There are three design tricks that magazines almost always do to prop a room to make it seem more luxurious and add style to it.
Greenery. Magazines are always adding large plants, flowering plants, flower or fruit arrangements or cut flowers to each room. Look through a pictorial and you'll the same plants and flowers showing up in each room or in different angles to the same room (as if they grew legs and followed the photographer around.)
Why they do it
Plants, flowers and produce have a living quality that adds sparkle to a room. Flowers and unusual plants can have colour combinations that are stunningly unusual and add a real flare to a room. Also a vase full of glowingly bright yellow flowers would seem like a burst of sunshine but adding a piece of furniture that colour could just look off.
Trying to copy the flower arrangements used in magazines might be excessively expensive unless you are able to buy flowers at wholesale. Conservatively pricing each cut flower at $1 each in an arrangement (or flower vase) you might count up to 100 flowers. Two or three of these large flower arrnagements scattered about the house every week would end up costing you over $15,000 a year.
How to copy it
There are different ways to get that same lush look for a fraction of the price. Cut from you own garden- if you have any sort of backyard space to grow flowers try it. A flowering bush like a lilac tree once established will be covered with hundreds of blooms and sniping off a few dozen will make no difference to how it will look in you garden. Peonies are another spring flower that is stunning in the home.
Find out what grows really well in you neighbourhood and plant it. It doesn't have to take over your yard and most perennials once established are almost maintenance free. A Bleeding Heart (decentra spectabilis) at the side of your house will produce a beautiful bouquet in the spring with very little effort.
Farmers markets often have flowers sold beside the produce at very reasonable prices, it is also an opportunity to buy old fashioned garden flowers that are not ususally available from florists.
One of the tricks of the trade is to bring in annuals in the fall before the first frost and plant them up as flowering plants in lovely bowls to extend their lives and have some flowers for free. The flowering ground cover Vinca is sutable to bring inside as are Impatience, if you haven't let them grow too leggy.
Use your fruit trees, if you have an apple or any other tree that produces beautiful fruit pile these up with some of their leaves in an bowl or basket and leave it on a hall table or coffee table for all to admire.
Flowering plants from the grocery store or big box stores will bloom for several weeks and if treated properly will come back year after year.
Azaleas look majestic when planted into an oriental style plant container.
There is a succession of flowering plants offered through out the year- the main thing to remember is if they start looking scruffy it is time either to remove them from the spot light and let them have their rest or get rid of them. Large plants can be bought at grocery stores and big box stores as well for under $15. One large plant as a focal point is a statement, not a handful of small ones.
Never leave these plants in their black or green containers ( they are just depressing looking). It is difficult to find good looking large containers at a reasonable price- you might have to wait until the fall when they go on sale in the garden centers.
Pillows, Throws and Shawls- These are scattered about to add interest and colour. Almost every room in a magazine will have one or more of these items. The cosier they try to make a the room the more "soft" furnishing they will add.
Why they do it
Pillow styles come and go so they can update a room or date it quite easily (think of the pilows that your grandmother had on her couch).
Pillows are a very easy accent for a designer to add. This is the opportunity to bring in a different colour or texture so the room looks more dimensional. A graphic modern print pillow will make a plain couch look totally different than a solid coloured velvet pillow.
There are also styles of how the pillow is placed on the furniture or floor, from big fluffy pillows with a "karate chop' in them to stiff ridged pillows stacked up on each other on the floor. In magazine photos there are often way too many pillows on the couch or chair for anyone to actually be able to sit there but they give the illustion of comfort and coziness.
Throws and shawls are added to photos again to add a different texture and colour but also to add a hint of luxury and an idea that the room is there to be relaxed in. Faux fur throws were the height of style during the winter a few years back.
Shawls are often placed into rooms to give the idea that the owners picked it up at some exotic vacation and they just casually tossed them into the room (more likely it came from an import-export store after hours of debating whether it would impart the right feel).
How to copy it
Pillows have to be one of the easiest things to sew- a great first sewing project. The range of materials you can use is infinite and often at large fabric stores there are discounted fabric if less than 2 yards are left on the bolt. Pillow forms can be bought for $6 to $20 (and up) depending on the size and the material they are filled with. Sometimes you can get a deal on the stuffing and make your pillow from scratch but check the cost of pillow forms because often they are cheaper than doing it all yourself. ( for more information on how to sew pillows read Making Pillows). At the end of each season decorating stores put their pillows on sale to make way for the next season's new colours.
For a luxurious feel try finding silk scarves from thrift shops to make pillows. The pillow would be different on either side unless you can find 2 scarves of the same pattern. When working with silk you might have to sew it onto a thicker plain piece of cotton to give it some strength as a very thin silk could rip if treated roughly.
The throw is about 40 inches by 60 inches so once again check the large fabric stores for sales and learn to make a hem on a sewing machine. If you keep your eyes opened for them mohair throws and shawls from Scotland (they were hugely popluar until the 70's) can be bought at thrift stores for as little as $1.50.
If you use your pillows a lot they have to be freshened up by plumming them and washing the fabric, if the fabric can not be easily washed then best replace it than have a dirty looking pillow on your couch or chair.
Artwork and Collections. Huge pieces of art are often used in photo shoots and they are not necessarily paintings. Back and white photograhy, antique blankets, clothing (kimonos, military uniforms), architectural salvage pieces or a large picture window of a spectacular view are just a few of the items that are considered art.
Why they do it
Art work implies sophistication and world experience. Empty walls tend to make a room feel cold and industrial, like a waiting room. Art work is a reflection of personal taste even more than furniture.
Collections in magazines tend to be about the unusual and are often placed in the most visually pleasing place, not where they might make sense. So a coffee table will be so cluttered with a collections that there is no place to place your cup. If the home owner doesn't have anything interesting magazines source them out from stores, antique stores and galleries. They often chose collections that have vibrant colours that can be repeated in other furniture in the room. The art work is often pieces rented from galleries.
How to copy it
Original art can be surprisingly affordable.Young artists sell their works in the hundreds not the thousands of dollars. Check out art fairs and open houses at art collages. You might have a budding artist in the family that would be delighted to sell their work.
If you don't have large pieces of art then have several items framed in the same frame and group them together in a block. Six medium sized prints on one wall will have the same impact as one large piece of art.
If you have an artistic bend then making a large piece of art is very enjoyable. You can make a canvas by building a frame with 1 inch by 2 inch wood and stretch canvas over it. The canvas it attached with staples and dampened with water so it will shrink and then painted with gesso to seal it and make it ready for painting. Look for instructions on the internet. Once your canvas is made let your inner artist go wild.
Collections can run from the sublime to the ridiculous, folk art, obelisks, 18th century snuffboxes, Mickey Mouse watches- what ever makes you happy. Neatly laid out on a wood tray any number of things can be considered a collection or art. From your childhood dinky toys, to antique keys, to interesting rocks you have found on your walk, what makes a good collection is your genuine interest in it.
Don't let a collection get out of hand, try to contain it all in one area and organize it well. You might have to use related objects as props to make the display work. Use photography books or film cases on shelves to show off your collection of 1950's and 60's cameras on different levels. If everything is lined up on one level the eye tends to skim over it and not really see it.
Most of all remember that your house is not a magazine spread- you wouldn't want it to be, the rooms should make up a home and not just be so perfect that no one wants to be in them. A magazines mandate is to sell copies so they can increase their advertising revenues so they don't show life as it really is -but life as people want it to be.