Make it an 'au naturel' autumn

Bring the outdoors in with natural items as decorations

For decoration inspiration, look no further than a kaper chart, the Girl Scout version of a chore chart. "One of the meal prep kapers on a camp out is the job of hostess. They must decorate the table with a natural centerpiece. They must gather natural elements, but following 'Leave No Trace,' they cannot pick live items," said Jane Robertson Treubig, a former camp director at Camp Addisone Boyce, a Girl Scout camp in Tomkins Cove, New York.

Using ordinary items such as pine cones, twigs, acorns, leaves, shells, driftwood and more, you can adorn any room with natural beauty. Filling common household items such as glass or metal bowls - or even a large, open seashell - with clean, shiny pebbles or seashells (whole or fragments) can create a showpiece on your end table. Driftwood, which has been washed and molded by the water, can be used in a variety of eye-catching ways throughout your home. And wreaths made of whitewashed twigs aren't just for the holiday season anymore.

Of course, bringing the outdoors in can also bring in more than you planned for if you do not take the time to prepare your finds. Many insects can be found hiding in safe places such as pine cones. And driftwood can provide sanctuaries for fish, birds and other aquatic life as it floats in the ocean; bacteria and worms may have eaten their way into the wood (which in turn adds to the marine food supply). Yuck! You probably don't want to invite creepy-crawlies into your abode.

Fresh driftwood - which is just a piece of a tree that has been floating in a body of water, such as the ocean - should be soaked in a bucket of clear water for a few days to clean it of sand and salt. Brush the piece using a soft bristle brush and mild soap, rinse, and leave it to dry in the sunlight for a few more days. To preserve the driftwood's natural beauty and prevent further erosion, apply a clear sealant. Driftwood, depending on its size and shape, can be used as an outdoor ornament, indoors on a mantle or even as a table. If you want to skip the preparation process, many craft stores sell already finished pieces of driftwood.

If you are collecting pine cones for a decorating project, be sure to shake them vigorously outside and then use a soft toothbrush to brush off any residue. Many insects use pine cones as shelter, so if you can rid them of their occupants outside, you will leave nature to safely find a new habitat. Then soak your pine cones in a bucket of a mild warm water and vinegar solution; this will help loosen any remaining dirt and debris. After soaking them for half an hour, place them on a baking sheet and into a warm oven (200 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 90 minutes; the pine cones should be open when done. Let them cool for half an hour and then air dry for a few days. To preserve their natural beauty, lightly spray them with a clear polyurethane finish.

In addition to classics such as bowls of seashells or pebbles, there are other natural items you can craft with to decorate for any occasion. Wash and paint a few palm-sized stones to use as dinner place cards; using hot glue, make miniature turtle forms with painted acorns; or scatter small pebbles (washed and/or painted) around the base of a large pillar candle as a tabletop centerpiece.

You can also use natural items to brighten up your home for all your senses. Take a tree branch approximately 2 feet long and wrap some natural rope or cord around the ends. The cord should be longer than the limb so the rope itself acts like a hanger. Using a thin cord, tie multiple bunches of fragrant flowers hanging down from the tree branch for an unforgettable room air freshener.

Bringing the outdoors in can mean small touches here and there or using your imagination to adorn a whole room filled with natural-looking furniture; wood, bamboo or rattan are just a few options. You can also incorporate nature's patterns, such as leaves and flowers, in fabric furnishings and mate them with real-life nature for a relaxing haven. Try hot-gluing small seashells around a wooden picture frame to make a gorgeous focal point for a favorite picture. Tie colorful ribbons around bunches of branches using the colors of a favorite holiday to match whatever season you are celebrating.

Have fun with earthy colors and textures with bits of real nature scattered around for a unique and relaxing look in your home.

Eagle Scout ceremony table decorations using vintage Coleman lanterns surrounded by brush and pine cones. Courtesy of Karen Becher/Creators
Scented candles and pine cones help create a sense of nature inside your home.
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