I once directed a photographic shoot in a house that made the ultimate architectural statement. The big, broad structural gestures were matched by eye-wateringly expensive detailing, while art that would normally only be seen in public galleries adorned the walls. What let the carefully considered interior down, however, was a huge, L-shaped sofa, awash with cushions seemingly indiscriminate both in their relationship to one another and the room at large. We removed about two-thirds of the cushions to get to a level acceptable for photography.
It’s easy to belittle the humble cushion, but it’s a key tool in the interior decorator’s arsenal. Executed well, it can pull a whole room together. Meryl Hare of Sydney’s Hare & Klein is something of a cushion whisperer, as the living room opposite illustrates. “We spend an inordinate amount of time working towards the ‘perfect’ combination,” she says, “but it has to look accidental.”
Her process involves sketching the furniture with cushions in place to assess whether she has the right size and tonal combinations, sometimes going as far as to use Photoshop to check the overall effect. So while consumers tend to treat cushions as incidental, casual purchases – they’ve been referred to as the interior equivalent of buying a lipstick; a quick retail pick-meup – the professionals are honing their craft through trial and error.
Kristen Walsham is a self-confessed cushion addict, having gathered more than 65 in her one-bedroom apartment. “I travel a great deal for work and am always on the lookout for cushions from tasteful homeware and design stores,” she says. “I have bought cushions in New Zealand, Port Macquarie, Cairns and Perth, and have brought covers home from Europe.” Walsham is prepared to pay up to $250 for the right cushion, and refuses to admit that she’s done buying.
Never say never – there is always storage!” How do we know when we’ve reached “peak cushion”? Ross Longmuir, designer and owner of Sydney’s Planet, makes it simple. “There are too many when you have to take cushions off the sofa to sit down,” he says. He recommends up to four cushions for a three-seater sofa, two for a two-seater and one for an armchair. When it comes to your double bed, he warns that two is enough.
As for how to array said cushions, it’s generally agreed that the “karate chop” effect, in which square cushions dip in the middle, is a decorating crime. Hare went so far as to specify rectangular cushions for one hospitality project after realising housekeeping couldn’t resist the chop. Longmuir agrees that “the chop” is a high-maintenance effect, and not one he would recommend.