First, there is no such thing as too many pillows. Until the point where your guests are forced to (discreetly) toss a pillow on the floor in order to find a spot to sit, you don’t have enough. Similarly, tossing pillows off the bed as you transition from reading or breakfast in bed to sleeping is a perfectly acceptable and essential practice!
Pillows are the easiest low-commitment, low-investment way to style any room and can make quite an impact. You can change them around as the mood strikes you. You can do a style makeover or change pillows with the seasons or the environment you want to create. Use good quality down and feather blend inserts (feather for form and structure, down for softness) and you can change just the covers. Be sure to store those covers not in rotation carefully.
So, if you really want some rules, here it is: For living and lounging pieces, there should be as many pillows as there are potential “sitters” plus 1 or 2. So for example, a 3-seater sofa needs at least 3 and ideally a total of 4 or 5. A 2-seater love seat needs at least 2 and up to 4, and so on. If you have different sizes, you may want the larger pillows on the ends/arms and move to smaller pillows in the center. Some advocate always using an odd number of pillows; or if you have an even number, matching the number on each “side” of the sofa.
In a bedroom where you sit up to read, or get treated to breakfast in bed, you need at a minimum the pillow(s) you sleep on plus one or two large squares for form to lean against, then a baby, lumbar or neck roll pillow to fill in spaces behind your back or head to be truly comfortable sitting up. And that’s per person in bed! Your goal is to create a deep, cozy nap-worthy nest.
But please, don’t just go out and buy anything. It’s only worth having a pillow textile you love. Buy sustainably, choosing materials like cotton, linen, and raw silk. Why go to a large box store to find a mass-produced one-of-a-thousand pillow when there are so many more unique and stylish options? Support local businesses, look for one-of-a-kind hand crafted or upcycled textile pillows. You want to show off your appreciation for different styles, artists, and textiles.
How do you mix pillows? Don’t get hung up on matching. There is absolutely nothing sadder than a sofa with only two identical lonely pillows! The interest and delight in your design comes from mixing things up. If you have a neutral or solid sofa, you can mix with abandon and choose anything you like. You can easily mix styles, like abstracts with floral, or solids with animal prints and so on. If you like, you can look for a common thread in style or in color; for example, all with a bit of blue, or all floral. And remember to include some texture like velvet, linen, and chenille, and mix the sizes and shapes. The result should be visually delightful, inviting, and comfortable.