Shopping - Buying Guides

Buying guide: Throw pillows

Helen Racanelli
Photography by
West Elm

Bolsters, inserts and fringes -- we tell you all you need to know about buying the right throw pillow for your sofa.

Imagine a black dress, then imagine the variety of accessories you can add for different looks -- long strings of pearls, shimmering diamonds, piles of costume jewelry in bright lacquer. So it goes with throw pillows. The same tailored neutral room can go from plain to fabulous with the mere addition of carefully chosen cushions. But how do you pick the perfect specimens? We  tell you all about picking throw pillows.

The basics
"A throw pillow should definitely be an eye-catching, decorative accent that strengthens the colour palette in the room, so choose one of your favourite colours from the furniture fabric. If the piece is a basic neutral, try a great pattern in a colour that complements the room's scheme," says Toronto interior designer Mimi Pineau. It’s invaluable advice for those of us not naturally bestowed with the gift of picking accent colours. "Creating a contrast using either colour or texture will make the cushion stand out," she adds.

Pillow shapes

There are truly an endless variety of pillow shapes to consider -- chubby bolsters, giant squares, long rectangles. So how do you best judge what shape will work where? "If the cushion has a practical use, consider how it will be used," Mimi advises. Square works best for full back comfort, she says, whereas rectangular will support the lower back or neck, as will a foam bolster for leaning up against.

Aesthetics will come into play as well. "Also consider the scale of the furniture; bigger cushions look great on large-scaled furniture with ample seating room, but keep cushions smaller on more delicate pieces,” she recommends. Here’s a loose breakdown of the more common shapes on the market.

  • Bolsters are great for daybed ends or leather sofas (they don’t slip down as squares can)
  • Squares are the most common and versatile throw pillow shape, ideal for the back of a hard chair, to cosy up a sofa, on beds to add visual interest, or on the floor for kids or pets to enjoy.
  • Rectangles provide lumbar support on sofas or in armchairs. Long rectangles suit king-size beds.
  • Round pillows can soften up a severe sofa or chair. Flat versions are also comfortable to sit on for anything ranging from tulip-style chairs to Windsor chairs.


This article is featured on Home decor buying guides

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