, and 12×20″ Basic Pillow Cover in Garrison Linen Teal.

Throw pillows in Emerald green and stripe

Streamlined Stripes

If you’re looking for an approach that isn’t fussy, we love to simply pair one bold color in a lush fabric (here we used velvet) with a classic stripe. Stripes are a great pattern to use for pillows because they’re the perfect balance of bold and simple. Our strategy here was easy enough, choose one bold color used elsewhere in your space for three pillows, then bring in two striped pillows for a little pattern.

Pillows above: 22″ Basic Pillow Cover in Queens Velvet Emerald, 20″ Basic Pillow Covers in Keaton Flax, and 12×20″ Basic Pillow Cover in Queens Velvet Emerald.


Living room with leopard print pillows

Let’s Talk Inserts

Ok, after all of this talk of colors and patterns, it’s time to get down to the less exciting details … like inserts. Just like the filling inside your sofa, what’s on the inside is just as important as the outside, even with throw pillows. Pillows are meant to bring extra comfort and cushion to your couch, so it’s important to use good quality throw pillows. All foam throw pillows aren’t going to be your first choice for support when you’re trying to curl up for a nap on your couch.

You don’t necessarily need the most expensive inserts, but do choose inserts that include both feather and down. We’re obviously partial to our own down blended inserts which are 95% feathers and 5% down.

Here’s another little secret when you’re choosing inserts for your pillows. If you want a fuller pillow, size up your insert. For example, if you have a 20″ cover, and you want a really full pillow, use a 22″ insert.

Now, are you ready to choose pillows for your space? Do you feel empowered to mix patterns and colors like a pro? You should!

And remember that in addition to our readymade pillows, you can order a pillow cover in any of our 200+ fabrics with our Ballard Basic Pillow Covers!

Find some of our favorite fabric pairings here, or browse all of the living rooms from our catalog here for inspiration.


About the Author:

How to Decorate Team
We enjoy spending days interacting with How to Decorate readers. From answering Design Dilemmas to writing How To articles and working with guest designers, our passion is to provide informative and accurate resources to help people solve their design problems.


  1. Janice January 31, 2017 at 11:27 am - Reply

    HELP I would like to order a few pillows but my trouble is I do not know what color pillows to use. My sofa is light-medium silk blue with a small about of medium brown and gold color. HELP PLEASE…if I am able to send a photo I would be thrilled to because I want a lot of pillows the sofa is 36″ deep and is about 10 feet long. Thanks and Many blessings, Janice

  2. Deedee Lewis December 21, 2016 at 7:33 pm - Reply

    I love the idea of using solid pillows with vibrant hues. For weeks now I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to decorate the patterned sofas in our living room because I want throw pillows but I don’t want our family area to be too loud either. What’s been helping is stopping by furniture stores to see what the pillows would look like all together.

    • Caroline McDonald
      Caroline McDonald December 22, 2016 at 8:50 am - Reply

      So glad you found this post helpful! Solid pillows can be so pretty, especially on a patterned sofa. I’d recommend getting a mix of textures — like maybe a pair of velvet pillows in a vibrant hue, and a pair of linen. The contrast in the textures will give them a little more interest.
      Best of luck!

  3. Carolyn Daley September 11, 2016 at 10:15 am - Reply

    I too love the decorating advice and have used Ballard for my go to for decorating the last couple of years, love their staff. However this blog on the throw pillows and photos, I feel they are all too ‘matchey matchey’ I like to be a little more casual with my throw pillows on my Sunfest, chairs, and beds. Not necessarily matching on both sides in fabric design or number of pillows. I always find a common color bond however.

    • How to Decorate
      How to Decorate September 12, 2016 at 10:55 am - Reply


      We are so thrilled to hear you love Ballard and our decorating suggestions. We totally agree that there are more ways to skin the cat! This is meant to be a guide for someone who doesn’t feel comfortable about mixing and matching and wants a foolproof method for making choices. That’s why it’s a little on the formulaic side.

      It sounds like you’ve got a great strategy for picking out coordinating pillows — a common color bond is a great suggestion.

      As with nearly any decorating project, it all comes down to what your own preferences are. We always want for you to choose what makes YOU happy.

      Thank you so much for reading How to Decorate, and THANK YOU THANK YOU for your comment and feedback.


  4. Jennifer M.Main July 17, 2016 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    I am impressed. I want a 20″ pillow cove in peony. Linen. I love this pink. I have the insert. My original pillow cover shredded on the 4 corners. I will cal to order.. I had no Idea you had a service team to help. Thank u Ballard Design.

  5. Brooke McAvoy July 8, 2016 at 11:24 am - Reply

    I like your tips on a symmetrical arrangement, this type of thing does tend to make it look so put together. Personally, I kind of like it when there are cool patterns in pillows, but I think there should be a theme like these. I think I will take your tip about getting smaller as it goes in towards the couch, but I was thinking of using some custom pillows to make it more fun. What do you think about this?

  6. AK April 26, 2016 at 10:59 am - Reply

    THANK YOU for listing the pillow sizes and fabrics. Only two things would have made this better for me.
    1. What was the length of the couch?
    2. Showing something besides a solid, neutral couch. Unfortunately not everyone owns a solid couch.

    • Caroline @ How to Decorate April 26, 2016 at 12:37 pm - Reply


      Thanks for your comment. So glad you found this helpful! The sofa used was our Candace Sofa which is 89 inches long.

      We totally understand that not everyone has a solid, neutral couch! Great idea. We’ll try to discuss this soon. One suggestions would be to check out our How to Mix Patterns where we talk about pairing different patterns together. If you do have a patterned couch, this would be a great way to choose pillows.

      Thanks again for your comment.
      The How to Decorate Team

  7. Pam Burgess April 6, 2016 at 11:10 am - Reply

    This was really, really helpful. I see now why I have never been satisfied with the throw pillows I chose. I am motivated to try this technique.

  8. Dessie Woods July 30, 2015 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    I love your design talent I am moving into a new complex. Please help me stage with my existing furniture pieces: I zebra print chair(black & white) I chair ( wedgewood blue 1 sectional sofa White and other wedgewood décor china inflance glass and black sofa table. Please help stage this living room using blue and white some red/burgduny vases

    • Caroline @ How to Decorate July 31, 2015 at 11:08 am - Reply

      Hi Dessie,
      We would love to help you come up with a game plan for your living room. Simply complete this form (don’t forget to include photos and measurements!), and our design team will contact you with a plan and next steps!
      The How to Decorate Team

  9. Barbara Allen- July 30, 2015 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Thank your for the helpful decorating hints. I am enjoying your website. It is very helpful. I am looking for a few pieces and I think I have found what I am looking for with your funiture Thanks again

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