Choosing pillows for a grey sofa isn't an exact science, and of course, it's down to personal choice, style and what else is going on in the room. However, this seemingly minor detail is one of the major finishing touches that can help pull a living room scheme together.
Too big and they'll overpower; too many won't serve a practical purpose; too small and they'll look 'lost'. Yet get your pillows right and you'll transform this stalwart seating into something special.
With the overwhelming choice in pillow sizes, patterns, colors, fabrics, textures and shapes, we've asked interior design experts the best way to decide what's best for your living room.
'First, don’t forget that above all else, your sofa needs to be comfortable, so don’t overdo it with the pillows,' cautions interior designer Irene Gunter, founder, of Gunter & Co.
'Think comfort too, super hard pillows won’t be the best ones for when you want to have a lazy evening on the sofa,' adds designer Omar Bhatti, founder of Space Shack. 'Having the right amount of pillows is super important. I would suggest no more than five on a standard three seater sofa.'
10 pillow ideas for a grey sofa
1. Choose neutral shades for a designer look
The style of your grey sofa will dictate the style of your pillow. What you would choose for a slouchy sofa is likely to be different to what would suit smart, low, linear Italian-style seating.
'If you are working with the sleek and slender lines of a Minotti sofa or something in a similar style, I would recommend choosing pillows in neutral shades that don’t detract from its beauty,' says Irene Gunter at Gunter & Co (opens in new tab).
'You can always add interest by making sure the pillows are textured. In one of our recent projects we chose a woven design that adds depth to the scheme.'
2. Vary the sizes and styles
With so much cool pillow choice, it's easy to go overboard when it comes to accessorising a seating arrangement.
'With a less stand-out sofa, start with two or three pillows in the corners and perhaps a bolster in the middle,' says Irene Gunter at Gunter & Co. Bolsters are a big part of current living room trends. 'Always vary the sizes – this will add interest.
'Start with a print you love, then layer in a neutral in a colour that complements it. Or, if you are feeling more adventurous, you could always combine two patterns. If you do this, pair small-scale prints with large-scale ones so that one doesn’t overshadow the other.'
3. Bring in a biophilic edge
Interior designers don't choose pillow colors in isolation. It's a carefully thought-through process. So consider what else is in the room when it comes to hues that will enhance your sofa and the space.
'We think any grey sofa is a terrific base for most color combinations, as it's a good neutral shade,' says Natalie Forbes, co-founder of Forbes Rix Design (opens in new tab). 'We generally keep to a palette of three or less colors for pillows and like to introduce different textures and sizes.' This is why grey features so often in living room paint color ideas too - it's ideal to layer on top of.
'With pillow ideas for a grey sofa, we often use green, as it complements the plants in a lot of our schemes,' Natalie adds. 'Paintings and bookcases can also be a good place to start to look for your inspiration. Picking up on colours already in the room is key.'
4. Go for reversible designs
Like to alter the mood in your room to suit the seasons, or even the occasion? It's possible to do this easily with pillows rather than a decorating overhaul. In this way, neutral living rooms can be given a little twist.
'I like to fashion favourite fabrics into bespoke designs using a made-to-measure service,' says Irene Gunter. 'I often use a different fabric on each side of the pillow for a fun twist.'
5. Combine contrasting and complementary colors
Choose pillows that pull in colors from surrounding paintwork, as well as from the sofa itself, to unite the space. Mixing darker or neutral tones with a pillows in a bright contrasting shade will lift the room.
'We tend to use two or three different styles of pillows on a large neutral sofa,' says interior designer, Beth Dadswell, founder, Imperfect Interiors (opens in new tab). 'Two large square ones in a contrasting colour, two large square ones in a similar color and then a single pillows in a pattern that picks up the contrasting tones.
'This is a great way to add colour and texture to a living room, and the cushions can be changed around easily; it's much cheaper than buying a new sofa!'
6. Pick playful prints
A grey sofa in a neutral room offers an ideal experimental ground, where you can introduce fun pops of colour and characterful pieces with ease. Sofa trends at the moment often revolve around neutral couches and printed pillows.
'The good news with a grey sofa is that you have a blank canvas to which you can add cushions with bags of character and colour,' says Irene Gunter. 'Look for playful patterns or prints that will perk up your sofa.'
7. Add drama with a monochrome palette
The beauty of a grey sofa is that it will work well in a room with - or without - color. If you err towards the latter and prefer neutrals, add drama and interest with a mix of monochrome furniture and accessories than span the spectrum from black to white.
Vary the sizes, tones and textures of pillows. Luxe black velvet and silk in patterned and plain monochrome fabrics at each end of the sofa will do the trick and help balance the space.
8. Introduce an accent color or two
In a mostly grey or neutral space, pillows are an effortless way to introduce a bold accent color (or two), without having to commit to it for the long haul.
'If you have a more traditional space with neutral walls, dusky pinks, blues and charcoal can all add interest to a grey sofa without going too bold,' says Beth Dadswell of Imperfect Interiors. 'Once you've chosen the contrasting accent color for your pillows, pick a pattern that ties into it to use on another cushion.'
9. Mix pops of color
'Grey sofas can end up looking too bland if they’re not styled properly,' says Omar Bhatti, founder, Space Shack (opens in new tab). 'I would suggest bringing some life to it by varying the tones of grey or pops of colour when selecting the cushions.
'It will depend on the sofa fabric too, for example if the sofa is in a textured boucle fabric then I would avoid using the same fabric for the cushions as you would want some variation with materials, patterns and colours to give it a unique look.'
10. Balance color and pattern with the rug
Of course, in a living room scheme with a grey sofa, there will be other elements that influence the pillow color choice.
'A key piece which would impact the choice of cushions would be the area rug used in the space,' says Omar Bhatti at Space Shack. 'If the living room rug is super simple and plain, I would use vibrant, patterned cushions.
'Whereas if it’s a bolder rug which is acting as a focal part of the room, I would tone down the cushions on the sofa and use plainer, more textured styles and avoid big patterns or else it could look too busy against the rug.'
Which color pillow goes with a grey sofa?
When it comes to selecting cushion colors for a grey sofa, you're spoilt for choice. It's best to take into consideration the color of your walls, type of flooring and rug choice, as well as the shade of grey sofa, rather than choose cushions in isolation.
'A general rule of thumb is to pair warm colours together and pair cool colours together,' says Clementine Redwood, interior designer at Soho Home (opens in new tab). 'For warm grey think orange/brown undertones and for a cool grey think purple/blue undertones. 'Secondly, consider the tonal scale of the colours in your space. Your colours will work best together if they sit in the same tonal category. For example pastels pair well with pastels.
'In interior design a helpful rule is the 60-30-10 rule. Applying this may help you create a colour palette for your space. It states that 60% of the room should be a dominant colour, 30% should be the secondary colour or texture and the last 10% should be an accent.'
'If you want to keep things neutral, then choose blush pink, muted green or taupe cushions for your sofa. A lighter grey sofa works best for this colour palette for a balanced and soothing look,' adds Sophie Arquimbau, interior designer at Soho Home.
'Scattering blue/grey cushions to your sofa gives a calming, cooler and blended feel. For a warmer look opt for burgundy or rust tones which are more inviting. This combination will work best with a darker grey sofa.
'If you prefer a more dramatic statement, red or orange pillows will provide a high contrast.'
Designer picks we love include rich mustard yellows, vibrant forest greens and deep blues on pale grey sofas, through to dusky pinks, pale neutrals and jet black cushions on darker seating. Whichever color palette you go for, the key is to vary sizes and textures, mix patterns and plain and don't have too many.
Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites
A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.
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