Whether elaborately embellished or a minimalist rectangle, a decorative sham brings a layered, finished look to your bedding ensemble. But what exactly is a sham and how do you incorporate them into your bedroom decor? This guide will explain everything you need to know about creatively styling with shams.
We’ll define what a sham is, the different types of shams, and their varied design purposes. We’ll also share insider style tips for decorating with shams, mixing and matching shams and pillows, along with sham pairing advice to take your bed to the next level. After understanding the possibilities of shams, you can easily elevate your bedroom with this simple decorative touch.
What is a Sham?
A sham refers to a decorative fabric pillow cover used as part of making up a bed. Shams serve aesthetic purposes rather than functional ones. Common characteristics include:
- Meant for decoration, not sleeping
- Made from myriad fabrics like cotton, linen, velvet
- Filled with a pillow form or left empty
- Found in square, rectangular or novelty shapes
- Offered in wide range of patterns, colors and details
Bed shams introduce color, texture and interest to tie a bedding ensemble together in style.
Types of Shams and Their Uses
Shams serve varied design functions depending on their size and shape:
- Range from 18″ to 36″ square
- Sit in front of sleeping pillows
- Usually sold in pairs for symmetry
Design uses: The most common sham for bringing color, pattern and texture. Coordinates with sheets, duvets and blankets.
- Oversized like 48″ x 48″ square
- Flank the sides of a king-size headboard
- Make a bold luxurious style statement
Design uses: For maximizing pattern or creating a focal point flanking the bed. An eclectic alternative to Euro shams.
- Larger 26″ x 26″ or 28″ x 28″ square size
- Cover entire sleeping pillows beneath
- Can open fully unlike standard shams
Design uses: Provides full pattern or colorblocking while allowing access to functional pillows beneath.
- Smaller square around 12″ to 18″
- Place in front of sleeping pillows
Design uses: Accent squares to pull color from sheets into the pillow layer.
- Long narrow rectangular styling
- Range from 12″ to 16″ x 28″ to 40″
- Arrange at headboard corners or angles
Design uses: Provide a tailored, elegant symmetry and framed arrangement.
Explore different sham types to find the perfect fit for your bed’s headboard size and decor theme.
Sham vs. Standard Pillows
Decorative shams serve a much different purpose than standard bed pillows. Here’s how they compare:
- Function is comfortable sleeping support
- Filled with down, feathers, or poly fibers
- Come in “sleeping” sizes like standard, queen, and king
- Require regular laundering
- Function is decorative embellishment
- Often unfilled or filled lightly for visual appeal
- Sized for design symmetry, not sleep comfort
- Spot clean only; irregular laundering
Pillows = function, shams = fashion. Layer both for the optimal blend!
Tips for Styling with Decorative Shams
Shams seem simple but offer lots of possibilities for infusing creativity. Follow these design tips for styling shams:
- Mix solid shams with patterned shams for contrast.
- Choose sham shapes that match or complement the lines of your headboard.
- Make the sham a contrasting color to pull out hints from sheets or walls.
- Coordinate sham colors with other layers like blankets or duvet colors.
- Style shams symmetrically for a tailored look.
- Finish the bed with an additional lumbar sham for asymmetry.
- Pair textures like velvet or embroidered shams with smooth cotton sheets.
- Display shams upright as artwork when the bed is not made.
Don’t be afraid to have fun with combining colors, patterns and textures!
Mixing & Matching Shams
One of the best ways to infuse personality into a basic bed is by creatively mixing and matching sham patterns and colors. Here are some tips for artfully combining shams:
Vary Color Palettes
Combine complementary palettes on shams for interest – like pink, red and coral. Or match shams to accent colors in sheets.
Place shams in a mix of overlaying scales like wide and narrow stripes or large and small florals. Varying scale creates visual depth.
Arrange Euro and standard shams together to show off multiple coordinating patterns like a floral Euro sham with a paisley standard sham.
Make One Color Stand Out
Use shams in one color to make it pop against neutral sheets like bright yellow against crisp white linens.
Highlight the Top
Finish solid or simple base sheets with bold patterned shams as the crowning top layer.
Don’t hesitate to have fun combining colors, prints and textures to create a signature sham style!
Best Ways to Coordinate and Pair Shams
Here are some of our favorite pairings for beautiful coordinated shams:
Euros + Lumbar Pillows
Flank decorative Euro shams with smaller square lumbar pillows for tailored symmetry.
Contrasting Stacked Sets
Place a solid color standard sham behind a contrasting patterned Euro for interest.
Combine geometric and floral designs or wide scalloped shams with narrow pleated and use texture to tie together.
Relate shams to each other with repeated motifs like vine or medallion prints.
Keep shams cohesive using same color family like purple, plum and lilac.
Creative sham pairings instantly elevate beds into designer showpieces full of depth and dimension.
Sham Styling Inspiration
Still unsure where to start mixing and matching? Here are some classic and creative sham combinations for inspiration:
- Vibrant floral Euros with abstract solids
- Double pleated Euros in alternating colors
- Woven stripe standards with embroidered Euros
- Scalloped edge classic white standards atop patterns
- Contrasting buffalo check and stripe standards
- Quilted Euros framed with cozy lumbar pillows
- Sculptural 3D woven shams paired simply
Add your own personal twist and have fun designing the sham pairings or groupings that express your unique style!
How many shams should you have on a bed?
Standard sizes usually do well with 2-4 shams total. Two matching shams nicely frame full through king beds. Queen and larger beds can layer two Euros behind two standards or a pair of oversized kings. Limit shams to avoid clutter.
What size sham should I get?
Standard shams range from 18″ up to 36″ square. Euro shams are 26”-28” square. Choose sizes that allow 3-5 inches shorter than the height of your headboard so shams don’t cloak your headboard style.
What is the difference between a sham and a pillowcase?
A sham is solely decorative for bed design while a pillowcase is functional, enclosing a sleeping pillow. Shams come in a wider range of decorative patterns, fabrics, shapes and sizes tailored for aesthetic coordination.
Should you use a sham cover or insert?
For fuller shams, use a filled insert for maximum volume. If you prefer a streamlined flattened sham, simply use a sham cover with no stuffing. Fillers give a lush look but inserts can shift during use.
How should shams be placed on a bed?
Square shams traditionally sit in front of the sleeping pillow area. Euro shams layer behind. Arrange symmetrically for a classic linear look or play with angles. Finish with lumbar pillows for asymmetry based on your personal taste.
The Bottom Line
Understanding the design possibilities and how to artfully style shams allows you to fully utilize them for adding visual richness, color, and texture to complement your bedding. Follow principles like mixing scales and patterns in coordinating colors or contrasting motifs to add personal flair. Shams may seem like a basic bedding element but allow ample room for your personal creativity. Don’t be afraid to use shams as a simple styling tool to infuse some pattern play and artistry into your bedroom oasis to fully personalize your space.