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Pillow talk: decorating on a budget

Consider this a love letter to the humble throw pillow. I adore throw pillows with a passion and can't imagine decorating without them.

Here's why: Without throw pillows, my sweet little nest would look bland as oatmeal. At this moment, two great plump pink pillows adorn each side of my tastefully neutral living room sofa. Another throw pillow, a boutique-store specialty in vibrant Caribbean colors, brightens my heirloom chaise lounge, also a shade of neutral.

Thanks to years of living on a writer's budget, I believe in moderation when it comes to buying or upholstering major pieces of furniture. Keep the big things neutral and you can change your mood, cheaply and on a whim.

That's the beauty of throw pillows. They liven up the dreariest of dilapidated sofas and transform the aura of a room in minutes. I'm a huge fan of mixing and matching. I like to pair vintage needlepoint with floral designs; blend patterns — florals, stripes and solids; and mix texture and size and color.

While on a thrift-store expedition the other day, I bought two secondhand throw pillows at the Goodwill on Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg (the store is a Mecca for used throw pillows, most of which are priced around $2). One pillow, a warm, zesty pattern that reminds me of a hand-knit Peruvian sweater I bought years ago on a college campus, now livens up my sun room. The other one, a sunny, fringed variety, will eventually meld into my eclectic decor.

Over the years I've collected an interesting assortment of throw pillows from art fairs, home accessory shops, even family members who give them to me as gifts (and sometimes, if I'm lucky, pass them along as hand-me-downs). My favorite, a long-ago birthday gift, is a delicate little "envelope" pillow with a delicate hibiscus painted on the front. Another favorite, a 1960s-era handmade needlepoint pillow of a girl swinging a tennis racket, I bequeathed to my sister, a serious tennis player herself.

When it comes to throw pillows, my philosophy is as crazy as my taste: the more the merrier. The trick is not to have too many or too few. On its Web site,, Real Simple Magazine offers basic tips for decorating with throw pillows:

1. Go for an odd number rather than pairs when tossing throw pillows on the sofa.

2. A couple of generously sized pillows look more pulled-together than a hodgepodge of little ones.

3. A trick that works in any decor: Consider pulling your throw-pillow colors from a piece of art in the room.

4. Bold, geometric patterns on pillows made of tightly woven fabric look great in a contemporary decor.

I've noticed that in homes I find the most interesting, the owners often make the best use of throw pillows and use them judiciously as accents. Also, over the years I've learned to strongly resist the temptation to buy cute pillows that look cheap. Ditto for pillows that say things like "Princess" or "Born to Shop." And unless I move back into my college dorm room any time soon, I'm ignoring my inner-teenage urge to buy any pillow shaped like a surfboard or sunflower.

So, I keep collecting, tossing around my stash of throw pillows and swapping them out depending on the way I want my house to look:

Romantic, modern, tropical.

All I know is that I can't live without them — so I keep collecting, refining and rearranging until I achieve the perfect balance.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at

Pillow talk: decorating on a budget 08/14/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:39pm]
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