Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer Content

Touch of Class

Save 20% on Your Order Use code EPWA20 to save 20% on your order of $100 or more
By using this site you agree to our Privacy Policy, Terms of Use
Top−of−the−Bed Basics: Here's How to Arrange Shams and Pillows

Dominique Bedding with Pillows by Five Queens Court

Have you often admired those beautiful, layered top−of−the−bed displays but felt a bit daunted when it comes to your own bedroom? Dressing a bed doesn't have to be mystifying. We're here to sort out shams and pillows so that you're one step closer to creating your dreamiest bed ensemble yet.

Let's start with shams: What are shams?

Shams are decorative casings meant to hold your stuffer pillows; stuffers are usually plump and well−filled since they need to sit upright. Shams may have a flange around the edges or a tailored appearance. Shams are typically sold separately from the stuffers that are placed inside. Shams generally have a French back or a zippered closure on the back.

There are three sizes of shams. Standard/Queen shams and King shams are rectangular, while European shams are square. Standard/Queen shams have an interior size of about 20"x26", and King shams have an interior size of about 20"x36". (A Queen pillow will fit snugly in a Standard/Queen sham.) European shams have an interior size of about 26"x26".

Pillow Sham Sizes

Shams and stuffers are not meant for sleeping (unlike sleep pillows and pillowcases, which are intended for slumber). If you like, you can place a European stuffer pillow inside a European sham for use as a back−support pillow when you're sitting up in bed reading or watching TV. Although our Sweet Dreams Sham Stuffer is designed for ornamental use, it may be used as a firm support pillow.

Sweet Dreams Sham Stuffer Sleep Pillows

How many shams do you need for each bed size?

Twin Option A: one European sham + one Standard/Queen sham

Twin Option B: one King sham only (to span the width of the bed)

Full: two European shams + two Standard/Queen shams

Queen: two European shams + two Standard/Queen shams

King Option A: three European shams + two King shams

King Option B: three European shams + three Standard/Queen shams

Of course, no decorating rule is set in stone, and you can always pare back or layer more shams depending on your preference.

Where do you put shams on the bed?

Think of shams as your decorative foundation. There's certainly room for you to get creative with their placement; however, if you're a traditionalist, you'll want to start with the European shams. Place them upright, side by side, in front of your headboard. Next, layer your sleeping pillows (in their pillowcases) upright in front of the Euro shams. Then position your Standard/Queen or King shams in front of your sleeping pillows. You'll follow this layer with decorative pillows (more about those below).

Chatsworth Bedding with Pillows by Touch of Class

Let's move on to sleeping pillows: What are sleeping pillows?

Sleeping pillows are not ornamental; as their name suggests, they're meant for you to doze on each night. Sleeping pillows are placed in the pillowcases that you purchase alone or as part of a sheet set. Pillowcases are generally open on one end but could have a French tuck opening to conceal the pillow inside. You may choose to encase your pillow in a thin, zippered protector prior to placing it in the pillowcase.

  • Standard sleep pillows are about 20"x26"

  • Queen sleep pillows are about 20"x30"

  • King sleep pillows are about 20"x36"

Stomach sleepers will likely prefer a thinner, softer pillow, while side sleepers will need a thicker, firmer pillow for adequate neck support. Back sleepers will need a sleep pillow that is a happy medium – neither so thick that it pushes your head forward nor so thin that it lets your head drop back.

Specialty sleep pillows are intended for extra support or particular sleep needs. Specialty pillows include contour, wedge, medical, lumbar, knee, neck, body, and maternity pillows.

Keep any allergies in mind when selecting your sleep pillow; if you're allergy-prone, look for a pillow with hypoallergenic fill.

Shop Down and Basic Bedding >

How many sleep pillows do you need for each bed size?

Twin Option A: one standard pillow

Twin Option B: one king pillow (to span the width of the bed)

Full: two standard pillows

Queen: two standard pillows or two queen pillows

King Option A: two king pillows

King Option B: three standard pillows

Where do you put sleep pillows on the bed?

The placement of your sleep pillows in the daytime is entirely personal preference; however, you'll often see sleep pillows "sandwiched" between the European shams and Standard/Queen or King shams. If you're not fond of this arrangement, you can stack your sleeping pillows atop each other, then prop decorative shams and throw pillows in front of them.

Brighton by Austin Horn Classics

Finally, let's cover decorative throw pillows: What are decorative pillows?

Typically smaller than sham stuffers and sleeping pillows, decorative pillows are the final embellishment for bed displays. You might also see them referred to as accent pillows, throw pillows, or toss pillows. They might be simple in design with neat piping around the edges or ornately adorned with embroidery, tassels, twist cording, pompoms, ruffles, or other decorative trim. You can mix and match the accent pillows as you dress the bed, and there are a multitude of ways you can arrange them. The fill is usually included and may be sewn in or removable as an insert.

Decorative pillows generally come in one of four shapes: square, rectangle, neckroll, or round. Square pillows are usually 16"-20" sq. Rectangle decorative pillows are about 12"x16", though sizes vary. Jumbo rectangle pillows are about 36"-38"W but can be even larger; these super−long pillows will span a good portion of your bed and will look unique among your other pillows. Neckrolls, shorter cylindrical pillows, vary in size. Round pillows are usually 14"-15" dia.

Enchante Bedding - Square Pillow


Calais Bedding - Rectangle Pillow


Regency Bedding - Round Pillow


Heirloom Rose Bedding - Neckroll Pillow


Momentum Bedding - Jumbo Rectangle Pillow

Jumbo Rectangle


How many decorative pillows do you need for the bed?

That's entirely up to you! You might choose solely shams for a minimalist appeal, one or two accent pillows for a spark of color, or several decorative pillows to give your bed a plush, fresh-from-the-catalog look.

If you decide to add decorative pillows to your bed, the general guidelines are as follows:

Twin or Full: one−two accent pillows

Queen: two−three accent pillows

King: three accent pillows

Again, this can be altered to your liking.

How do you arrange decorative pillows on the bed? Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Simple and Sweet: Place one accent pillow in front of your shams, right in the middle.

  2. Two together: Purchase a pair of pillows and place one in front of each sham on Full and Queen beds. You can adjust this look for a King bed as well. If you have two King shams on the bed, place an accent pillow in front of each and scoot the pillows slightly toward the center of the bed. If you have three Standard/Queen shams on a King bed, place one accent pillow in front where the first and second shams meet and another accent pillow in front where the second and third shams meet.

  3. Triplets: On a King bed, place three of the same type of rectangle pillow in the front row, equally spaced.

  4. Mix it up: On Queen and King beds, place two or three different pillows in the front row. You can overlap them slightly or tuck one behind the others so they're not side by side.

  5. Portia II Bedding in Sapphire Cambridge Bedspreads Spellbound Bedding Elegante Bedding

    Where do you put the throw pillows at night?

    An end−of−the−bed bench or trunk is great for storing accent pillows at night. You can also place the decorative pillows on a window seat, on accent chairs, or inside storage baskets.

    Where else can decorative pillows be placed?

    Wherever you like! Throw pillows don't have to be limited to the bed or even the bedroom; you can place them in other rooms of the home for decorative interest. Cozy up couches, chairs, and benches by topping them with your favorite accent pillows.

    Majesty Decorative Pillow Rustic Buffalo Plaid Pillows Omega Contemporary Pillows Serengeti Decorative Pillows