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How to Combine Throw Pillows: The Rule of 3

How to Combine Throw Pillows: The Rule of 3

My friend Casey requested that I write a blog post about throw pillows.  She basically asked me, “How the heck am I supposed to know which patterns go with what?”

She’s not alone.  I actually hear this pretty often.  It makes perfect sense – if you’re not naturally talented at decorating, how are you supposed to know what patterns look best together?


caitlin wilson pillows

Via Caitlin Wilson Textiles. (Do these even go together…?!)

I’m happy to report that picking matching throw pillows doesn’t have to be a big mystery.  Just like styling a bookshelf or a hallway console table, there is literally a formula for success.

For those of us who really feel lost, I’ve devised a 3-step foolproof method for choosing throw pillows that match:

1)  Choose a “Lead Pattern”

2) Choose a stripe or dot

3) Choose a solid

pillow formula


That’s it!  Okay, let’s see this formula in action.

Here’s a first great example:


hothouse collage

                                  1.  Hot House Flowers via Etsy      /        2.  Jonathan Adler Navy Chevron Stripe via Etsy        /      3.   Silk Linen Pillow in Rose via West Elm


The first pillow is a large floral pattern called “Hot House Flowers” by Schumacher.  I call it a “lead pattern” because it’s BIG.  And it has multiple colors.

The second pattern is a blue chevron stripe.  For your second pillow, all you need to do is pick a color that you like from your “lead pattern” and then pick a stripe or a dot in that one color.

The third pillow is a solid I found at West Elm.  For your third pillow, pick another color from your lead pattern and find a solid pillow in that shade.  This one is a fabulous textured linen, but you can also go velvet which is really in right now.


Ready for another example of the 3-step formula?  Here it is:


mineral hothouse collage

           1.  Hot House in Mineral from Etsy        /        2. Betwixt in Stone from Etsy          /            3.  Cream Linen pillow, with Jute Braid, from Pottery Bar


You’ve got your lead pattern to start (it’s big! it has a few colors!); you have your “dots” in a color taken from the lead pattern; and you’ve got your solid linen pillow as a nice backdrop.


And one more example for you orange lovers out there:

blue ikat collage

1.  Nate Berkus Ikat Pillow from Etsy        /         2.  Wavy Navy strip pillow from Etsy         /        3.  Orange velvet pillow from World Market


Do you see the formula at play here?  1) Lead pattern (big pattern, multiple colors – boom!); 2) wavy navy stripe – boom!;  3) bright orange velvet pillow. Bam!


Some of you might be wondering “wait, can’t I pair stripes AND dots?  or different stripes together?!”  Yes.  Yes you can!  Of course you can.  Decorators riff all the time.

But if you just want something straight forward that you KNOW will look nice and you don’t have to worry, this 3-step formula can’t be beat.  It is literally foolproof.



How to mix and match pinterest

  • Laurel Bern

    February 26, 2015 at 9:57 AM Reply

    Hi Lorri,

    I’m sitting one row in front of you and to the left at the conference. Love this advice about the pillows. We always joke about “pillow fluffing” but they are really like the jewelry of our rooms and very important to get right. xo, Laurel

  • Jane McDonald

    March 8, 2017 at 9:06 AM Reply

    Love your advice! Would you suggest using the “rule of 3” when you have a patterned sofa? I’m lost as to what types of pillows wont make it look too “busy”. Thank you, Jane

    • Lorri Dyner

      March 10, 2017 at 11:49 AM Reply

      Jane – this is a great question! I should blog about this! If your sofa is a SMALL pattern, I would recommend a patterned pillow that has a pattern DOUBLE the size of your sofa pattern. Try to make at least one or two of the colors “Match”. Get two of those patterned pillows, and then pair those pillows with a natural “woven grass” pillow (Pottery Barn has them), or a velvet solid color, OR a nubby linen pillow.

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