The answer to that question is long and circuitous.
When Erin Gates’ book The Elements of Style first came out in 2014, I gobbled it up like only a decorator-trapped-in-a-frustrated-musician/at-home-nursing-mom-of-infant-and-a-kid-with-challenges’ body could. The book includes a chapter called “Love and Throw Pillows” in which, in addition to talking about bedroom style, Erin discusses how she and her husband got in a blow-out fight about a Lucite table.
(Quick synopsis — she loved it, he hated it, expletives were exchanged and glasses slammed down, and they eventually came to the conclusion that no piece of furniture should ruin a marriage.)
Get it???? “Throw” pillows? I.e. they threw pillows? And it’s a chapter on bed styling. Sorry, the pun just tickles me more than I can say.
Erin included the first graphic I had ever seen (at that time 😉 ) on bed pillow styling, one to use “as backup to your argument about why you absolutely need that new bolster!”
As I progressed in my voracious desire to learn everything I could from the comfort of my own home about decorating, I next lighted upon million-dollar-decorators Cullman & Kravis’ fabulous 2008 book Decorating Masterclass. (I highly recommend!!)
In the section on “Making a Bed the Cullman & Kravis Way,” Elissa and Tracy relate how some of their clients prefer to keep their sleeping pillows in the closet and swapping them out at bedtime. “This process allows the bed to look fresh and pristine when not being used.”
I don’t know many people these days who are willing to do that. I love a beautifully made bed, but I still don’t want to be afraid of lying on it fully made for fear of wrinkling something.
(I also don’t have that much closet space.)
However, Elissa and Tracy also include this highly amusing image.
Notice the art above the bed? It seems these ladies are not without a sense of humor.
Pillows on the bed stereotypically can be another of those she wants/he wants situations. She wants tons of pattern and soft prettiness, he gets tired of tossing them on the floor at night.
So what to do?
The Basic Sizes
The Neckroll Pillow above looks pretty shrimpy here. It’s really meant to be an individual pillow (there’s an example further down the post). More common is a bolster pillow that is usually something like 8″H x 36″L for a queen and 10″ x 48″ for a king. This chart also doesn’t show lumbar pillows, which are typically 12″ x 20″, 12″ x 24″, and 14″ x 36″.
Let’s be frank, you can get throw pillows in almost any size you want — they just have to be custom ordered.
Stacked vs. Propped or a Combo?
Until the last few years or so, it seemed to me that all pillows were propped against the headboard. Now, more and more designers are stacking their bedroom pillows — at least, they are stacking their standard, rectangular sleeping pillows and shams.
I like the stacked look a lot, though. Much more minimalist … and perhaps more natural. I think it definitely appeals to men as a very utilitarian way to style pillows.
Or a Combo?
The Answer to How Many Pillows You Need on Your Bed
Well, before that I’m going to give you one tip that you will find indispensable in your quest to not mess up and waste money on decor that won’t be seen.
If you have a pretty headboard, make sure your pillows won’t cover it up.
That means, if you are ordering a brand new bed at the same time, figure out how high your box spring and mattress will come up and plan accordingly. Be aware if you have an unusually thick mattress or a low headboard.
Now, how many pillows do you need?
The better question might be how many diagrams can I throw at you?
Personally, I don’t like that many extra pillows on my bed because I don’t want the mess of having them all on the floor at night. (This doesn’t mean, however, that if you hire me as your decorator, I won’t try to convince you that you need lots of them! Especially if you have more closet space than I do, hehehe.) So my Handsome Husband and I prefer a more minimalist look in our own room, with two stacked standard pillows and a single decorative pillow.
For clients projects, I prefer 1-6 decorative pillows. The higher end number is for if we use 3 Euros in addition to 2 shams/decorative pillows and a throw pillow, but I’m completely fine with the lower end, too. It really depends on whether you want the extra pillows for “the look” or to prop behind your back while you’re reading.
So here’s some bed pillow styling inspiration, with 1-5 decorative pillows per image (I kinda pooped out and didn’t make it to 6). Some of these you may have seen before, but I bet you’ve never paid attention to the bed pillow configuration!
0 Throw Pillows
Beautiful. Men tend to like this minimalist look, but it has to be crisp to look nice, I think. Maybe if you switched out your pillowcases after every use. I’d need a full time launderer. 😉
Just pretty embroidery on the pillow covers. I have to drop a hint to the HH that I would really enjoy breakfast in bed one of these Saturday mornings!
(Actually, he deserves it more than I do. Maybe I’ll take the hint, instead.)
1 Throw Pillow
One big long lumbar in front of the sleeping pillows.
From Home Glow’s Serene Master Suite. My client did not want many decorative pillows and we wanted to show off the burl wood headboard. This is a 36″ bolster on a king bed.
2 Throw Pillows
Two decorative pillows in front of stacked, embroidered sleeping pillows.
A lumbar pillow in front of a long bolster.
3 Throw Pillows
Sleeping pillows behind two standard, decorative shams and a bolster.
Three Euros in front of the sleeping pillows.
Two decos and a lumbar. I’d have to ask Sarah (because in my dreams we are BFFs), but it looks to me like the coverlet goes over the sleeping pillows — an excellent technique to hide them and very granny chic.
4 Throw Pillows
Sleeping pillows stacked behind the 3 Euros with a long, beefy bolster.
Two Euros and two individual-sized bolsters with pretty sleeping pillows in between (mine would not be that wrinkle free).
Two shams and two decorative pillows. Classic.
5 Throw Pillows
Two quilted Euros, 2 decorative shams, and a pretty embroidered lumbar pillow. Notice that the sleeping pillows are in between the blue-bordered shams and the white Euros.
Two shams and three lumbars in front of stacked sleeping pillows in this faintly global British Colonial bedroom.
An unusual configuration, but it looks very nice. Looks like two 20″ pillows, a 48″ bolster, and two 16″ pillows to me.
Classic configuration. If you wanted, you could throw and a little boudoir pillow in front to make 6. If you really like pillows, that is!
What do you think? Which do you prefer — minimalist, maximalist, something in between?
Talk about it with your S.O.
If you have to, soften him up with a sweet, feminine smile and a martini to help him see your point.
No man can resist that combo.
Except, as history would prove, Rock Hudson.
PS: Shutterfly is having 50% off premium holiday cards with the code BEST through tomorrow, Sunday, December 3.
Just got ours in the mail — taken on the chair lift swing in our back field. White button-downs, dockers, and beach pics just aren’t our style. Happy Advent Season from New Hampshire!