Design 101: How To Style Pillows On A Sofa Like A Pro (Plus Some Great Shoppable Combos)

Design 101: How To Style Pillows On A Sofa Like A Pro (Plus Some Great Shoppable Combos)

I don’t know about you, but I think about my sofa a lot. It may be because my front door leads right into my living room so it’s the first thing you see when entering my apartment. Or maybe it’s because I love my sofa too much and want it to shine bright like the beautiful star she is. In any case, sofa styling has been top of mind for me (HELLO MOTO, HELLO DEADLINES), so I thought this would be a great opportunity to break down sofa styling for both my and your sake. Grab your pens and notebooks because this is a “living room rules” post you won’t want to forget.


1. KEEP A COHESIVE COLOR PALETTE: This is an EHD rule of thumb. As you’ve likely heard here before, as long as you keep a consistent color palette (3-5 colors) you will have more success when mixing styles and patterns. Here’s a post on how to easily create one!
2. VARY SIZES AND SHAPES: For visual interest you want your pillows to vary in shape and size (i.e. mix in round, lumbar, and square pillows in different sizes).
3. ADD IN DIFFERENT TEXTURES: If you are going to mix solids and neutrals, textures can bring in interesting details without being too loud.
4. BALANCE OUT COLORS EVENLY: Each side of your sofa should have different colors sprinkled throughout (i.e. you shouldn’t have all of one color on one side).
5. VARY THE SCALE OF PATTERNS: Patterned throws and pillows are a great way to add life and intrigue to your sofa, just make sure that you mix in both small and large scale patterns.

Now that you have your basic guidelines, let’s take a look at past EHD projects and dissect how to execute how to style a sofa like a dang pro:

Traditional Sofas

Emily Henderson Waverly Living Room 2018 Fall Update 3 1670x2088 1
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: experimenting in my living room: trying to find “the” rug

If you remember this version of Emily’s LA living room, then you might already know she was experimenting with a new rug and new sofa–trying to find the perfect match (which is not an easy task let me tell ya). While she wasn’t in love with this rug and sofa combo, the sofa itself is so GOOD and styled to perfection.

Why it works: The large scale patterns are layered evenly so neither side of the sofa is too overwhelming. The two solid but textured color pillows on each side and balance the patterns out so the overall look isn’t too loud but still visually interesting.

Flash Makeover 16 1670x1961 1
design by velinda hellen for ehd | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: new reveal: a colorful, happy home makeover for an incredibly deserving family

Here, Velinda styled the same sofa for a Feel Good Flash Makeover and went with a “more is more” approach proving that pillow combos are endless as long as those 5 golden rules are still applied.

Why it works: The color palette is kept simple with 3 colors (gray, white, and muted blue) and while there are multiple striped pillows present, each is varied in scale and textured so there is not too much of the same thing happening.

[HOT_TIP title=”Hot Tip” content=”When choosing pillows and throws, consider the color and fabric of your sofa. Your sofa is the base so you want to make sure the textiles are not too similar so they complement each other.”]

EmilyHendersonWaverlyLivingRoomStyledToSell3 Opener 1536x1097 2
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our new sofa, my dream floral chaise and the pop of red i always wanted in my life

Moving on to another iteration of Emily’s LA living room, we have this gorgeous custom Lawson-Fenning sofa styled minimally with a few pillows and a throw. Emily wanted the sofa to feel “clean, fresh, and purposeful” so she dialed back her styling so the curves and shape of the sofa would shine and speak for themselves.

Why it works: The two pillows are different sizes and shapes that complement each other while the throw blanket adds a large scale pattern to bring in more visual interest.

JessLivingRoom2 1 1670x1114 1
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: makeover takeover: jess’ long awaited (small space) living room reveal

Here in Jess’s small space living room, she has a simple (but not at all boring) sofa that allows for a myriad of styling options. Going off the color palette of her living room, she peppered in pillows and a throw that would complement both the room and the sofa.

Why it works: She sticks to her color palette with the colorful pillows and added a large scale patterned lumbar to create some dynamic to the space.

Brady Tolbert Citizenry Emily Henderson Living Room Refresh 2
design by brady tolbert for ehd | photo by tessa neustadt | from: brady’s living room refresh with the citizenry

Brady’s living room is cool, eclectic, and neutral which he so effortlessly exhibits in his sofa styling.

Why it works: Brady kept his styling rather neutral so he complemented his color palette by adding in A LOT of texture. His two main pillows are knitted and paired with a large scale woven blanket and leather lumbar, there is enough texture going on to be interesting (also note how the leather pillow brings in both warmth and texture).

Ligorria Tramp MOTO veronica 11 1670x1185 1
design by sara ligorria-tramp for ehd | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: “ugly cry” warning: sara gives her momma’s living room a refresh for mother’s day

First of all, if you haven’t checked out this reveal, do so immediately. It is a tear-jerker and the whole space is so special and personal (Sara designed it for her mom for mother’s day–it’s SO SWEET).

Why it works: The pillows Sara used pull from the color scheme of the room so the colors all speak well with each other. Since she uses more color, the patterns are small in scale so they work well effortlessly.

Tight Back Sofas

What makes tight back sofas different? Well, they are sturdier due to the lack of back cushions, usually have more of a structural shape, and (let’s be honest) they are not always the most comfortable–and that’s where pillow styling comes in.

EmilyBowserDiningRoomLivingRoom17 1670x2146 1
design by emily bowser for ehd | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: new moto reveal: emily bowser’s “refreshed for function” small living room makeover

As Bowser says in her reveal post, the shape of this sofa is cool and edgy just like her (seriously, she is the coolest). But what do you do with such a cool and edgy sofa? I am glad you asked…

Why it works: The color palette is consistent and (you guessed it) she varies the patterns and textures among the pillows and throw, while complementing the size and shape of her sofa.

EH Livingroom 4969 1536x1024 1
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: my living room update

This is one of my favorite versions of Emily’s LA living room because I just love how this sofa looks in her English Tudor home. It’s so simple and classic which allows for more modern pillow and throw options.

Why it works: The deep color of the sofa makes the room pop so the pillows don’t have to be “loud”. Notice that while there is scale variation, the “larger one” is more medium. This helps to keep the style still feeling classic. Also, that burgundy pillow is SO good. A fun unexpected (but appropriate) color is always a good idea.

Sara Tramp Living Room Dining Room TV Room LoRes 1 1536x1097 1
design by sara ligorria-tramp for ehd | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | sara’s living room & dining room reveal

Considering the size of the sofa and its firm structure, Sara implemented four oversized pillows to create a warm and inviting look (and p.s. she says this sofa is actually VERY comfy despite it being a more sculptural shape).

Why it works: Her color palette is neutral, each pillow is varied in size and pattern and she implemented texture with the round faux fur pillow.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Living Room5
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: portland project: the living room reveal

Ahh this sofa is like the effortless cool girl who can pull off anything. There are tons of styling options that would make sense here because of its classic shape and black finish.

Why it works: Again, the color palette here is neutral and simple so the pattern mixing is where the real action comes in. Patterns and textures can allow for the colors to be tame while still creating an exciting moment. Also since this isn’t a big sofa, only having 3 pillows looks sophisticated and appropritate.


Sectionals are obviously larger sofas so you can play even more with pillows and throws OR keep it simple and let your sofa shine. Allow me to demonstrate…

The traditional gray sectional pictured here in Emily’s old Glendale home leaves so much room to play with colors and pattern.

Why it works: The color palette is spread out evenly so the pillows do not seem too heavy or overwhelming. In the same vein, Emily mixed patterns that did not complicate the styling but instead complement each other.

Arlyn’s living room reveal is so special and one of my favorite living rooms because of how personal it is to her. This sofa is obviously a show-stopper but that didn’t stop her from bringing in even more excitement with her pillow styling.

Why it works: Since the rest of the room is kept quite neutral, there is more space to play with pattern and color with pillow styling. Arlyn sticks to the 5 golden rules by varying patterns, implementing different size and shape pillows, and spreading them evenly across her sectional. Also, the throw draped on the end of the chaise is perfection.

Emily Henderson Lea Johnson Basement Reveal 7 1536x2048 1
design by lea johnson of creekwood hill | photo by sage e imagery | from: lea johnson’s basement reveal: workspace by day and family-friendly living room by night

This basement is one of my favorite reveals we’ve published on the blog, designed by the wonderfully talented Lea Johnson. It’s a hardworking, multi-functional space but I must say this sofa and styling steals the show.

Why it works: Since the sectional is bold and colorful on its own, Lea kept her pillows neutral in color but added more visual interest by mixing bigger varied patterns.

Emily Henderson Moutain House Living Room LoRes21 1670x949 2 1
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house reveal: our light-filled neutral & textural living room

This sectional in the mountain house is VERY cool and VERY sculptural which is not always the easiest to style. Emily has talked about the pros and cons of this sectional before, but the one great thing about it is styling can be kept minimal and intentional.

Why it works: Like I said, the sofa is sculptural and interesting to look at on its own, but the 5 golden rules still apply. The pillows and the throw are cohesive with the color palette and are spread out so as to not crowd the sofa.

And now because it’s so fun, I pulled together some pillow and throw blanket combos to shop from:

Pillow Throw Combo Roundup

1. Ticking Pillows | Dijon Cotton Pom Throw / Oversized Ivory Angled Stripe Lumbar Pillow | District Loom Vintage Pillow Cover No. 70 | Harlee Ivory Round Pillow | Oversized Cotton Textured Striped Throw Pillow with Fringe 
2. Clique White Pillow | Chunky Stripe Fringe Throw Blanket – Hearth & Hand | Persimmon Mohair Pillows | Recycled Cotton Blend Pillow with Tassels / Pico 18″ Black Round Pom Pom Pillow | Ray Pillow
3. Gigi Pillow | Boucle Faux Mohair Throw Blanket | Taupe Diamond Cotton Chenille Lumbar Pillow | Woven Washed Windowpane Pillow | Square Woven Cotton Pillow with Fringe
4. 20″x20″ Bradford Two-Tone Tassel Pillow | Pico 18″ Black Round Pom Pom Pillow | Ticking Pillows | Oversized Ivory Angled Stripe Lumbar Pillow | Buffalo Check Plaid Design Cotton Down Filled Throw Pillow | Modern Threads Acrylic Knit Throw
5. Park Designs In The Meadow Plaid Throw | Daios Pillows | Leilani French Knot Design Throw Pillow Natural | Square Woven Cotton Pillow with Fringe | Round Throw Pillow Natural | Vintage Hemp Pillows
6. Oversized Cotton Textured Striped Throw Pillow with Fringe | Maize Sqaure Throw Pillow Black | Oversized Ivory Angled Stripe Lumbar Pillow | Oversize Chenille Shiny Waffle Knit Square Throw Pillow | Rayas Throw
7. Daios Pillows | Rayas Throw | Textured Solid Square Throw Pillow Neutral | Harlee Ivory Round Pillow | Caitlin Wilson Black Gingham Pillow | Clique White Pillow
8. Maize Sqaure Throw Pillow Black | Olive Shag Pillow | Ticking Pillows | Black + Beige Woven Lumbar Pillow | Oversized Cotton Textured Striped Throw Pillow with Fringe | Grid Throw Blanket

And finally, our handy guide to help you with all your sofa styling needs:

FINAL Emily Henderson Sofa Combos Graphic 3

Alright my friends, if you made it this far thank you for sticking with me. I know we just went over a ton of sofa combos so hit me with any questions or concerns down below. xx

Opener Image Credit: Design by Brady Tolbert for EHD | Photo by Tessa Neustadt | From: Brady’s Living Room Refresh with the Citizenry

Fin Mark

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