More than any other home accent, throw pillows can completely change the look of a space — updating a room for the season, or tying together a disparate color scheme — with little investment of time or money.
With thousands of colors, prints, fills and fabrics to choose from, how do you narrow down the toss pillows that will work best in your space? We’ve put together some guidelines to help you find that perfect pillow.
Throw Pillow Buying Guide
Shape and Size
Throw pillows come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For the most dynamic look, vary the shape and size of the pillows you choose for a single piece of furniture.
- Square. Square throw pillows are the most common shape. They typically come in 16-, 18- or 20-inch versions, but can be found in larger or smaller sizes. If you like to change up the look of your décor frequently, stick to square throw pillows in standard sizes, which will make it easiest to find replacement pillow covers.
- Round. Round pillows are much less common than square versions, but can be a beautiful choice when used to balance the straight lines of square and rectangular pillows.
- Bolster. Cylinder-shaped bolster pillows get their name from their intended use: They’re meant to prop up your arms or back when seated, and are most commonly used on beds.
- Lumbar. Lumbar throw pillows have an oblong, rectangular shape. Like bolster pillows, they were originally designed to provide back support, but are now used more often for ornamental purposes, usually to offset square pillows or decorate an armchair.
Three primary materials are used to fill throw pillows. Combinations of the fills listed below also can be found.
- Polyester. Synthetic polyester is the least-expensive fill option and makes a good choice if you plan to use your toss pillows solely for decorative purposes (for example, to place on a bed during the day). Make sure it’s tightly packed to ensure that lumps and bumps won’t become an eyesore.
- Down. Down pillows are softer and longer-lasting than synthetic versions, but can cost up to twice as much. Choose down for pillows that will get lots of use, as they’ll be more comfortable and can easily be fluffed back into shape.
- Foam. While foam is occasionally used for square-shaped and lumbar pillows, it’s more commonly reserved for bolsters or round throw pillows, since it holds its shape better than polyester or down.
There’s a good chance you’ll be able to find throw pillows in almost any fabric you can think of, but these are the most popular.
- Cotton. It’s durable, easy to wash and casual, making it an ideal choice for homes with young children or pets.
- Velvet. Velvet adds instant warmth to a space. Use it to give your home a cozy vibe for winter.
- Fur/faux fur. Fur accents, especially Mongolian wool or sheepskin, have been a major trend over the last few years for the plush, luxurious look they add to sofas and armchairs. Beware, however: fur pillows are almost guaranteed to be dry-clean only.
- Linen. Like cotton, linen pillows are relatively low maintenance, since the fiber is usually blended with durable fabrics like cotton or polyester. Use linen (or its cousin, jute) to create a light, breezy vibe for summer.
- Wool. From cable-knit to needlepoint, wool adds a wintry, alpine vibe to a room. It’s best suited for colder months or mountain retreats.
Print and Color
When it comes to choosing prints for your throw pillows, a few guidelines will guarantee you get it right.
- Mix prints, but have a plan. If you decide to mix and match prints, the best way to ensure a cohesive look is by sticking to a common color palette. While the hues of the pillows themselves don’t have to match, they should relate to the overall color scheme of the room.
- Pay attention to scale. Another secret to mixing prints: Vary the scale, both within a room and among throw pillows. If your living room has curtains with a large-scale print and a rug with a small-scale one, choose a throw pillow with a print that falls somewhere in between.
- Pull colors from the surrounding space. This rule applies to almost any decorative accent you bring into a room. Choose colors based on the furniture and textiles that are already in the room to tie your space together.
- Break it up with solids or neutrals. In a sea of print and color, the occasional solid-colored or neutral-hued pillow will give the eye a place to rest.
Throw pillows can cost as little as $20 or as much as $200. So what separates the steals from the splurges?
- Fill quality. Down-filled pillows cost more than polyester versions.
- Designer fabric. If you choose a pillow in a fabric by a luxury or designer textile house such as Scalamandre, Marimekko or Kravet, where a yard of fabric can cost upwards of $100, you can expect the price of your pillow to match.
- Textile quality. Throw pillows made from expensive textiles like silk or leather will quickly edge up the price of your throw pillows.
- Embellishments. Details such as piping, tassels or beadwork will result in a higher price point.
Look for tightly sewn seams that don’t give when gently tugged, as well as thick fabric covers that won’t easily snag or tear. Avoid lumpy or sparse fill, which is most problematic in polyester-fill pillows. Also watch for new down pillows that have protruding feathers; losing fill is a problem that typically gets worse.
When you’re trying to determine the best throw pillow options for your home, consider:
- How you will use them. Will they be snuggled into every day, or used purely for decorative purposes?
- Your budget. Throw pillows look best in groups, so make sure your budget accounts for multiples.
- Your decorating habits. If you like to switch up home décor every season, consider pillows with removable covers so you can easily swap out styles.
- Your family. Certain fabrics, like cotton, linen, and even leather, are more durable for homes with children or pets.
Maintenance and Care
The type of throw pillow you purchase will determine how you care for it. Pillows with removable covers are often easiest to care for, since you can throw them in the wash as needed.
Pillows with sewn-on covers, however, require spot treatment, which can lead to discoloration in certain fabrics. Some textiles, including silk, leather, faux fur or suede, may require pre-treatment before using.
Remember that the best thing about throw pillows is that they’re easy and inexpensive to replace, so go with what you love now — you won’t have to worry about being stuck with it if you change your mind later.
Rubix Kidney Toss Pillow, $104
Maxwell Dickson Toss Pillow Ocean, $65