Right now with the human tornado that is Chris, we do things a little differently.
Arranging Pillows - I love the look on a couch. You know what I'm talking about...tons of throw pillows in beautiful fabrics, coordinating patterns and textures. So chic. Check out this blog for some tips on arranging pillows beautifully on your sofa.
Unfortunately, any pillows on our couch generally end up on the floor with Chris belly flopping on top of them.
My personal throw pillow recommendation for someone with small kids is to go with cheap pillows from someplace like Ikea (ours are just $9.99) with washable covers! Best case scenario: when your toddler spits chewed-up goldfish on the pillow you can unzip the cover and wash. Worst case scenario when your dog pees on the pillow and it stinks to high heaven, you can just throw out the whole dang thing and buy a new one.
As to how many, don't buy any more pillows than you feel like picking up off the floor 37 times a day.
Coffee Table Styling - A beautiful tablescape featuring artsy books in colors coordinating with your throw pillows. Some sort of reclaimed tchotchke that you picked up at goodwill or a yard sale for $2 that has some sort of funky vibe. Maybe it's a turquoise ceramic dog or an African looking basket for your remotes. Of course you put it on your antique trunk coffee table. Or maybe you made the coffee table from old pallets. Or maybe it's an over-sized ikat upholstered ottoman with a mahogany tray. Either way it's not in my house. If a graceful tabletop is what you're after, check this out!
The only stuff adorning a table top here are made by Fisher Price or Lego. Our "coffee table" is an upholstered ottoman, but again it's slip covered so that it can be washed (often) to eliminate Nutella hand-prints and milk drool spots. It's also a storage ottoman containing various throw blankets (which are cycled often due to gross kids and dogs). Hand-knit cashmere afghan? Nope, more like a Costco synthetic throw that can hold up to washing and dog torment.
Other surfaces - aside from coffee tables, most living rooms have consoles, bookshelves, etc. that are are arranged with things like photos, candles and more knick-knacks. Aaah, someday we will have a room like this. For now our bookshelves hold everything we take away from the kids including: phones, remotes, computer, iPad, annoying toys, broken toys, keys, wallet, beverages, etc. Also, the shelves become a dumping ground for artwork and random things that get confiscated from the dog, such as socks.
I go through this stuff regularly to put it back where it belongs, but a few hours later, the shelf seems to have gathered more crapola. It's pretty amazing. Like an undiscovered Law of Physics:
Any flat surface can and will attract as much crap (or more) as will cover it sufficiently.
Upgrade to Some Nice Furniture - Once you reach adulthood, you start off buying necessities like a really big tv. But once you've got your big tv, you need to avoid the frathouse or mancave look, so you locate and purchase a lovely console table. After all you have to have a cable box, but you just don't want to look at it. Glass doors, polished wood, old timey hardware, it's perfect.
So we have one. But sadly our 2nd child is as destructive as a...2 year old in a living room? so when he was bending the cabinet doors back until they cracked, we decided they needed to come off. They're in the basement for now. Oh and to keep him from turning the Xbox on and off and changing the channel on the cable box, we get to use some of the sweetest looking childproofing products out there - like this super swanky cabinet lock. **Please note for this and future posts- italics often are used to convey sarcasm.
So this is my effort at "keeping it real". I like to clean up for photos, usually, but there's a good reason our house isn't magazine perfect: little people. I do know from my experience with Sarah that this phase of absolute chaos does end and eventually we'll be able to have nice things out again. Child locks, baby gates, outlet covers encompass just a brief moment in the span of their childhood. It's totally worth it to me to put up with some ugly mess for a while if it saves my sanity.