Best Pillow Arrangements for Any Bed

Some Family Handyman pillow talk: Tactics for how to arrange pillows on any bed. A little style, a little substance and, of course, some fluff.

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Perhaps due to size and importance of their function, beds are most often the focal point of a bedroom. Dressing them up can present a Goldilocksian problem: The pillows might either be ho-hum or too fussy, but you’re looking for just right.

Together with Michelle Harrison-McAllister of Michelle Harrison Design, we pulled together some looks and tips for a definitive guide to pillow design.

Pillow Types, Defined

pillow arrangementsFamily Handyman

Below are a few accepted pillow types and terms that will help you while you’re just getting started.

Standard: These are the rectangular pillows most people use for sleeping, which also come in Queen and King sizes. They can be covered in a sham, which is a fancier pillowcase that typically features an embellishment or pattern, with an opening usually found on the back side. Shams are not meant to be slept upon.

Euro: A square pillow used as decoration on a bed which can be placed behind or in front of the standard pillow you sleep on, depending on the size. These come in various colors, patterns and embellishments as well as plain, and therefore able to be covered in your choice of euro-sized sham.

Lumbar: This rectangular pillow, good for supporting the lower back, comes in a variety of sizes. It’s usually the pillow singly stacked in front of all the rest. These are sometimes decorated and typically not covered with a sham. A small lumbar pillow is sometimes referred to as a kidney pillow.

Bolster: A longer cylindrical pillow or cushion typically used solely for decoration, about 7 x 10 in. in diameter. Length can vary widely.

There are also novelty pillows of all sizes and shapes, covered in all kinds of textiles, which can be added as accents.

Consider Your Headboard

First things first: Do you have a headboard? If the answer is no, consider a super-minimal horizontal stack of pillows, á la a hotel design, instead of one of the options below. You could also create a headboard by layering larger floor cushions against the wall, then adding standard or sleeping pillows, then decorative ones.

If you do have a headboard, remember this rule of thumb: Cover the headboard with pillows from edge-to-edge horizontally, but never by more than two-thirds vertically.

Pillow Arrangements for King Beds

You have a lot of space to cover, which can be a blessing and a curse. The great news is that you can either go super maximalist, or mega minimalist, depending on your personal style.

Pillow Arrangements for King BedsFamily Handyman

Classic

Prop two standard pillows upright against the headboard or wall, then prop two king sham pillows on top. Add one euro pillow in front of each sham, and one nice-sized round pillow in front, to finish your design.

Creative

Lay four standard pillows flat, two in each stack, just like hotels do. Then choose three bold euro pillows to prop upright against the standards. A lumbar pillow then provides the icing on the cake in front.

It’s visually appealing to have odd numbers, so the three euros provide that, while a lumbar pillow that runs from the middle of the left euro to the mid of the right euro provides a visual cue that ties it all together.

Consider a jewel-tone velvet or something luxurious for the euro pillows; then contrast that with embroidery, fringe, or other textural touches on the front pillow.

Pillow Arrangements for Queen Beds

Queens are the middle road: Plenty of space, but not too much. Depending on the headboard, you can go bananas — or make like Calvin Klein and be barely there.

Pillow Arrangements for Queen BedsFamily Handyman

Classic

Set up two queen sham pillows — the standards go behind these — and one long lumbar pillow that spans the length of both shams. This lumbar pillow, while it can be a splurge, is a great way to bring in a little style without a lot of commitment, and it’s also easy style to tuck away next to the bed when sleeping. Don’t be afraid to have fun with the lumbar pillow’s color, pattern or textile.

Creative

Against a headboard, arrange two large euro pillows. Spanning the seam between the two, place one smaller euro pillow. In front of that, place two standard pillows, and in front of that, one smaller lumbar pillow. This provides a lot of potential for mixing textures and patterns without getting too wild — or having to remove too many pillows to go to bed. Fashion and function!

Pillow Arrangements for Twin Beds

You don’t have much real estate here, so tight arrangements reign supreme.

Pillow Arrangements for Twin BedsFamily Handyman

Classic

Two smaller euro pillows (around 18 in.) staggered in front of two standard pillows. Let the euro pillows introduce different patterns and colors — it’s an easy way to bring in something you may feel nervous about committing to on a larger scale. This will look nice in a small bedroom.

Creative

Push the twin bed against a wall. In the wall corner, create a layer of pillows perfect for slouching, reading, and daydreaming — maybe even a pillow fort. Start with a standard pillow or two, which can anchor and provide support when you lie back, plus work for sleeping. Then, layer three small euro pillows in front of those standards. One lumbar pillow lays in front of those three.

The favorite stuffed animal goes in front, of course. This is an organized way to incorporate bright colors and busy patterns, perfect for younger ones who want something more playful for their special spot.

Pillow Arrangements for Daybeds

These convertible beds are perfect for tweens and teens, offices or guest rooms. Your designs hinge upon how you use them, though, and whether you want your pillows at the head, like a “regular” bed, or across the back, more like a sofa.

Pillow Arrangements for DaybedsFamily Handyman

Classic

A variety of pillows in a nice arrangement can provide support while you work on your laptop or read, and also be flexible, to accommodate other uses or arrangements. Since these are functional as well as decorative, make sure they’re soft enough to snuggle up to, but also firm enough to stand on their own.

On the short end of the bed, start with a foundation of larger euro pillows. In front of that, two standard pillows. Stack two smaller Euro pillows in front of those. Choose a lumbar pillow to sit in front of the four-pillow stack.

Creative

This pillow arrangement can provide a lovely sofa-style sitting area, but could be rearranged for sleeping or working.

On each short end, lay a bolster pillow lengthwise so the circular end faces out and provides an armrest. Across the back, line up three large euro pillows, perhaps with a furry or shag sham for textural interest. Centered in front of the large euros, line up two smaller euro pillows. In front of that, use one or two smaller lumbar pillows staggered one in front of the other. Don’t forget to mix up color, pattern and texture to create an inviting place to relax.

More Pillow Arrangement Help

A few tips for keeping things tidy and fun, courtesy of Harrison-McAllister.

Quick Pickup Trick

Lots of bed pillows strewn about on the floor can feel daunting in the morning when making the bed. When you take them off the bed to sleep, pair them in neat sets in a regular spot, for quick and easy placement when you wake.

Let Kids Choose

Pillows are a great way to give kids a little commitment-free creative control over their bedroom’s design. “Let them choose an accent pillow in a playful color or print they love,” Harrison-McAllister says. Who knows? It might motivate them to make their bed in the morning.

Consider Daybed Use

If your day bed is for nightly use, make sure there’s storage underneath or nearby to stash pillows. If your daybed is for guests, choose a simpler, more minimal arrangement, so your guest isn’t stuck removing the pillows at night and attempting to re-making a pillowscape they might not recall when they leave.