Pillow Talk | The Art of the Throw Pillow


All hail the versatile throw pillow! These small decorative items that adorn the corners of couches, the top of bedspreads, and the Adirondacks down on the dock are the workhorses of the decorating world. Most often found as 16- or 18-inch squares, throw pillows are found in a variety of shapes from plush rectangles, to round “pillbox” styles, to cylindrical neck rolls. Thanks to their relatively diminutive size, comfort, and yes, versatility (most can be inexpensively changed out or recovered with the ease of a zipper or a button or two), they are widely used in all styles of decor today.

Throw pillows can be the element that pulls your whole design together, tying in colors from area rugs or window coverings with upholstery, art or other decorative features of a home. According to Moyanne Harding, designer and owner of Interiors by Moyanne in Lynchburg, “Throw pillows are a quick and inexpensive way to pull in colors from your space or experiment with new colors or textures, and they help to soften a design.” They are a useful tool when all that is needed is a pop of color or “lift” to a room or space. “They are wonderful to use seasonally as well,” explains Harding. “Because you can replace the covers, your design choices are endless. If you feel like switching out your summer chintz or breezy cottage stripes for a cozy velvet or fur in the colder months, it’s as easy as unzipping the cover and zipping on a new one.”

DESIGN_Pillow2If you plan to go the route of replaceable zippered covers, it is a good idea to invest in quality pillow forms. Harding recommends down pillows (or a good quality down alternative if someone in your family has allergies). “I think down pillows are superior,” she says. “They hold their shape better, and they conform more comfortably to your body.” Polyester fill pillow forms are definitely less expensive, but can get uncomfortably lumpy over time and will need to be replaced more often, making them a more expensive alternative over the long haul. “Plus, down is squishier,” says Harding with a laugh. “I like my pillows squishy.”

Keep in mind the scale of where you will be putting the pillows. “Buy pillows that are the appropriate size for your furniture,” Harding cautions. “For example, if you have a couch that is the average 36 inches deep or thereabouts, don’t go bigger than 16 to 18 inches, unless it is an unusually long couch. It’s better to have a couple small pillows rather than one big one that overwhelms the furniture.”

DESIGN_Pillow3The inexpensive versatility of throw pillows means that they are great for trying out new design trends in fabric and trims. This year has been big for globally inspired fabrics such as mudcloth, ikat, and colorful designs from India. “Velvet is enjoying a big moment right now,” Harding says, “and so are all the soft feelgood fabrics such as chenille and furs.” The winter months bring a resurgence of plaids, and this year large checkered “buffalo plaids” are also extremely popular. Another popular look are throw pillows with three-dimensional details such as felt flower petals, silk leaves, glass “gems” and even sequins, though Harding suggests using them sparingly. “They have hard bumps, and sometimes sharp edges that could scratch or snag clothing, and they just aren’t as comfortable,” she cautions.

Another factor that sets custom throw pillows apart from mass-made is the quality and types of trim used to embellish it. “I’m crazy about beautiful trims, they give pillows personality,” says Harding. “There are so many beautiful new ones this year!” The trend seems to be a simpler look from years past. “In my experience, we are seeing a lot more of the simple, clean lines of banding or cord these days and less fringes, beads, and tassels,” Harding explains. “The nice thing is that they are so easy and inexpensive to change out, but can make such a big impact on your design.”

DESIGN_Pillow4Throw pillows are not just for indoors. They can liven up a porch swing or any outdoor seating, from Adirondacks on the dock to rattan outdoor sets, and from poolside lounges to boat cushions. They add a touch of style, whimsy and comfort wherever you choose to incorporate them. Today’s weather-proof fabrics are durable and versatile. Just be sure you are buying quality outdoor fabrics, Harding cautions. “Unless you are one of those people that just likes to buy new pillows each year, I would recommend looking for Sunbrella fabrics. They are the best of the best—amazingly durable and available in so many colors and patterns that suit every taste.”