Designer shops for decor in nature

June 21, 2013 

Quick, think of 10 ways to use a tree branch in your house.

After I’d lit on one use – burn it in the fireplace – I was stumped.

This is where creative types such as designer Michele Beschen take over. Beschen, host of B. Organic, now in its fourth season on PBS, teaches people how to be “naturally creative,” to grab what’s around them and make useful stuff.

“It’s all about celebrating an organic lifestyle and learning ways to live resourceful, self-sustaining, beautiful lives,” she said when I called to tap and channel some of her creativity.

“My projects help people think differently about natural materials, and about how to be less wasteful.”

Besides her TV show, Beschen offers hands-on workshops for all ages at her studio in Van Meter, Iowa.

“Give me an example of how we can use nature more inside,” I said.

“Wow, help me narrow it down,” she said. “Pick one common natural material.”

“Tree branches?”

“It’s all in how you slice them,” she said. “You can slice them lengthwise or into rounds. You can peel off the bark or put them in a pencil sharpener.

Then she riffs on the many ways to use tree branches in DIY home projects. I catch these 10, which come at me fast:

• Take an interesting section, bore several same-size holes in it, and use it to hold votive candles.

• Gather branches and arrange them in a vase. Leave the branches natural or paint or stain them. Add texture by wrapping them with wire, leather or fibers.

• Cut a 4-inch-thick branch into discs to make coasters.

• Cut a thinner branch into discs to make quarter-sized tags. Punch a hole in the top of each. Thread with twine, then tie the twine around jars to label contents (peach jam), or around gifts. Write on them with a wood-burning tool.

• Hang a long, sturdy branch on the wall with extended brackets to make a place to hang coats or a quilt.

• Get a decorative wood picture frame. Arrange branches across the back to fill the void and create free-form art.

• Find a branch that has split like a broom and cut it into at least three more branches. Turn it upside down. Cut the floor ends so they’re even. Cut the top of the main single branch, making it flat and table height. Attach a piece of finished wood on top to create a side table.

• Stick smaller twigs in a pencil sharpener, cut them in two- to three-inch lengths, string them onto some leather with beads to make a necklace.

• Line up, then bind same-sized twigs to form the floor of a tray. Stack and bind same-length twigs to create sides.

• Gather kindling scraps for the fire.

I’m a long way away from leading Beschen’s naturally creative and organic lifestyle (She makes her own baby wipes), but I’m inspired to look to nature more for free decor.

Here are ways Beschen suggests we fire up our naturally creative selves at home.

Know it will go. “Nature goes with everything,” said Beschen. “Whether your home is contemporary or traditional, nature works. It doesn’t just go in log cabins.”

Shop the best store. Mother Nature’s art shop is free, open 24-7, and the inventory is always changing.

Shake it, wash it. I told Beschen about the time I hauled in a pile of Spanish moss, which grows on trees around here, and used it in a centerpiece on the dining room table. It was too late when I discovered it was laced with chiggers, itty-bitty red bugs whose bites itch beyond all reason. Beschen laughed and shared the story of the bag of acorns she once set on her carpet, then soon found the area crawling with tiny worms. So give materials a good shake outside and wash them well.

Learn by doing. You can’t be creative without getting hands-on. Leave your inner critic at the door. This is more about process than result.

Embrace your inner artist. “I often hear people say, ‘I’m not creative,” Beschen said, “but everyone is. We just lose touch. Creativity doesn’t have to be in the form of art, but can be in how we do our job or dress or cook. We all need to exercise our creativity more because there is so much power in it.”

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through

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