Like many antiques enthusiasts, Genoa collector Debby Karl had humble beginnings.
"When I started, I just bought whatever caught my eye," she recalls. "I was raising young kids, so I didn't have a lot of money. I was just always looking for a bargain."
Her earliest pieces were tin and wood items, including firkins, game boards, lanterns and pails. Over time, as her budget would allow, she also began picking up folk art, furniture and finer versions of her initial favorites -- although she's still always in the market for a good deal.
"When I find something handmade and affordable, I get it, but those are hard to find these days," she notes, adding that her husband, Hoss, frequently accompanies her on antiquing excursions and makes some of the best discoveries.
All of those treasures play a major role in her home's back-in-time scenery, which comes alive every autumn thanks to Debby's deft decorating and homegrown bittersweet.
"I do a little more in the fall than any other time of year -- I'm too busy at Christmas," she says. This year, Debby invited Country Sampler stylists Sally-Jo Enstad, Catherine Parker and Debbie Plantery to share her seasonal enthusiasm, asking them to help fill out her living room displays with autumnal accents.
"It's always fun to get together for a brainstorming session with someone who's really excited about new ideas," Enstad says. "We worked together to mix old and new for a really fresh look." Read on for 16 creative ideas for innovative autumn decorating.
Crow with the flow
1. Take it step by step. In this living room vignette, wood vessels of all sizes form a perfect platform for an array of autumn accessories. "Instead of just being stacked on top of each other, we placed a shorter wood box in front of a red trunk to create a platform for the wood crow and the folk-art papier-mâché box," Plantery says.
2. Go soft. Take the edge off hard-sided elements with fabric pieces, such as the striped runner and the cute crow-topped pumpkin here. Cozy candlelight from a votive in a jar -- smartly embellished by a length of jute with pine cones glued onto each end -- further softens the scene.
What a hoot
3. Branch out. "You just never know what you're going to find at a flea market," Parker remarks about this red stand outfitted with a large branch that serves as a rustic roost for a fabric owl. Want to make your own? Remove the leaves and stray twigs from a downed branch and secure it in a small Christmas tree stand.
4. Run (bur)laps. Further adorning the makeshift tree with seasonal texture, dried wheatstalks peek out of a graphic burlap sack stuffed with fiberfill. A length of orange burlap ribbon wound around the branch offers the display a pop of seasonal color.
5. Check in. "If you want to draw attention to a favorite piece, try to pick up on one of its main characteristics, such as a color or pattern," Parker says. A distinctive hourglass-shaped basket on the top of the bucket bench accentuates the checked pattern of Debby's prized black-and-white game board, which is flanked by colorful old lanterns.
6. Top it off. Instead of simply arranging stacking boxes in a tower and leaving it at that, open up more display possibilities. Take the lid off the top box, fill it with raffia, excelsior or a fabric square, and nestle in a plush jack-o'-lantern -- Debby's is vintage -- or a grapevine pumpkin.
7. Take the long way. Thanks to an 8-foot-long peg rack built by Hoss, Debby outfits the ample area over her sofa with her beloved antique baskets, which she leaves up year-round. A few berry sprigs give the center basket some fall flair.
8. Say it in style. To dress up a drawered wall shelf mounted beneath the peg rack, the stylists cut burlap into triangles, painted on letters and attached them to jute with clothespins. "The banner underlines and draws attention to an old Halloween postcard and other neat antiques," Plantery says.
9. Be grate-ful for unique finds. Once used to vent a screenless window, an antique metal grate hung vertically features hardware that provides the perfect perch for an owl figure, which is echoed by a hooked pillow on the sofa.
10. Set things apart. Give each piece of a grouping its own identity. On the coffee table, the stylists set a plaid pumpkin on a pantry box lid and a smaller pumpkin on a tin plate; a third pumpkin rests on a little cutting board glued to a candlestick. A burlap runner unites the three elements.
11. Patch yourself up. "Fall is all about bringing in more layers and making your room feel warm," Enstad says. A patchwork quilt draped over the sofa arm and a quilted piece on the corner cabinet, topped by a mustard hand towel, enhance the living room's inviting vibe.
12. Decorate from the art. Whether it's a hand-painted seasonal sign, such as the one next to the window, or leaves mounted on newspaper and set inside picture frames, be sure to allow space for some artful accessories throughout your room.
It wood be so nice
13. Try different variations. Over time, Debby's collecting preferences settled largely on wood items, and she gathers quite an array of the natural-finish wares. Illuminated by an oil lamp, an assortment of wood bowls, buckets, firkins, baskets and boxes keep the scene interesting in and around this cabinet.
14. Flank your lucky stars. "To contrast the very simple surface of Debby's firkin on the top shelf, we set more elaborate accents on each side," Enstad says, pointing out the foliage in a gourd bowl and the split peas in a dipper spoon at left. At right, a book-berry-and-candle accent serves as a bookend.
15. String it along. Spray paint balls of twine orange and tuck trimmed branches and leaves inside the hole for a creative pumpkin stand-in.
16. Cushion your fall. Gather vintage tomato pincushions in a basket -- with their red fabric faded to rust, they'll resemble petite pumpkins.