Any designer will tell you that finding the right mix of decorative throw pillows for sofas, chairs and beds is a pain in the neck but well worth achieving. Decorative pillows make a room more cohesive, interesting and comfortable. The challenge is that there are a lot of details to consider — color, pattern, texture, trim — so many designers end up custom-making every bolster, lumbar and square pillow, which is not only time-consuming but also too expensive for most of us.
Melanie Mount and Kelly Bedford Willrich, veteran design executives (each has over 20 years of experience working for brands such as Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Ralph Lauren Home), have set out to streamline pillow shopping for designers and homeowners alike. Their new sliver of a store, the Cushion Shop by Well Made Home, in Larkspur, Calif., sells only cushions (they prefer to use the British term for throw pillows). The floor-to-ceiling, library-like shelves of the 150-square-foot store are stocked with cushions in various patterns and sizes, all arranged by color.
A visit to the Cushion Shop means you get Mount and Bedford Willrich’s expert advice; they will help you mix and match cushions on the store’s window banquette, which doubles as a sofa stand-in. For those who can’t visit the store in person, Mount and Bedford Willrich shared some of their top shopping and styling tips.
Remember to keep a mix of cushion sizes on your sofa. Mount and Bedford Willrich’s preferred arrangement is a long lumbar cushion, typically 16 by 28 inches, placed in the middle of the sofa and one or two 18-to-22-inch squares on either side. If you need to remove a pillow to get comfortable, then chances are you have too many pillows on your sofa.
For mid-century-style, low-profile sofas, they like to keep the cushions simple, often using just two lumbar pillows at the back. Depending on the height of the sofa back, they suggest either 16-inch or 28-inch lumbars, or if the sofa is really low, two 14-by-26-inch lumbars.
For Mount and Bedford Willrich, it’s all about the mix of patterns, prints and textures. They say to stick to patterns and prints that you love and to not worry about what you “should” have.
Most sofas they style have solid-colored upholstery; however, they do like to layer patterned pillows on a patterned sofa — but this takes confidence. For both solid and patterned sofas, the duo says to use stripes as an anchor — stripes work especially well on lumbar pillows — then add square pillows in patterns of different scales on either side.
Mount and Bedford Willrich suggest using a lumbar pillow on club chairs. The size of the lumbar depends on the size of your chair, but as a rule, you want the cushion to horizontally fill the space from arm to arm and to be no higher than half the chair back.
They suggest using a fabric that contrasts the chair color but that also complements the sofa and its cushions.
If a client doesn’t like color, print or pattern, Mount and Bedford Willrich use texture and trim. They suggest using a subtle contrasting welt to turn an ordinary pillow into a more refined finishing touch.
Too many pillows on a bed can look messy, Mount and Bedford Willrich warned. Their favorite layout is:
●Back row, against the headboard or wall: sleeping pillows (king or standard).
●Second row: another set of sleeping pillows or pillows with sham covers (king or
●Third row: two to three (depending on the size of the bed) Euro square pillows with sham covers.
●Fourth row: a lumbar pillow 18 by 44 inches for a king bed or 18 by 34 inches for a queen.
For clients who like to read in bed, Mount and Bedford Willrich often make soft Euro shams out of velvet or cashmere for them to lean against.
Mount and Bedford Willrich use only feather and down inserts for their cushions. Bouncy foam inserts are a no-no. If allergies are an issue, they use synthetic down alternative inserts; they promise that you can hardly tell the difference.
In formal spaces, Mount and Bedford Willrich say, it’s fair to choose form over function; pretty rules the day. They encourage clients to splurge on cushions made from luxe fabrics. It’s much more palatable to update and splurge on throw pillows than it is to entirely re-cover a sofa.
In family and casual spaces, the priority for cushions should be function over form. Soft, plush, family-friendly indoor/outdoor fabrics should be used liberally so there are no worries about the occasional pillow fight.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”