I often urge inexperienced home designers to look through magazines and books as a way of gaining inspiration. It seems, however, that I must also inject a note of caution: Don't slavishly copy a particular setting. Imitating some expert's approach says more about an individual's lack of imagination than about his or her "good taste."
Suppose that you're much taken with a photo of a room that juxtaposes traditional furnishings with a few contemporary pieces. Rather than rushing out to buy every item shown in the photo and then arranging them just so, the aim should be to understand the theory behind the design and then to apply it in a personal manner.
Consider a concrete example: the photo accompanying this article. The centerpiece here is the stylish roll-arm sofa from Baker Furniture's "Stately Home" collection. Its widely splayed arms and its bold detailing once would have made it an unusual choice for a parlor-type living room. But we live differently today.
What makes this piece look so "residential" is the overall design of which it's a part. Someone who fails to consider context might fall in love with this sofa and simply plop it down in the living room. That kind of response fails to take account of background features that determine whether any focal point looks its best.