Pillow Talk: How Many Decorative Pillows Do You *Really* Need on Your Bed?

The answer to that question is long and circuitous.

how many bed pillows do you need

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.)

Doris Day and ROck Hudson in "Pillow Talk," via The Denver Public Library
Doris Day and Rock Hudson in the 1959 film “Pillow Talk,” via The Denver Public Library

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.

Rock looks ready throw Doris out, along with the extra pillows. Via source.
Rock looks ready to throw Doris out, along with the extra pillows. Via source.


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!”

Elements of Style, Designing a Home & Life by Erin Gates, page 198.
Elements of Style, Designing a Home & Life by Erin Gates, page 198.

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.

Decorating Masterclass by Elisa Cullman and Tracy Pruzan, page 124
Decorating Masterclass by Elissa Cullman and Tracy Pruzan, page 124

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

standard bed pillow sizes
via Pinterest

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.


sage green bed room how many pillow does your bed need
Stacked pillows. This image was originally from Country Living, but it’s gone now. Luckily I had saved it to my Pinterest page!


lindsay peace how many pillows bed need
Lindsay Peace

Or a Combo?

how many pillows bed need
Nick Olson via My Domaine

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?

how many bed pillows need

king bed how many pillows need
Queen and King Arrangements via Matouk


how many bed pillows need
Queen Bed Pillow Arrangements via The Place Home


how many bed pillows need diagram
via Hadley Court


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

how many bed pillows do you need
via Veranda

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. 😉

how many bed pillows do you need
Nina Farmer

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

how many bed pillows do you need
Ashley Gilbreath

One big long lumbar in front of the sleeping pillows.

how many pillows bed do you need
James Carter


serene sophisticated gray bedroom purple aqua

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

how many bed pillows do you need
Edie Parker

Two decorative pillows in front of stacked, embroidered sleeping pillows.

how many bed pillows do you need
Amelia Handegan

A lumbar pillow in front of a long bolster.

3 Throw Pillows

how many bed pillows do you need
Tharon Anderson

Sleeping pillows behind two standard, decorative shams and a bolster.

how many bed pillows do you need
Melanie Turner

Three Euros in front of the sleeping pillows.

how many bed pillows do you need
Sarah Bartholomew

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

how many pillows do you need
Jenny Wolf via My Domaine

Sleeping pillows stacked behind the 3 Euros with a long, beefy bolster.

how many bed pillows do you need
Ramsay Gourd

Two Euros and two individual-sized bolsters with pretty sleeping pillows in between (mine would not be that wrinkle free).

how many bed pillows do you need
Jan Showers via One Kings Lane

Two shams and two decorative pillows. Classic.

5 Throw Pillows

how many bed pillows do you need
via One Kings Lane

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.

how many bed pillows do you need
Summer Thornton

Two shams and three lumbars in front of stacked sleeping pillows in this faintly global British Colonial bedroom.

how many bed pillows do you need
Maddie G

An unusual configuration, but it looks very nice. Looks like two 20″ pillows, a 48″ bolster, and two 16″ pillows to me.

how many pillows do you need
Ali Bud Interiors via Decor Pad

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!



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