Want an easy, no-reno way to bring designer style and extra comfort to your home? It’s all about tapping into the art of pillow placement – and it’s easier (and more fun) than you may think. To break down the stylish science of these soft supports, we turned to the expert: Toronto-based interior designer and founder of The Property Stylist Inc., Becky Freeman. From curating the right pillow combinations to understanding the basics of different categories of pillows (hint: there’s totally a simple formula for king bed pillow arrangement!), read on for Becky’s insider tips for arranging pillows on your bed and sofa.
Originally published on November 2, 2021. Updated February 15, 2023.
Begin With the Basics
When it comes to arranging pillows, it’s smart to start by learning a few design fundamentals – and then play with them to create the right mix for your space. As Becky explains, “Good design is like good makeup: it’s meant to look natural and effortless.”
Use the Rule of Thirds
Want an easy way to ensure a grouping of pillows (aka, a “pillow story”) will be balanced on a sofa? Think in thirds. “I like to use what is called the rule of thirds in design,” Becky says. “It explains that our eye is naturally drawn to a composition where two-thirds of a kind are similar, and the last third is unique yet complementary. The sweet spot is where the two-thirds intersect.” We like how the pillow story on this Save My Reno couch showcases this principle with two beige pillows anchoring a fun patterned design.
Balance Texture and Pattern With Solids
Contrasting solid elements with texture or prints (as this Family Home Overhaul sofa does) is a next-level way to apply the rule of thirds. “I find this balance by incorporating two textured pillow fabrics and a patterned fabric,” Becky explains. “For instance, I’ll opt for a solid in something like a fun boucle or fur, then add a more subtle flat woven material, perhaps something with a multi-tonal fibre that blends well with the first texture. To bring the trio together, I’ll add a fabric with a graphic pattern – kind of like the graphic on a book cover and the others are the cover’s background texture and pages.”
Turn Up the Tempo
Choosing pillows in a variety of shapes can also be impactful. “For some rhythm on the sofa, I like to use a variety of shapes together in a composition,” Becky says. “Perhaps two square pillows and a rectangular, or lumbar, pillow.”
“This strategy can be repeated like a pattern on fabric if your sofa is large like a sectional, adding the groupings of three with distance between each,” Becky adds. We like how this Family Home Overhaul family room uses this idea of using groupings of three pillows to style a large sectional.
Bedtime (Pillow) Stories
When it comes to dressing a bed with pillows, Becky teaches us a key concept: there are three key categories of pillows you can use on any bed. “Sleeping pillows are the ones where we rest our head at night and shams are the decorative pillows that define the head of the bed and sit up against the sleeping pillow,” she says. “Lastly, decorative toss pillows sit front and centre – anchoring the trio of layers.”
Once you have your pillow story figured out, you can use the design ideas you’ve already learned to style the rest of the bed. “Again, the rule of thirds is at play here,” Becky says. “The top third of the bed is all shape, defined with pillows, while the other two thirds are flat – perhaps defined with a throw for texture at the bottom.”
When it comes to a king-size bed pillow arrangement, the same principles apply – you just have to adjust for size. “I use this layering technique for all my beds – the only strategy that I adjust per size of bed is if I am using Euro (square) shams versus regular rectangular shams,” Becky says. “For a king-size bed, three Euro shams are preferred, versus two on a queen or double bed.” We love the use of a trio of square pillows to ground the layered effect on this Rock Solid Builds bed, too.
All Together Now
Of course, before you can play with arranging pillows, you need to have options to work with. For this, Becky suggests finding ways to bring your choices with you when shopping. “When you are deciding on purchasing a pillow story for a sofa, bed or bench, it will help to see all of the options together at once – rather than deciding each one by memory of the others,” Becky explains. “Take the pillow cover off of the insert and carry it with you in a Ziplock bag when you go hunting for its mates.” Alternatively, you can try a digital solution. “If you are shopping online, you can use a free digital mood board platform like Canva to save images from retailer’s websites, and upload them on a screen all together to gauge the composition.”
In the end, part of the beauty of adding decorative-meets-functional elements to your decor is that they can be so versatile – pillows can make any space more attractive and appealing in unexpected ways. “There’s no hard-and-fast rule when selecting pillows,” Becky explains. “However, the best strategy is to experiment and have fun with trying out different collections together, and have a solo pillow here and there to break up the pattern to avoid it being too regimented.”