Sofa Pillow Styling: Basic Tips

By Kate Riley February 19, 2013

In my mind, the best party would be one where I was invited to a city loft filled with a dozen sofas and hundreds of pillows stacked up on shelves and someone hands you a glass of champagne and says “go style some sofas with some of these killer pillows”.  Add of course there would be some design loving friends and bloggers present – call me crazy but that’s my idea of a really good time. 

Nancy from Minnesota wrote to me the other day asking about pillow styling on her neutral sofa and how to go about picking accent pillows that look modern and fresh. Every sofa needs a few toss pillows for comfort but also to give it a finishing touch. I believe in mixing them up so they’re coordinated but not too matchy matchy. 

For any sofas anchored on a rug, that rug should be the first thing you pay attention to – the pillows should complement and not compete. The simplest way to do it is to use a color that’s already present in the rug. Below is a neutral ‘goes with everything’ gray striped rug and a basic white sofa.

Mixed Neutral Palette.  There are four patterns on this sofa and they all work together because they all carry a varying shade of the color in the rug from light gray to charcoal. Include a classic stripe, a geometric or two (notice one is large and one is smaller in scale) and then add a contemporary floral or paisley or block print motif with a pop of color. gray and white rug and pillows on sofa

hampton sofa + striped rug + pillows: graphic gray / mod floral / small chevron / stripe


Monochromatic Palette.  Use a similar formula to combine any number of toss pillows in a single color. Below a large scale geometric is paired with a smaller scale floral and combined with a navy border pillow and an embroidered medallion pillow in indigo. Use one or two more of the same patterns on chairs that sit adjacent.

monochromatic pillow styling

manchester sofa + seagrass rug + pillows: trellis + floral + medallion + border


Complementary Color Palette. Complementary colors are ones that are opposite each other on the color wheel, the blue and orange, purple and yellow, red and green and their varying shades. Coral and teal are also complements since coral is a version of orange and teal is a blue hue – below you see a combination of the two using a larger scale and medium scale botanical, two solids, and a small scale geometric.

blue and coral pillows

chaise sectional + trellis rug + pillows: coral needlepoint / teal lumbar / coral geometric / spruce solid / russet botanical


Cool Analogous Palette.  Analogous colors are ones that are neighbors on the color wheel. If you want to be a little bolder, try playing with analogous colors in larger scale prints and taking color cues from your rug. On one side, pair a suzani with a modern giraffe print and on the opposite side use a solid with another large scale motif that carries the same cool greens and blues.

blue and green pattern mix

club sofa + trellis rug + pillows: green giraffe / suzani / painterly linen / green velvet 


Warm Analogous Palette.  Here’s an example of an earthy and warm analogous palette combining rust and butterscotch tones in stripe and geometrics plus a bonus additional layer of touchable texture in the form of a mongolian lamb’s wool accent pillow. Cozy!

warm tones pattern mix

apartment sofa + rug + pillows: woven stripe / cinnamon trellis / mongolian lamb / velvet chocolate


Personality.  I think more than anything your decorative choices should be fun and showcase your style and personality, so never be afraid to throw in something quirky or unpredictable because it’s great for conversation but also is a reflection of you, whatever that is.

black and white pillows and rug

isla sofa + rug + pillows: doodle / ampersand / deer head / modern dot


Great question Nancy, I had fun “styling” all of these neutral sofas in different patterns and palettes! Want to make your own layered sofa + rug + pillow combo like the ones seen above? I use Photoshop Elements but if you follow this tutorial you can do the same thing with the free online Pixlr program to see how combinations might look in your home with your preferred patterns and colors of choice.

Happy pillow styling!


kate signature image




  1. What a fun post! I also share in your love of pillows and sofa styling fantasy. I like how you put together all of the combinations, my favorite is the example of “personality”. Such a cool rug!

  2. What about sizing? I ordered a pair of gorgeous 24″ pillowcases on Etsy and am worried that may be too big. I have a typical 84″ couch. The cases are so pretty though that I’m dying to make them work!

    • Great question Ellen! I do like those larger sized pillows in the back, 24″ is a great size even on your 84″ sofa and I’d place a smaller square 20″ in front or even a larger lumbar (16″ x 20″) in front.

  3. If you have amatching loveseat by your sofa, should the pillows be the same as the ones on the couch? I usually put pillows on one side because it makes it too crowded if you have two sets. Ideas?

    • Hi Carol, on loveseats, I’ll use maybe one or two because they are a smaller sized piece and one in the same print as a pillow on the sofa to connect them.

  4. Some of those pillows are yummy! We have a massive, leather sectional, and we only have solid colors for pillows. I need to fill it with some printed ones now!

  5. Thanks so much for publishing! I just bought some new pillows over the weekend and wondered how I should style them!

  6. I love all the sofas! I wish I had a neutral sofa. However, my sofa is striped (red, light yellow, and a little green). I also have a colorful rug of red, blues, greens, and yellows. What is your advice for pillows? Should I do all solids? All one color? or mix it up?

    • Hi Lucy, a stripe is a classic and goes with everything, what patterns appeal to you? I think geometrics would look lovely in those colors you mentioned with a few solids. Try one pattern first and then maybe one more, play with it!

  7. I love how you delineated the sofa display! How clever…my face is second from top and them second from bottom!

  8. Hi,
    Love all the great ideas! Pillows give a room so much personality. I love that you can change the feel of a room just with the pillows. Great post.

  9. ooo I needed this! I’m struggling with what pillows to use on my couch! My husband would DIE if I made some of the “personality” choices, haha! But I love your coral and teal

  10. I’m always so envious of people who have tons of pillows. I don’t/can’t because my husband always uncerimoniously dumps them on the ground or shoves them in a closet because he can’t stand multitudes of wonderous pillows cluttering up his sitting space. It’s a good thing he’s cute!

  11. I would love to see some sofas styled with blankets. I get cold sitting for too long so we have a blanket or two on the couch for most of the year. Should I drape it casually on the arm? Fold it over the back? Maybe I should get a cute basket and leave it on the floor next to the couch?

    Any ideas would be appreciated! Thanks

    • Hi Mich all of those ideas work! I do both, I drape one over the arm of a chair, folded over the back of a sofa, and I have several in winter in a giant basket next to the sofa where we toss them when not in use. It’s hard to photoshop a blanket over a sofa but I thought about it!

  12. PJ, I hear you on the husband dumping pillows on the floor! I think it’s a universal battle between men and women. What I don’t understand is why the men won’t use the pillows behind their back or head (if lying down on the couch), instead of throwing them on the floor. Oh well, I guess it will forever remain a mystery!

    By the way, for everyone who loves pretty pillows, is a great place to buy lovely pillow covers (and the store is one of Kate’s sponsors here). Full disclosure – my sister owns the store, but I do own several pillow covers and other items from there, and I can vouch that the quality is great! Check them out!

  13. Thank you for a great post,….I’m always unsure how to mix it up. This has given me some great ideas.

  14. Great timing! I am so tired of our solid colours pillows! I was thinking of hunting for nice prints to change a bit. I’ll definitely try pixlr. I was also wondering about side tables (next to sofas). What colour could they be? take one from the rug? from the wall? from the pillows? :)

  15. Great post Kate. I think the trend right now is to see how many pillows and patterns you can get on a sofa. The way you have shown how to style them is more reasonable than what a lot of designers are doing now a days. You wouldn’t even be able sit on some of those designer sofas let alone see the actual sofa with all the pillows they are piling on. 2-4 pillows I think is plenty on a sofa or love seat.

  16. Such great advice! It’s so easy to just throw a bunch of cushions on the sofa, but really thinking about patterns and colour completes the look. At the moment I have an eclectic collection but I’m slowly changing them out to be more cohesive.

  17. I have a husband who HATES pillows. He goes out of his way to toss them aside when he sits on the sofa & NEVER puts them back on the bad when he makes it in the morning. It’s funny because I was watching a Dr. Phil show one morning & his wife, Robin, was saying the same thing about DR. Phil – to which he threw up his hands and said, “I just don’t get it?” My thought is this – you don’t have to GET it – I’m trying to make the house look nice – deal with it!!

  18. I love this! Great ideas! I have been pondering pillow replacement for over a year. Here’s my problem, my sofa is a pillow back sofa. So it came with 5 identical 26×26 pillows along the back. I would love to mix that up but it’s hard to find 26×26 in many styles. The other problem I have is my sofa is an overstuffed chocolate chenille. So, it’s kind of heavy and finding styles that don’t look cheap on it has been difficult. Would love to know if you have any thoughts. I have actually purchased fabrics and never been able to pull it all together. Now considering a new sofa which I’d rather not do for another couple or years as my little guy is 7 and the chocolate chenille has been very forgiving.

    • Hi Dana, I’ve removed the pillow back on my chairs and replaced them with 24 x 24″ accent pillows before, you don’t need to use the ones that come with the sofa. I know some places make them in those larger sizes, Z Gallerie and Restoration Hardware come to mind… you might want to consider buying inserts and having them made in your patterns of choice, maybe a chocolate and white trellis with solids along the back with some smaller scale geometrics or colorful florals in front as accents. Also check out that article I linked to above for Jenocide about decorating with a brown sofa, those pillow collections may inspire you. :)

  19. Ah thank you for this! I recently admitted to a pillow problem and my lack of ability to make mine work. I’m constantly buying/returing pillows. (my mother was very happy when I owned up to this issue) I will be using your complementary palette tips :)

  20. Hi Kate! Do you think you could do a similar post for other color sofas? I have one that is dark brown (leather sectional) and I really have no idea what colors would work with it and not just blend away into the darkness. I, too, have the problem of keeping the pillows ON the couch, though. For some reason kids think all pillows are floor pillows. Someday I will get around to making them poufs, floor pillows, or bean bags… until then I guess my couch pillows will just be on the floor!

  21. I accumulated so many throw pillows (and hiding them in closets, so my husband wouldn’t see just how many) in wanting to change out accessories seasonally, I started making pillow covers instead. Fabric is my guilty pleasure, so I made a business out of it! I actually have some of the pillow covers shown above in stock. If you see anything you like, use coupon code NJA20 for 20% off. I small perk for being a fan of Centsational Girl!

  22. I just bookmarked this post :) I have a really cute greyish blue tufted sofa (smaller sized sofa). The tufting is so cute — I don’t want to cover too much of it. But I love the look of pillows. Would you just use 2 different patterns on each side of a smaller sofa?

    • Hi Michelle, I have a smaller scale tufted sofa in my living room, I use two 24″ pillows in each corner and one smaller 20″ on one side – three is plenty!

  23. I love the idea of using rugs, but is it okay to put a rug on wall to wall carpet? I have short shag carpet in my living room. Thanks in advance!

    • Yes of course Melissa, you can always layer an area rug on top of carpet, a great solution for renters too.

  24. Oh wow, that club sofa in the “Cool Analogous Palette” picture is EXACTLY what I am looking for. Any idea who the manufacturer is?

  25. Great tips, Kate! I love pillows, but have a hard time choosing which ones to use together. T wrecked up all the nice pillows in the living room, using them as his own personal lounge, so this post gives me a good excuse to go shopping. :)

  26. Wonderful tips Kate! I was lucky enough to see the new spring Robert Allen fabric line this week and wow – such sumptous colors and patterns! Ikat, paisly, geometrics and waxed treated fabrics were presented and they are gorgeous! I love your mixed neutral vignette – thanks for sharing!

  27. Hi Kate,
    I am a new reader, love your blog. I have a question about the size of the pillows. I have a big 24×24, and many 20x20s is it ok to put the big one on the middle of the sofa and the smaller pillows at the corners? Or should I put on the corner the big one even though I only have one?

    • I think it looks more balanced to place the larger ones behind the smaller Veronica.

  28. Hi,

    Any suggestions for pillows for a patterned sofa? My sofa is burgundy/red/crimson color with a khaki color diamond pattern (it’s hard to explain, the diamond pattern reminds you of a french design). I have the hardest time figuring out what kind of pillows and wall a paint would look good. The walls are currently a shade of yellow (which I thought had more of a beige tone when I picked it out and I really don’t like the color) and a beige/neutral carpet :( Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! :) Thanks!

    • Is it a harlequin pattern Nicky? I think a mixture of solids and a few suble patterns of larger scale than the one on your sofa may look nice, I’d need a picture to be sure!

  29. No, not like the harlequin pattern. Probably more like a Damascus print (but not exactly). The main color is the red/burgundy/crimson color with the khaki design. I can email you a picture :)

  30. My question is how do you arrange the pillows on a sectional with even sides? Pillows in the arm corners only? Or do you need to show the inner corner some pillow love too?

  31. One more questions. :) You mentioned solids and subtle patterns of larger scale for my redish/khaki pattern couch. What colors would you suggest? Thanks!

  32. Thanks for your answer about balancing the size of the pillows, Kate. I am not a designer nor a decorator but I love everything about it. I am helping my sister in law decorate her apartment with some ideas and I am going to show her this post that you have with good information. Thank you again and Happy Easter!

  33. Hi! I’m looking for some advice on pairing pillow sizes. I have an 84″ sofa and a 64″ loveseat in my living room. What different sizes would you recommend for pillows, and how many?

    Thanks so much!!!

    • Hi Marisa, for the larger sofa, look for a 24″ + 20″ combo (one on each side) and you can just do two 2o” pillows on the smaller loveseat, perhaps add an oblong 12 x 16″ for interest.

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