They may be featherweights, but as decorating tools, accent pillows pack a powerful punch. Time and again I've seen the right pillows take a nothing room and make it fresh and fabulous.
Here are some simple steps I follow when working in my own home or with customers at Nell Hill's stores.
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Picking out the blend of colors, patterns and fabric styles for accent pillows is a personal pilgrimage. There is no one right approach or combination, except the one that makes your heart jump for joy. Some people want a mix of classics that will never go out of style. Others want to embrace the latest trends, with the freshest and newest colors and patterns. Some like a muted, tone-on-tone palette, while others want an electric mix of zesty colors and robust patterns.
To find a picture-perfect pillow combination, first evaluate the style and color palette of the space and the furniture where the pillows will sit. If there is already a lot of pattern and color in the furniture or room, keep the pillows pretty neutral. But "neutral" doesn't mean "boring." You can use lots of different fabric textures, styles and trims to give the pillows personality.
If the room and furnishings are neutral, then the sky's the limit for pillows. You can keep your pillows neutral or you can use the pillows to introduce contrasting colors and patterns.
When I design a grouping of pillows, I like to create balance in the fabrics so they complement each other, not compete. To strike this fine line, pay attention to the size of the patterns. If you have a big pillow with a bold, large pattern, then pair it with pillows in solid fabrics. If you pick a smaller geometric pattern, then you can mix it with a larger plaid or floral.
Once you pick fabrics that make you smile, it's time to determine the number, size and shape of your pillow mix. The size and scale of the furniture you are adorning will give you boundaries, and your personal taste will let you know how full or sparse to fill in within those boundaries. Some people like their sofas decorated with a number of pillows in different sizes, while others want just a few.
Try placing matching 24-inch-square pillows on each corner of the sofa. Then put a standard-sized pillow (20 inches by 26 inches) in the middle. Finish off with a pair of smaller rectangular pillows (14 inches by 22 inches) against each arm of the sofa.
If that's too many, put a matching pair of 24-inch pillows in each corner, then place a matching pair (in a contrasting fabric) of 21-inch-square pillows in front of them and call it a day.
If your sofa is unusually deep or the back is very high, you might prefer a 27-inch-square pillow. In fact, you might need a row of them against the back of the sofa to fill in the space and allow you to touch the floor.
The secret to success is use a high-quality fill. We're sold on fills that are made from a mixture of feathers and down because they are soft and dense and can make even inexpensive ready-made pillows look amazing.
You can use less-expensive fabrics and still have a beautiful pillow. If you have to scrimp someplace when doing a custom pillow, scrimp on the fabric and use a high-quality feather pillow form.
• Adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at nellhills.com.