Ask Jennifer Adams: What purpose does a pillow sham serve

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Pillow cases are open on one end, and shams either zipper shut or have a flap opening in the back.

Q: I like to keep my apartment minimal and simple, as it’s small and fills up fast with stuff. But in my bedroom, my boyfriend and I like to sleep with two pillows each. I also like the idea of those big square pillows to have something to lean against when I read. At my Gramma’s house growing up, she made such a big deal when we tried to use the big pillows to sleep on or play on the floor with. What are they for exactly?

A: The clean minimal look for bedrooms is so refreshing and airy, and will never be out of style. I love this look because it really adds to a sense of calmness and tranquillity. However, that doesn’t mean your bed has to look like it belongs in a monastery. A comfortably layered bed that feels as great as it looks is a luxury that has nothing to do with a busy appearance.

The key is to keep your bedding simple is to make sure every piece has at least one function besides just decoration. For a traditional look, those big square pillows or Euro pillows would be covered with a heavier fabric that matches a bedspread or coverlet. I’ve seen some of these sets made of very heavy upholstery-weight fabric that really wouldn’t be great to sleep on. Maybe that was the point, as these fabrics were probably dry-clean only. Today, it’s easy to find low-maintenance, machine-washable blankets, comforters, or coverlets with matching pillow shams that you could use as your second pillow. Just wash the shams along with your regular pillowcases, or according to the directions.

The term “sham” refers to the cover for that second pillow, decorative or not, whether it is a big Euro pillow or even another pillow the same size as your sleeping pillow. The difference comes down to a sham having a flapped opening in the back; pillowcases are open on only one end. Some higher-quality pillowcases also have a flap at the end so you can’t see the actual pillow inside. Many shams have all four edges finished, often with a wide stitched flange, which makes the pillow look bigger.

Depending on the look you want, you could have your bedding include pillowcases and shams that match. Or choose one color, such as white or ivory for your pillowcases and sheets, and a contrasting color or even a pattern for shams and a blanket, coverlet, duvet cover, or comforter. Just make sure they are all easy care, especially if you have pets.

Add a textural throw blanket in a similar color for the ultimate luxurious look and flexibility. It doesn’t have to be fussy.

Have a design dilemma? Jennifer Adams is an award-winning designer, author of the upcoming book “Love Coming Home” and TV personality. Send your questions to AskJennifer@JenniferAdams.com or for more design ideas, visit Jennifer’s blog on her website at www.jenniferadams.com.