Interior designers have always said the easiest and least expensive way to refresh a room is to paint the walls a new color. But before you pull out the brushes and paint cans, there might be a simpler solution: throw pillows.
The bold, exotic styles appearing in stores and catalogs offer homeowners a splash of style for inside or outside the house, a bit of decor dynamite that's as easy as buy, bag and toss.
"There's more variety than in years past," says Sheryl Green, a buyer and "one of the family" at Lux Bond & Green in Connecticut.
Absent from store shelves and catalogs are the needlepoint and embroidered pillows that were de rigueur in grandma's day and which were, Green says, "a little more staid." Today's pillows "have jumped out, gotten edgier." Cases in point are the Ankasa and Dransfield & Ross pillows showcased at Lux Bond's Gallery shop. Red zebra stripes and roosters, golden turtles, coral patterns and turquoise sequins give these pillows a dynamic visual punch.
Popping off the pages of the Restoration Hardware catalog and the shelves of its store in Farmington, Conn., are an array of indoor and outdoor pillows: the boldly patterned Terrace Tile and Harbor Stripe models, the architectural Medallion and Stripe Covers, and the Bicolor Stripe and Placed Medallion pillows, all in vibrant hues that enliven any space.
Pottery Barn's Hand-Blocked Pillows, made by artisans in India using patterns carved into wooden blocks, bring a touch of the exotic to any room. The store's Paisley Embroidered Pillow Covers, with bold comma-shaped patterns hand-stitched using ivory thread, are a groovy flashback to the Beatles, Peter Max and the Summer of Love.
Garnet Hill's On the Air pillows show a different kind of retro influence, their mod patterning mixing dots, swirls and stripes with hipster hues. Meanwhile at Target, pillows designed by Isaac Mizrahi include the Pop Flower Cashmere Decorative Pillow, a polyfill explosion of pinks.
Purchasing pillows has become as much a question of fashion as it is of creating comfort in the home. "It's like buying a new pair of shoes or a handbag," Green says. "It's accessorizing a room the way you accessorize an outfit," changing styles to suit the season and the mood.
Among the materials being used to make pillows, wool, cotton, silk and suede show steady favor with designers. Fillings range from down and feathers to polyfill. But many of today's pillow designs are distinguished by their attention to handwork detail - wooden, glass or coral beading, small mirrors, ribbons, embroidery, stitching or applique.
"The last four to five seasons in textiles, the emphasis has been on handwork, color and texture," says Leigh Oshirak, director of public relations for Pottery Barn. Even at a mass retailer such as Pottery Barn, the focus is on craftsmanship and items that are clearly "made by hand," she says.
Pillow prices start about $8 for a bolster pillow at Target and range into the hundreds of dollars.
Incorporating pillows into existing decor is a great way "to bring in excitement," says David Frappier of David William Design of Hartford, Conn. "It's nice to have quiet backgrounds and use pillows as accents. If you have a neutral, tone-on-tone background, throw pillows punch it up."
If your room is not a neutral scape, Frappier suggests pulling a color from the drapes or a carpet and working that hue into the throw-pillow scheme. Once the pillows are installed, "follow with accents in the same color," Frappier says. He recommends adding articles such as porcelains, glass objects and vases in the same colors as the throw pillows to "move the color around the room."
The best thing about pillows is they are "cheaper than replacing the sofa," Frappier says. "And they're easy to change. Change as often as you like. There are no rules."
Deborah Hornblow is a freelance writer for the Hartford Courant.