Home Decor

To Chop or Not to Chop: The Great Pillow Debate

This styling technique has just got to go.

November  7, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

I am by no means immune to passing trends. I routinely fall for things that persist on my Pinterest feed, and there are quite a few items in my home that I stare at with regret, because I fell, headfirst, into the trap of a fad. Like many, I did away with all things nickel and chrome in favor of brass and copper, I’m a sucker for neutral-on-neutral tones, and I cannot stop filling all manner of vessels with dried florals.

That said, actively disliking some of these decor and styling trends kind of comes with the territory, so it’s really no surprise that I have opinions on... pillow chopping. That’s right, pillow chopping.

If you’re knitting your brow in confusion, let me show you what I mean:

You see those black and white throw pillows, and how they appear as though someone went all martial-arts on the top? That’s because they did. This look is achieved through fluffing the pillow (it seems to work best with down filling) and literally using your hand to chop down on the top to create an indentation. It’s often the final step in the styling of a bed or couch, be it for a professional photograph or just personal preference for tidiness.

Why though?

The technique, like many a strange trend, seems to have originated in the 80’s, a time when people also thought teal and salmon were ideal interior colors. Says my friend, Will Taylor (interior designer and bestselling author, “all I can see on a ‘chopped’ pillow is Madonna’s cone bra from her ‘Vogue’ era. That was iconic. In pillow form, it is not. Period!”

Why am I riled up about this now, when the world is going through enough turmoil? For one, I’d sometimes rather focus on the minutiae of interior decorating to distract my brain. But two, I recently binge-watched the entirety of Dream Home Makeover (a delightfully light-hearted home renovation show I recommend), and saw Shea McGee of McGee & Co. repeatedly chop the tops of throw pillows. She even taught her daughters—the next generation of pillow-choppers—how to master this styling trick.

I thought to myself: “wait, is pillow-chopping cool again?”

Perhaps it is, but... not in my home. I think some of my distaste stems from my gravitation towards rooms that feel friendly and lived-in, as opposed to more formal decor. For me, a chopped pillow conjures memories of off-limits living rooms with covers on the nice couches and a foreboding sense of “don’t bring your snack in there.” I’m nervous just thinking about it.

The formality of the chop also seems to make things nerve-racking for guests, who aren’t sure of the rules & regs. Says senior editor, Arati Menon: “I recently went to a friend’s home where all the pillows on the couch were chopped. As I uncomfortably settled into them, I could only think of one thing: Was I supposed to re-chop them when I got up to leave? What’s the protocol here?” Turns out, she awkwardly chopped them all when she got up, with a lingering worry she didn’t do it right.

Like anything we do in our homes, though, it’s all a matter of personal preference. While I can rant about pillow chopping and mason jars as drinkware till I’m blue in the face, what I’d love to know is… where do you stand on this very important debate? Should pillow-chopping have stayed in the 80’s?

Got any strong opinions on pillow chopping? Sound off below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Steven Williamson
    Steven Williamson
  • Cibi
  • willow496
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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.


Steven W. September 17, 2023
I never even knew this was a thing that people liked/hated. Oh well!
Cibi August 7, 2023
Chopping originated as a snobby form of letting guests know that you only had down pillows, nothing more common. Get rid of it! It is pretentious and silly
willow496 March 29, 2022
I think "chopped" pillows are just stupid. They were designed to be square, and why is that not okay? Are we just a few steps away from chopping round or lumbar pillows?
Erin February 13, 2021
I love the irony. We--the author and commenters--are taking out our pent up 2020/2021 aggressions by having a harmless pillow fight!
Mar November 27, 2020
Chopped always was and always will be tacky and bourgeois.
Terri W. November 14, 2020
Oh for the love of God no, please no pillow chopping. If a pillow on my couch gets accidentally close to looking chopped, I will fluff it in a New York minute. I despise that look and think it reeks of pretentiousness. thank you for writing this! I laughed the entire time.
alison November 14, 2020
Thank you for writing this! I was laughing the entire time. Funny how when we are maxed out it just takes one thing to send us into a rant. Your rant felt good! The pillow chop makes me feel very nervous too.
vgshea November 14, 2020
Unlike salmon and teal (or mauve and aqua) -- which, when done right, actually can look nice together -- chopped pillows always have been and always will be ugly. I never understood the point of this trend and I'd be thrilled never to see it again.
Laura H. November 14, 2020
Nothing reeks of self conscious and in inviting more then pillow chopping. Well lots of things but pillow chopping is up there. Seriously-are you going to relax into a conversation while perched stiffly to avoid messing up someone’s perfectly quaffed decor? Nope. Nothing intimate about about a room that screams “don’t mess with me!”
Your kids, friends, spouse, or date will stay at emotional physical Arms length. Probably not what you’re hoping for. So loosen up your pillows like bed-head is to hairstyles. Warm friendly inviting. Comfortable with yourself.
Jan November 14, 2020
No chop! Never liked it, doubt I ever will. Contrived. Not welcoming at all.
Deirdre N. November 14, 2020
I like the chop on down filled pillows. This is new for me. I agree it is a giant hassle and waste of time....and yet it makes me feel like there is some order and beauty in these crazy Covid times.
Eileen November 14, 2020
Agree...no beautiful pillow should be chopped! Just a fad soon to go away....please!
winelover5 November 14, 2020
My mind was going to the same place then I read your article. I cannot do this look! I love a well-designed home but I also want mine lived-in & comfortable. Fluffing is one thing & I’m a huge fan but chopping? Not for me!
Brooke M. November 14, 2020
OMG this has been an observation which I never understood since I first saw it.
Who am I to say, but every time I saw or see it, I think how stupid looking, How did this ever become a trend? Actually, I attribute it to a person with little original good taste.
I don't recall ever seeing pilllow chopping in a sophisticated designer's room......do you recall seeing it done by Albert Hadley, Kelly Wearstler or Charlotte Moss, I don't think so.
Pillows meant to be "pillowy"; soft, round, something you might want to lean against
or even hug. No one want to lean against pointed thorns!
apple1121 March 7, 2021
I’m with you re pillow chopping, but didn’t know Charlotte Moss. I went to her site and sorry to tell you... https://charlottemoss.com/design/charlotte-moss-for-eastern-accents/
willow496 March 29, 2022
The word is "your."
Megan H. November 10, 2020
Haa, this article amuses me to no end. I have been working with a good friend for a few years now Home Staging here in Seattle. In our searches, for new trends, we always see this Ninja chop in photos and at Staged properties. We agree with you, it's outdated but more than that it contrived. I am new to your website I just heard about from a good friend that follows you, Firefly Kitchens, https://www.fireflykitchens.com/ happy Fall!
Robbie November 9, 2020
I don’t remember this from the 80s, but have seen it in the past months for the first time and never liked it, there’s something really annoying about it. This article was really funny and I’m so glad I’m not the only one. It only feels like another meaningless status of style, but without any character to it. The hard part about this is when I see brands that I like online doing this because I wish people could lead with authentic ideas. I love things to be functional and comfortable first and then style within those goals and I don’t get any of that from this. Maybe if they could at least put the chop on the sides. Just kidding.
Christine November 9, 2020
Hate them, too! I was told the trend started to make pillows look LESS formal and more casual. Either way, happy to see the trend go bye bye.
Sal November 9, 2020
A former partner is a stylist and this drove her whole industry crazy. There was technique to arranging pillows-- need to avoid too many parallel lines in the pillow arrangement and "suggest" real life-- and while some chopping was ok, the hideous example doesn't make sense: it's one thing to fluff and dent an arrangement where people sit, but on a bed, don't chop! And anyway those chops need dialing back 75%.
[email protected] November 9, 2020
I, personally, really dislike this trend and have since it began. Even if I did like it, my family would have it wrecked and not redo it. I have a nice extra sitting area on the hearth of our fireplace, which we rarely use. I bought a hearth floor cushion, which exactly matches the size of the hearth, then added a series of complementing pillows that I thought looked nice. The pillows are never put back in my scheme. May have been taken by family members because they are “comfortable “. It really ticks me off and when I ask for the appropriated ones to be returned, I get no response. Any suggestions?
Rachel H. November 8, 2020
I am so totally here for this debate. I do visuals at a store that sells furniture and housewares and this is one of my BIGGEST pet peeves! I’m constantly having to untrain people about this! Ugh, it’s so ugly and unnecessary. Hate, definitely.
Caroline M. November 8, 2020
Honestly I’m just so relieved it’s not just me.