I remember a time as a student in interior design school when I presented a furniture layout to my instructor for critique. I had depicted all the throw pillows on the sofas lined up and "fanned out," if you will, like magazines on a coffee table.
He noted this and commented that I must have seen my grandmother style her pillows this way because it was a very Asian look. The truth was that my grandmother lived in England and I never saw the inside of her home as a young girl.
Styling throw pillows is not something they teach you in school. As a design student, we were taught to focus on the big pictures like the architectural treatments and use of the space. These "decorative" details were learned in the real world, and even then there was no formal training.
However, there is an art to styling throw pillows. One just picks up on this art intuitively. For any budding interior stylists out there, I wanted to write this post to help take away some of the mystery. I hope you find my tips helpful!
1 | FLUFF THEM UP
First and foremost, flat pillows are a definite no-no. I know that goes without saying, but I would be criticized if I omitted this step altogether.
Before a photo shoot, all pillows should be fluffed up. There are two schools of thought on how to fluff your pillows properly:
A. The Karate Chop
Shake your pillow until it stands upright and then use the side of your hand to "chop" the pillow down the top straight down the middle.
B. The Shake and Fluff
Shake your pillow and set it on the sofa/bed/surface. Then gently pat the front and back of the pillow so it stands upright and it takes a natural shape.
I've worked with designers who were absolutely allergic to The Karate Chop who would never fluff their pillows in this manner and some who only fluff their pillows like this.
Personally, I'm neutral about both looks. I recommend testing both out and seeing which one suits you best as a stylist and stick with that look. This fluffing technique will become your signature look.
2 | USE BIGGER INSERTS
Do you ever look at throw pillows and get depressed by how floppy they look? The corners look sparse and empty and the covers seem to sag too much.
Do you know what the problem is? The pillow inserts are too small.
As interior designers, we only used larger inserts with our covers. This really fills up the cover and gives it that filled out look! The rule of thumb is to go 2" bigger. So, if you have a 20" x 20" cover, you'll need a 22" x 22" insert.
3 | FEATHERS FOR THE WIN
I stopped using polyfill pillow forms ages ago. Try as I might, they just never provided the fluff factor I desired. They also don't sit well on sofas as polyfill doesn't have much body to them.
Take my cue and ban polyfill forms from your styling repertoire. Instead, use only feather forms. They give the best fluff, which creates the most luxurious look. The camera will love you for it.
PRO TIP: Feather forms come with a price tag. To keep your prop budget at a minimum, keep an eye out for inexpensive feather forms while thrifting. Dont judge a pillow by its cover. If you see an ugly pillow with a feather form, buy the ugly pillow and replace the cover with something beautiful. You're shopping for the insert, not the pillow!
4 | HIERARCHY OF SIZE
There is definitely an art to styling throw pillows beautifully. My formula is to always place bigger pillows in the back and smaller pillows in front. Specialty styles like envelopes and bolsters go in the very front. Their details would get lost behind larger pillows.
Pillows with a unique motif or quote should sit on their own, like on an armchair. Isolating them from a group of pillows allows them to make a statement and highlight their specialness.
5 | BE UNREALISTIC
Don't be afraid to use pillows where they're least likely to be used, such as dining chairs or benches. In photos, having more pillows makes the room feel richer and more inviting. They also soften up a space that would otherwise be consumed with hard surfaces. This is not the time to be realistic with your styling, so go big!