How to Mix and Match Throw Pillows Like a Pro

throw pillows
Kateryna.m/ Twenty20

Throw pillows are one of the easiest ways to inject style into your living room, family room, or bedroom.  And since there are so many affordable, beautiful pillows out there, it seems a shame to play it safe with just two or three solid-colored pillows, or worse, the set that came with your couch. Your pillows don't have to match!  In fact, you can achieve a more professional look if they don't. If this idea is out of your comfort zone, try this foolproof formula for mixing and matching fresh patterns to achieve a coordinated, but not matchy-matchy look that will refresh your room fast.

There are a lot of different ways to mix and match throw pillows, and it's true: sometimes it does take a practiced eye.  I've seen some rooms in which not a single pillow matches another in color, pattern or style and yet the whole ensemble still works.  If you don't have the time or inclination to experiment or shop that much, though, the Rule of Three is the perfect formula to guide your choices and simplify the process.

Three Colors

Choose a color story.  It's best to use three different colors pulled from other sources in the room, such as the wall color, the rug, or the curtains.  If you choose a variety of pillows in different patterns--but they at least share the same colors--the look will be cohesive.

Three Patterns

Mix and match three different patterns in the same color family.  Here are a few ways to do that:

  • One floral + one geometric + one solid
  • One buffalo check + one toile + one ticking stripe (Don't know your checks and stripes? Use this handy guide.)
  • One chevron + one dotted + one knit

It's often simpler to choose your "lead" pattern first, which is generally the largest pattern and the one that contains all three colors in your color story.  Then, the secondary patterns you select can contain just one or two of the colors found in your lead pattern.

 You'll find it can be difficult to choose a lead pattern by working backwards using pillows you already have.

Three Pattern Sizes

It's important to think of the scale of your patterns when following the Rule of Three because you don't want your patterns to compete with each other.  Instead, choose patterns in three different scales, allowing one pattern to dominate. Your lead pattern will most likely be the largest pattern of the bunch, followed by a medium-sized print such as a stripe or small houndstooth.  The third pattern, then, should be the most subtle, such as a solid color in an interesting texture, a dotted swiss, or one with a faint tone-on-tone pattern such as a damask or stripe.

Now that you know the Rule of Three, it's important to say that all rules are made to be broken.  If you start mixing and matching pillows following the formula outlined here only to find that four colors work best for you, or that you like two large patterns instead of only one, that's OK!  The only thing that matters is that you like what you see when you walk into your space, so use this only as a jumping-off point from which to start.  You'll see stylish results if you follow the formula; however, don't stop there if you enjoy the process!

 Experiment until you find the combination that suits you.