The Perfect Throw Pillow Formula for Every Sofa

There is something truly inviting about a perfectly styled sofa, one with beautiful throw pillows in dreamy colors and a cozy blanket effortlessly draped over the armrest. But chances are, when you go to pull off the look yourself, something just feels a little off. Maybe the shape looks a bit sad and frumpy or perhaps the patterns aren’t playing nicely together? If this is relatable, you’ve come to the right place. 

While our design team at Acampora Interiors approaches all projects uniquely — and entirely based on client preference — there are some loose guidelines that we generally follow to help achieve the look of a perfectly styled sofa. What are the best throw pillows for standard sofas? How many pillows on a sofa is just enough? And what throw pillow sizes should you use for a loveseat or a sectional?

“Choosing throw pillows for a sofa is like selecting jewelry for the perfect outfit,” says Tricia Fortin, Senior Interior Designer at Acampora Interiors. “Pillow selection generally comes at the end of the project, once the furniture, upholstery and drapery have already been selected. Adding decorative pillows is like completing an outfit with a fun pair of earrings.”

So where should you begin? We’re here to serve up all things pillow styling for sofas and seating of all sizes. 

Styling a Standard Sofa 

Before diving into how to style pillows on a couch, Fortin says to start with the sofa fabric. “Once you have your base fabric, everything else follows.” 

To choose fabrics for throw pillows, Fortin says to look at the room holistically: what is the larger palette? What underlying colors exist in the area rug or upholstery? What pops of color exist in the drapery? With throw pillows, have fun mixing patterns, colors and textures. As an added bonus, it’s an easy way to try out a trend — like the much anticipated release of the Pantone Color of the Year, for example — without committing to permanence. 

Brass Tacks of Sofa Styling

Once you have an understanding of your base fabric, it’s time to move on to the mechanics of styling. The average size of a sofa is approximately 86 inches wide, with three seat cushions. So how many pillows on a sofa is just enough? For a piece of this size, aim for four pillows total, Fortin says. “Seek out two pillows measuring 22 by 22 inches, and two additional pillows measuring 20 by 20 inches.” This combination generally takes up enough sofa real estate to establish visual balance.

When it comes to pattern and color selection, this is where a little styling magic happens. “The key is to mix large-scale pattern with small-scale pattern,” Fortin says. But don’t discount a lovely, textured fabric in the place of a small-scale print, she cautions. Texture can offer the same amount of visual interest, and add a touch of warmth and coziness. 

Loveseat Throw Pillows

For a smaller couch, like a loveseat, approach the endeavor the same as if you were styling a standard size sofa, just be sure to scale down your pillow size accordingly. The standard loveseat size is approximately 70 inches wide, so for a piece of this scale, look for two 20-inch pillows and two 18-inch pillows, with one of each size at each end. 

When it comes to choosing fabrics, don’t be afraid to get playful by mixing large-scale patterns with small-scale patterns, again drawing from the larger color palette you’ve established in your space. 

Throw Pillows on a Sectional

So now, how to arrange throw pillows on a sectional? With so many variations in sectional design — from cuddle corners to the built-in chaise — this is where throw pillow options really open up. For the purposes of this piece, we’ll focus on some of the most common scenarios.

L-Shaped Sectional Sofa

Sectional with throw pillows
Photo by Joyelle West.

For an L-shaped sectional, assuming there is a corner seat and two end seats, Fortin says while you can absolutely choose to replicate the same combination in each corner, the bookends of your sofa don’t necessarily have to mirror each other.

Instead, Fortin says it’s more important to determine how many different types of patterns you’ll be working with when styling throw pillows on a sectional. “Some of our clients want a lot of patterns, while others don’t. For the family room in our Wellesley New Traditional project, for example, we identified three or four different fabrics for the room’s sectional, and then played around to find the perfect combination of each fabric in different corners.”

If your visual preference is for symmetry and balance, you can choose to use the same combination for the outer seats. For this formula, choose two fabrics — fabric A and fabric B — and use the same two in both outer corners. Then, for the corner seat, try three pillows: two of fabric A, two of fabric B (or one of each), and then mix in a third fabric to balance it all out.

Throw Pillow Sizes for Sectionals

Sectional throw pillow diagram

In choosing throw pillow sizes for your sectional, the pairing of a 22-inch pillow with a 20-inch pillow for the outer edges is a safe bet. In the corner of the sectional is where you can get a little playful. Start with your base of a 22-inch pillow and a 20-inch pillow, but then add one more; perhaps an 18-inch pillow or even a lumbar pillow.

Fortin cautions against feeling bound to symmetry. “As long as your fabrics are in the same color family and they don’t compete with each other, there really aren’t hard rules you need to follow. When you have multiple patterns and colors that fight each other, that’s when the look becomes less successful.” 

Ultimately, everyone is different, so knowing what you want is the key. While some clients want a lot of visual interest, others prefer not to have a multitude of fabrics in the mix. At the end of the day, your design decisions should rest on personal preference. 

Choosing Throw Pillow Fabrics 

Ultimately, throw pillows offer the perfect opportunity to use beautifully screen-printed fabrics that are far less durable than upholstery-grade materials. Go ahead and fold in the more delicate, linen-grade fabrics you’ve been dying to use.

If you are opting for custom pillows, you can also consider those special fabrics you’ve been eyeing. Because you only need a yard or two, it’s an easy way to splurge on little luxuries without completely derailing your budget. 

The Best Fabric Sources

While we love sources like Pindler and Kravet, which carry a variety of performance fabrics that are stain-resistant (and thus, family-friendly), some of the best sources for specialty fabrics may surprise you. 

  1. Etsy
    Etsy is a great source for finding beautiful fabrics, Fortin says. “You can find gorgeous Schumacher prints selling for under $100. If we know a client has a tight budget, we can often find that fabric or something similar to avoid the need for custom pillows.”

  2. Look Local
    Other great sources are local fabric shops where you can often find designer fabrics that have been discontinued. They may also have remnants of larger spools, and you only need a few yards of fabric.

  3. Think Outside the Box 
    Fortin says stunning prints can be found in surprising places. “Don’t be afraid to look to tablecloths or shower curtains for beautiful fabrics.” 

Pillow Inserts

Here’s where some little-known designer intel comes in to create that magic formula: Choosing the right pillow inserts for your sofa is just as important as choosing the best pillow covers or fabrics. Whenever possible, Fortin says to opt for down pillow inserts. “You want to be able to fluff your pillow to give it shape, and the best inserts are ones you can really give a good chop to.” If allergies prevent the use of a down pillow, seek out a good synthetic option as an alternative. 

When it comes to the size of your pillow insert, forget everything you thought you knew. “One little-known design tip: an 18-inch pillow cover does not actually require an 18-inch insert.” Instead, Fortin says to go one size up with inserts to make your pillow look its fullest. For example, an 18-inch pillow cover should be filled with a 20-inch insert. 

With your fabric selected and your pillow insert safely secured, give your pillow a good whack from the top to avoid the flat, square look. Then, all there is left is to snuggle in and enjoy your perfectly styled sofa.