Styling 101: Neutral Pillows & Throws

Heather Bullard | Styling 101: Neutral Pillows & Throws

As a stylist, there are certain props I pull for every single photoshoot. Pillows and throws are two of those items. Even if the home appears to be filled to the brim with choices I still bring options and always include a mix of neutrals. They’re sort of a secret weapon in styling. Neutrals add a soft, quiet background layer that enables more colorful pieces to pop on camera. It would work the same in your home as well. I promise.

Having spent years immersed in residential and commercial design (which subsequently transitioned to my current career of editorial styling) I’ve decided to utilize my expertise and help you learn the styling techniques I employ in my work through a new series of posts – Styling 101. Here’s what you can expect and our first lesson!

Heather Bullard | Styling 101: Neutral Pillows & Throws

In this new series I plan to address common issues I face on-set and in my own home, tackle some of the most common questions I receive, and help you gain confidence in your own styling. Lately, I’ve noticed there seems to be a plethora of “experts” which, if I’m honest, has kept me from chiming in. But I’ve decided to embrace the fact that I’ve put in my so-called 10,000+ hours to become an authority on the subject and want to use that knowledge to be of service to you. Through our lessons together I hope you will ask questions and share your styling challenges so I can address them in future posts. We’re in this together and I’m cheering you on!

Now, let’s talk about ways you can incorporate neutral pillows and throws in your home and what to look for when you’re on the hunt for new pieces.

Texture is Key

Texture is the secret sauce that ensures your styling won’t appear dull or monotone. You can easily achieve this with a chunky knitted throw draped on an armchair, soft faux fur pillows, wool or cashmere throw blankets, or oversized leather pillows used to anchor the ends of a sofa. When I’m sourcing props for a shoot or shopping for myself, the first thing I look for is texture. Before everything else, including color, I will automatically scan selections for texture because I know first hand what a valuable tool it is in my styling work.

Use a Combination

Think in terms of three’s when balancing neutrals. For pillows, look for three that compliment each other but have different elements, tones, or textures. A combination could also be two neutral pillows and one throw draped over the arm of a sofa. For example in the photo (below right) note there are three different gray pillows: faux fur, a dark round crochet knit, and a square chunky knit but (Bonus Points!) they’re also three different shades of color. By using combinations you create layers and add visual contrast in your styling.

Muted Tones

Neutrals can also be used to convey “color” of in the form of muted tones. Dusty shades of pink, bleached or faded blues, matte blacks and grays are examples of hues that take on the aspect of a neutral. These types of palettes are my favorite to work with. I find them soothing the way they hint of color in a subtle way.

Heather Bullard | Styling 101: Neutral Pillows & Throws Images: Kristian Septiumius Krogh, MyDomainLily & OscarUrban ComfortIneke Visser

Graphic Neutrals

Make no mistake, neutrals should not equate to bland or boring. Embrace bold graphic patterns, large or small scale prints, classic stripes, or black and white combos to add a dramatic or playful element to the space. In my own home, black is having a moment. I find it striking and feel it adds a heir of refinement to my otherwise rustic spaces. Graphic neutrals can bridge the gap for those of you who crave color. I suppose they would be considered your gateway neutrals.

Surprise Element

Whether you’re style is modern, elegant, or more rustic, details such as fringe, buttons, pom poms, contrasting stitching or cording can help neutral pieces stand out. Think of a natural Moroccan throw blanket with oversized tassels on the ends, or a washed linen pillow with frayed edging. As they say, it’s in the details. Look for pieces that have character to add interest and dimension to a neutral palette.

Hopefully some of these tips will guide you while shopping for new pieces and encourage you try the techniques in your own home. Below I’ve sourced some of my favorites so you can see the variety of hues and textures I look for when shopping for neutrals. I’m currently obsessing over numbers 1, 4, 12, and 19. Did I mention my profession can be hazardous to my wallet?

Styling 101: Neutral Pillows & Throws
1 Geometric  | 2 French Stripe 3 Grey Fringe | 4 Black Geo | 5 Faux Fur | 6 Grey Knot | 7 Blush | 8 Chunky Knit | 9 Basketweave | 10 Leather | 11 Laguna | 12 Rishi | 13 Herringbone | 14 Diamond | 15 Webster | 16 Washed Linen | 17 White Fringe | 18 Embroidered | 19 Lumbar | 20 Dark Weave | 21 Stone 22 Tribal | 23 Big Knit | 24 Fringed | 25 Onyx | 26 Indigo | 27 Blush Fur

Between posts you can find me on Instagram sharing highlights of daily life.
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  • Pam Edmondson

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It is appreciated. And know that you do not fall into the category of ‘self proclaimed expert’, it is clear that you really are.

    February 9, 2018 at 12:21 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Thank you, Pam. I was just having a conversation with a friend about how it seems so many want to Be experts but so few want to Become one. It takes time to hone your craft and there’s no shame in being a novice, intern, or student. We all start somewhere!

      February 9, 2018 at 1:01 pm Reply
  • Karen Baruth

    Yay!!!!! I’m so excited that you are finally doing this. I’ve always loved your style and think you’re one of the best with a unique look all your own. Looking forward to learning from you. Count me in.

    February 9, 2018 at 1:39 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Hooray! I feel like it’s taken me forever to start sharing my knowledge. I suppose I always felt the internet was jam packed with information (helpful or otherwise) and I would only be adding to the noise. But I also realize I have a ton of real, practical, hands-on professional experience and look forward to helping others create beautifully styled homes!

      February 9, 2018 at 1:54 pm Reply
  • Colleen Martin

    I think it is great that you are sharing your knowledge. I’ve missed your digital magazines. I do want to express my personal dislike of seeing throws in design photos. Such an object should not be required to convey color or style to a room in itself. Throws should be folded and kept in a drawer until someone is chilly and then brought out and used for that legitimate purpose as the room is truly used. I’ve even seen a silly class on 100 ways to drape the throw. I am also opposed to seeing a zillion throw pillows on a bed where it would take 20 minutes to remove them to get into bed. Then where to put them? They are thrown on the floor, of course. I agree on your points of texture, combinations and the surprise element. To my eye, a beautiful room could be one that has neither pillows nor throws but is beautiful because of the architecture [windows, floors, ceilings], furniture, color or lack thereof, etc. I hope you will address in future posts “over decorating” and how to create visual balance. I am thinking along the lines of Axel Veervordt’s sparse rooms where every element in them is very carefully selected — no pillows, no throws — where texture, light, color combinations, etc. are used to create a beautiful space. Looking forward to your next post.

    February 9, 2018 at 3:55 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Love hearing your thoughts, Colleen! In my own home, I love throws both folded and draped. Editorially speaking both techniques are used to convey different meanings. Casually draped gives the reader a sense of lifestyle in a room (they can imagine sitting in a chair, reading a book) while the other folder method will give a sense of organization and order. Both serve a purpose.
      The goal of all editorial prop styling is to bring out the essence of the homes features as well as those who occupy it. How they actually live in the home as opposed to it being a real estate shot.
      I love your suggestion of touching on “over decorating” as I’m a firm believer that less can be more!

      February 9, 2018 at 4:04 pm Reply
  • Lisa

    This is great Heather! I loved this post. And I too would love to hear your thoughts on “over decorating.” I see it so often on IG nowadays. I feel stressed when I see a room with so much stuff everywhere. 🙂

    February 9, 2018 at 6:51 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Me too! In fact, the first thing I do when styling a space for a magazine is a thoughtful and deliberate edit of items. I’d say the single most important technique others should learn when styling their own homes, is how to edit out the “fluff and stuff”. Definitely adding this topic to the lesson plan! So important. Maybe I should have started with it!

      February 9, 2018 at 7:02 pm Reply
      • Lisa

        Can’t wait! 🙂

        February 9, 2018 at 7:17 pm Reply
  • Jane

    I see a book coming! That would be lovely. I have been a fan for years. Thank you for sharing.

    February 9, 2018 at 7:00 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      If only I could find a good agent! 😉 Appreciate your encouragement. Hopefully it will come true one day.

      February 9, 2018 at 7:04 pm Reply
      • Debbie

        Self-publishing might be an option!! 🙂

        February 11, 2018 at 12:04 pm Reply
        • Heather Bullard

          Very true! But I think I would prefer the traditional route. I like the idea of a team of professionals behind me helping to make it the best it can be. 🙂

          February 11, 2018 at 2:49 pm Reply
  • Cindy Gardner

    Love this post! Would also love to see the pillows in your house too!
    Thank you for always inspiring Heather!


    February 9, 2018 at 7:36 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Thanks, Cindy! Hoping to shoot some photos this weekend. Posting more often is on the agenda for 2018!

      February 9, 2018 at 7:53 pm Reply
  • katey

    Thank you for the great info! I have been unsatisfied with my pillows in my den for some time but couldn’t really say way. Now i know!! Looking forward to more posts! Katey

    February 9, 2018 at 8:44 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Hi Katey! Hope the tips gave you some ideas and will help you in your search! You got this! 🙂

      February 9, 2018 at 8:52 pm Reply
  • Tami Renno

    So great to see you doing this! I’ve always loved your amazing artistic eye for everything…especially decorating.

    February 9, 2018 at 9:36 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Tami…hello!! You should speak…you’re so creative and talented with all things home related! Hope all is well in your neck of the woods. 🙂

      February 9, 2018 at 9:57 pm Reply
  • Kelli Dotson

    Heather you are a treasure, thank you so much for sharing your gift.

    February 9, 2018 at 9:59 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Aw, thank you Kelli. I’m really looking forward to this new series as it’s a subject matter I’m quite fond of. 🙂

      February 9, 2018 at 10:05 pm Reply
  • Beth

    I’ve followed you for years and just love your style. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, I’m already looking forward to your next post!

    February 10, 2018 at 5:30 am Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Thanks, Beth! I have so many ideas spinning in my head. Lots to talk about in the styling department! Happy you’ll be coming along for the lessons.

      February 10, 2018 at 7:08 am Reply

    I love your posts! YES! a book! you have such a wonderful talent! Keep the posts coming!

    February 10, 2018 at 7:32 am Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Thanks so much, Kelly! I’ve been working on a proposal…maybe it will happen. Still need to find the perfect agent. 🙂 For now, more posts are in the works!

      February 10, 2018 at 7:57 am Reply
  • Carmella

    Yay! This is gonna be good! (And, I’ve got the names of a couple agents 🙂

    February 10, 2018 at 8:40 am Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      I’m excited about the series too! And thanks, would absolutely love agent referrals! 🙂
      PS. Your hair. You. Positively stunning. Seriously. xo, H

      February 10, 2018 at 9:23 am Reply
  • Janae

    Thank you, thank you! Would love to learn any home dec/styling advice you’re willing to share! All your spaces you share are so peaceful, and beautiful! I always seem to struggle with pillow combos, so I’ll have to reference back to this as I change things out seasonally!

    February 10, 2018 at 9:15 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Great, hope it helps with your shopping choices. I know it can be overwhelming! Remember, texture and tone are you two best friends! Thanks for reading and taking the time to connect. 🙂

      February 10, 2018 at 9:59 pm Reply
  • Debe

    Great post! Thanks for sharing all your experience…you ARE a pro!

    February 13, 2018 at 4:04 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Thanks so much, Debe! 🙂

      February 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm Reply
  • Leonie Aland

    How exciting to be able have access to your knowledge & ideas ! I am looking forward to your future post, Thanks so much for sharing.

    February 15, 2018 at 4:59 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      So happy to hear you’re looking forward to the Styling 101 posts, me too! 🙂

      February 16, 2018 at 6:40 am Reply
  • Ellen

    So looking forward to seeing more posts and getting a chance to see interiors through your eye. Loved the pillow post too.

    February 16, 2018 at 4:34 am Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Thanks, Ellen! Styling is one of my favorite subjects and I can’t wait to share more!

      February 16, 2018 at 6:41 am Reply
  • Tracy

    Count me in! I’ve missed you and always loved your style.

    February 16, 2018 at 6:48 am Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      Yay! Thanks so much, Tracy!

      February 16, 2018 at 7:04 am Reply
  • Susan

    Every time I let out a gasp for a beautiful home in a magazine (e.g. Country Living), I always discover it has been styled by you. No wonder! You have such talent, Heather, and I’ve enjoyed following your work for so many years. Looking forward to following this series (and hopefully a book someday if you find that agent).

    February 16, 2018 at 1:29 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      What a nice compliment, thank you Susan. I really love what I do and hope to share that passion and knowledge so others can learn simple ways to style their own spaces. Thanks so much for following along over the years! Feels good to be back at it! 🙂

      February 16, 2018 at 5:16 pm Reply
  • Wendy Phillips

    Great details and information! Keep sharing! I just refined a design for a client and my own space based on your suggestions. It made all the difference!

    March 2, 2018 at 3:41 pm Reply
    • Heather Bullard

      I’m thrilled to hear you implemented some of the ideas into your work! It encourages me to continue on with the series. Thanks so much!

      March 2, 2018 at 6:14 pm Reply
  • Kath


    April 25, 2018 at 12:11 pm Reply
  • Layne Helmering

    Darling, how do I source pillow #2?

    July 1, 2018 at 9:51 am Reply
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