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!
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.
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.
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.
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?