All the right stuff: Choosing the best throw pillows

To make pillows look plump and inviting, Kelly Proxmire usually stuffs hers with a form that’s 2 inches bigger than the cover.
To make pillows look plump and inviting, Kelley Proxmire usually stuffs hers with a form that’s 2 inches bigger than the cover. Kip Dawkins

A benefit (and hazard) of my job as a design writer is spending chunks of time with decorating experts in beautiful homes. I always learn something from pros with a refined eye for detail.

Pillows can so easily be changed up for a new look, whether seasonally or just to add new colors and textures to a room. Walk into any HomeGoods, and you’ll see aisles and aisles of pillows for about $20 that are organized by color and size. Are some better than others?

I decided to dig into this subject with a few designers. Although they usually go with custom pillow designs for clients, they still had plenty of advice about off-the-rack pillow purveyors.

Stand out with vintage fabrics

Designer Virginia Tupker suggests lining a sofa with pillows in different fabrics to reflect your own style. These include some cotton designs by Les Indiennes. — Mikkel Vang

Virginia Tupker says she’s always on the lookout for vintage textiles to make into pillows to mix into the assortments she selects to add texture and pattern to a room. You can look for such fabrics on your travels or on eBay.

“To cover a chair or a sofa is a big fabric commitment. But for a pillow, an antique or vintage textile can be a splash of color, and you can change it out for the seasons,’’ the Connecticut-based designer said. “It adds so much personality and feels eclectic and lived-in, and everything doesn’t just feel brand-new. It adds a lot of soul.’’

Turkish-corner pillows are a favorite shape for interior designers, she said. She said this technique tucks in the corners so they appear rounded. “It’s an Old World technique coming back,’’ she said. “This shape feels extremely chic and makes you think of Bunny Mellon and her home in Antigua. It’s very popular with my younger clients now.’’

Tupker’s favorite off-the-rack sources: 1stdibs and Les Indiennes.


Barry Dixon advises clients to buy pillows with the same fabric on both sides. —Pater Vitale

Warrenton, Va., designer Barry Dixon said there are a lot of reasons pillows should be made of the same fabric on both sides. “I tell clients that if a pillow has a print on one side with a plain backing, it’s like combing the front of your hair and forgetting about the back,’’ Dixon said. “You’re not finished.’’ He said you can always see the back of a pillow from a corner or looking over a sofa, and if the back of it’s just white or plain canvas, “your eye will go to it and notice.’’

If both sides are the same, you’ll get twice the wear out of the pillow. “One side doesn’t have to take all the abuse,’’ Dixon said. “Every time I fluff a sofa, I turn over the cushions and the pillows as well — because it immediately looks plump and fresh. It’s as important as turning a mattress.’’

Dixon’s favorite off-the-rack sources: Anichini, Ann Gish, and Anthropologie.

Plump up the volume

Kelley Proxmire loves picking out pillow fabric. Sometimes it’s the first thing she selects for a space, and she doesn’t hesitate to use the most expensive fabric in the room on the pillows. It will help them stand out and have the most impact, she said.

To make them look fuller and plumper, Proxmire said, she stuffs a form 2 inches bigger than the pillow size into the cover. (She would use a 24-inch form for a 22-inch cover.) “It makes them look nice and full,’’ said Proxmire, whose office is in Bethesda, Md. She also recommends hidden zippers for a more polished look.

Proxmire’s favorite off-the-rack sources: Crate & Barrel, Ballard Designs, Wisteria, and Frontgate.

Living large

Erin Paige Pitts recommends buying larger pillows for a full and fluffy look. —Geoffrey Hodgson

If you have a keen eye, you can find great-looking pillows in big-box stores such as Homesense, but don’t buy the smallest pillow on the shelf, designer Erin Paige Pitts said.

“The problem for me with many pre-made pillows is they are too small. I prefer larger pillows — 22 inches square or 24 inches square,’’ said Pitts, who has offices in Annapolis, Md., and Delray Beach, Fla. “Don’t buy 18-inch or 20-inch pillows. They look cheap.’’

To keep the filling full and lofty, she suggests a 90/10 or 80/20 mix of feather and down. “I still do the karate chop on my pillows,’’ she said. “But I don’t like them totally pointy on the ends. Shake them to loosen them up a bit so the points aren’t as sharp.’’

Pitts’s favorite off-the-rack sources: Serena & Lily and Restoration Hardware.

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