Skip to content

Pillow talk.


Our move to California happened faster than planned, leaving us about two weeks to find a house. And not just any house, but one that had space for a photography studio.

And a baby grand piano.

I don’t play the piano very well — certainly not well enough to justify owning one, let alone moving it 400 miles — but mine was a gift from my parents and playing it is one of my favorite forms of stress relief.

So I was thrilled when, during the final hours of our house-hunting trip, we found a place with a small front room that would accommodate a piano and not much else. But since we also loved the idea of a combination music room/library, we were determined to squeeze in a few of our books and something comfortable to sit on, too.

I knew we could repurpose some existing bookshelves — handmade by my dear friend Kim’s father — but the seating was a challenge. There was no way to fit a couch or loveseat; even our existing leather club chair was too bulky for the space.

While the boxy style and cherry red of this Pottery Barn leather slipper chair was not exactly on my dream furniture wish list, its low profile and no arms meant we could fit two in the tight space:

Although PB no longer sells the chairs, my husband found a brown pair on Craigslist, just a few miles from our house. They were comfortable, in perfect condition, and a steal — plus we figured if we ever move or get sick of them we could re-sell.

But after living with the chairs a couple weeks, it became clear that something was needed to break up the bo-ring brown:

But what? Here’s the blow by blow…

First, a Simple Decorating Tip: I hate shopping. And I hate returning even more. So one trick I’ve learned over the years for solving a decorating challenge is to first try what I have on hand. I once covered a pillow with a yellow sweater when I wanted to try out the color and didn’t have anything else that hue. I’ve hung sheets and tablecloths from curtain rods to test light vs. dark before investing in curtains, and used ribbon and double-stick tape to try out stripes on a lampshade.

So for the piano room, I started by adding a throw that normally just hangs out in a basket in our family room. It helped soften the look (and is great for snuggling up with a book), but it was still pretty much a visual yawn-fest.

I knew that pillows could add texture and dimension, but they also had to be comfortable and functional. Leather is a slick surface to begin with, and the slipper chair style required something that would stay put without resorting to Velcro.

So again, rather than heading to the store, I gathered every decorative pillow in my house to help narrow my options:

First up, chartreuse linen lumbar pillows from the guest bedroom. I actually liked the jolt of color and the rectangular shape, but at 10″ x 16″, they were too small and kept sliding off.

Next I tried the orange cotton pillows from my office (similar here). Although I liked it more than expected (even with the red), I ultimately wanted something more soothing. Plus, my husband is not a big fan of orange.

Brown velvet from the master bedroom. Right shape, and I’m always a sucker for a monochromatic look, but even I agree this was too much brown.

I love what a small dose of animal print can do for a room and these West Elm zebra pillows (also from my office), might have worked had they been rectangular instead of square. But they were still too big — I knew they’d end up on the floor every time we sat down.

Same goes for these black-and-white striped pillows from Pottery Barn (similar to their outdoor version here) — the graphic punch was great but they were too big for the chairs.

Nope, they don’t work horizontally, either.

Then I stumbled upon these lumbar cushions at IKEA. They’re the perfect size for the chairs and rather than slipping off, they conform to your lower back when you’re sitting down. Form + function FTW!

First I tried the red.

But since the red rug already dominates the tiny space, I ultimately preferred the more neutral black and tan stripe. They help lighten up the chairs and tie in the bookcase color without competing with the other elements in the room.

The final result:

I added a bit of color by swapping out the tan throw with a more colorful chartreuse one — I promise it looks better in person.

Update: Just caught the tail end of Along Came Polly on TV. This quote from Ben Stiller’s character struck me as a fitting way to end this post (at least in the global scheme of things):

“Oh and by the way, I threw away all your little throw pillows. Yeah, ’cause throw pillows suck. They serve no purpose. They’re purely decorative.”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/01 8:41 AM

    great idea, using what you have around the house first! Thanks for sharing the process you went through. I think some of the pillows in my house could benefit from more thought going into the size, color and shape for the space.

    • Jennifer permalink*
      05/01 10:20 AM

      Try it — it really works! And it’s become a standing joke around here: “You’re not really going to *keep* it that way, are you?” ;-)

  2. 05/06 5:55 PM

    Oh, my darling friend. This post made me feel as if I were right there with you looking at the various combinations and adding my two cents worth. Love you to pieces and miss you.

    • Jennifer permalink*
      05/09 8:22 AM

      I am taking this as written confirmation that you will come and give me your two cents in person. :-) It’s been MUCH too long — major withdrawals. xo

  3. 05/11 1:56 PM

    These pictures look like all the different pillows were photoshopped in! ;)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: