A frequent question we get asked is, “Do pillows have to match?” The answer is no! A mixed and matched look brings energy and personality into a room. But we also know that choosing the right colors, patterns, and textures is sometimes easier said than done. We're excited share our secret sauce about how to mix and match pillows on a sofa.
These four easy steps are sure to give you the inspiration and knowledge you need to mix and match pillows like a design pro!
If you haven’t noticed, we are just a little obsessed with throw pillows around here. So much so that we have curated our favorite handmade pieces from around the globe! A room comes together with the right throw pillows, and it tends to fall flat with the wrong ones.
We have the experience to show you what works and what doesn’t. But more importantly we have broken this down into easy to follow steps that will take the guess work out of choosing the right pillows for your space. So if you are looking for some pillow inspiration, you have come to the right place!
How many pillows should be on a couch?
Too few pillows looks sparse, and too many pillows makes you feel like you are sinking into a bag of marshmallows. The perfect number of pillows depends on the size of your sofa and the look you are going for.
Odd numbers look more relaxed and natural. This is a more modern look and is more popular in general right now. Five pillows is about right for an average sofa, while three is better for smaller sofas or love seats.
Even numbers generally give a more traditional vibe. It looks clean and orderly, but still welcoming. Four pillows on an average sized sofa leads to a balanced and welcoming look.
Now it’s time to mix and match throw pillows!
1. Identify a color scheme
We talk a lot about how decor should tell a story, and this is why you will often hear people refer to this part of the process as choosing a color story. Look at the color palette you already have going in the room. Take into consideration rugs, wall hangings, curtains and other items of decor you have going.
Choose three main colors to pull out with your throw pillows and do your best to distribute it evenly through the room. Staying true to your color scheme will allow you to mix and match pillows while maintaining a cohesive feeling in the room.
If you like a monochromatic look, choose a palette tight to this. For example, choose monochromatic hues that coordinate. This is a popular color scheme, because it is easy to change out a couple of throw pillows and decor items to match the current season.
For a more traditional feel, choose colors that complement and contrast. This type of color scheme can be used to draw out complementing pieces in the room, like rugs or artwork.
Pro tip: Try to use a contrasting pillow for your first layer. For example, if you have a grey sofa, your first pillow should be a lighter color. If you have a beige sofa, your first pillow layer should have darker hues. You don’t want your pillows to blend right into the sofa. The stark contrast of light on dark or dark on light will leave you with depth and interest!
2. Choose contrasting patterns
When you mix and match pillows, the goal is to allow each pillow to stand out while still forming a visually appealing and cohesive whole. You achieve this by mixing and matching patterns and scale.
Patterns can generally be divided into three categories:
Like the name suggests, organic prints usually derive their patterns from nature. These are patterns that incorporate things like florals and other botanical motifs. However, organic prints don’t have to include nature. Anything that defies geometry with its straight lines and sharp angles would be considered an organic print. So all those pillows with curved lines, movement, or abstract designs would be considered organic, as well.
Organic patterns can be the most challenging to match, especially because they are often multicolored compared to other types of patterns, so we recommend you start with these.
Organic Throw Pillows
Time to throw it back to your junior high math days. Don’t worry, you don’t need to remember anything nitty gritty! Just think back to all of those linear shapes. Geometric pillow designs include those with straight lines, grids, and repeating patterns. Think of stripes, plaids, checked buffalo prints, and really anything else that repeats in a regular pattern.
Geometric pillow prints help to balance organic patterns. They also create dimension and interest. You will notice that the line is sometimes blurred between organic and geometric patterns, and that’s okay! This is where scale comes in. But first let’s finish the three patterns and talk about solids.
Geometric Throw Pillows
Solid pillows really are not a pattern per se, but they are a vital part of any combination of throw pillows. Too many patterns can end up feeling busy and chaotic. Solid pillows tie the look together and make the room feel balanced and cohesive. They are also your opportunity to introduce texture! Textured solids elevate your look while creating balance.
Solid Throw Pillows
Choose contrasting pattern scales (psst this is important!)
This is the last, and arguably the most important, part of choosing pillow patterns for your sofa. Make sure that you are using varying scales in your patterns. Look at your first pillow. If it has a small scale, you will want the next pillow to have a significantly larger scale or vice versa.
If two pillows have similar scale, they will end up competing instead of complementing. The goal is a curated look that allows each pillow to stand out while still coordinating with the overall theme.
Many people get overwhelmed by mixing patterns, and it is true that there is some trial and error here. But understanding how scale affects the look of your pillow combination is a game changer for creating a truly beautiful mixed and matched sofa.
Now if you are anything like us, you will appreciate visual examples!
3. Vary the pillow sizes
We have talked color, pattern and scale. Now it is time to talk about pillow size! Using varying sizes of pillows adds depth and interest to a sofa.
Start with bigger pillows in the back and use smaller pillows as you work forward. If you have a large sofa, start with 24” x 24” or 22” x 22” pillows as the first layer.
Then vary the size by using smaller pillows as you work forward. 20” x 20” pillows are a great option for the second and third layers, but remember you don’t have to stick to squares!
We often love to finish off our mix and match pillow look with a lumbar or circular pillow as the third layer. There are so many interesting shapes. Just as you varied the patterns and scales, varying the size and shape can have a great effect on the overall grouping. Imagine how a circular pillow, especially one with texture, can add an organic feel to the overall boxy look of a sofa. No matter how you choose to arrange your sofa, varying pillow dimensions will result in a beautiful, curated look.
Lumbar & Circular Pillows
4. Texture is the secret sauce
Texture is the final ingredient for a beautiful mixed and matched pillow combination. And we really think it is the secret sauce! Even if you stick to your color story and vary patterns, if all of your fabrics have the same texture, you may end up with a flat look.
There are sooooo many different amazing textures to choose from, too! There are the obvious textures like velvet, knit wools, macrame, and faux fur. But texture can also be more subtle. Think about heavy versus light weaves, linens, and fringe or tassel accents!
We love a good textured solid pillow, but textures look great with the right pattern, too. Texture adds dimension, energy, and personality to any combination pillow look. Would you eat tacos without the hot sauce? No way. Should you consider a pillow combination without texture? Absolutely not!
Finally… Sometimes you should break the rules
We know it is counter intuitive to tell you to break the rules after everything we have just explained about mixing and matching pillows. But the truth of the matter is that sometimes rules need to be broken! Think of these pillow arranging tips as guidelines, but when your instinct tells you something looks good, go for it!
For example, you may find that you want to add a matching pillow to your look. This works especially well on sectionals where you have a lot of space (and pillows) and want to create some cohesiveness with the group.
Or maybe you keep coming back to two large scale patterns that just seem to work. Then again, maybe you find four colors work better in your color story. The bottom line is that if you follow the general rules most of the time, an occasional deviation can actually add to the beauty and interest in a room!
Be creative and experiment! Throw pillows are a relatively inexpensive way to change the look of any room, and no decision has to be forever. In fact, over time your room will evolve, and a mix and matched sofa style will allow your pillows to evolve, too!
If you thought this was helpful check out our other post on How to Arrange Throw Pillows on a King Bed.