You don't have to live in a log cabin or a country setting to connect with nature. Even the most modern interiors come to life when objects from the outdoor world are brought inside. In fact, designers of the 20th century often turned to natural elements to soften their spare, clean-lined spaces. The Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, for example, used pale birch for his bentwood armchairs and stools. And master woodworker George Nakashima transformed massive tree trunks into dining tables that retained their knotted beauty.
Here, you'll find earthly inspirations -- including rough-hewn logs, graceful branches, silvery driftwood, and weathered stones -- for every room in the house. A little glossy paint turns humble tree stumps into stylish end tables. Birch branches sliced into rounds become coasters for cocktails as well as graphic wall coverings. A mat made of small pebbles offers an underfoot massage after a shower. And what could be simpler than transforming a juice glass into a chic pencil holder by wrapping a piece of bark around it? The first step to enliven your home with a little nature? Get outdoors and take a walk on the wild side.
These projects call for tree stumps, branches, bark, and stones, which can be found in the woods or at the shore. The materials are also available at garden centers. The projects aren't difficult, but they do require precision and care.
Tree stumps, used individually or clustered together, function as low tables in a living room. A coat of enamel paint applied to the tops serves a dual purpose: It adds a jolt of color and creates a smooth, sealed surface.
Tree Table How-To
Birch Wood Panel
Birch poles sliced into disks and glued to plywood panels create a graphic wall mosaic. Strategically placed longer pieces can be used as hooks for bags and artwork.
Stone Spa Mat
In the bathroom, a large tree limb doubles as a towel rack. A plank of weathered driftwood, mounted to the wall above the sink, serves as a bathroom shelf. Underfoot, small stone mats are taped together to create a massaging bath mat.
Stone Spa Mat How-To
Naturally curling bark fits around cups to create stylish pen and pencil holders. Chunks of notched birch wood hold small drawings, notes, and business cards. For artful paperweights, smooth stones are wrapped with colorful string or felted with brightly dyed roving, which is combed, unspun wool with an exceptionally soft feel.
Birch Trivets and Coasters
Birch disks, stained in a variety of hues and then treated with a coat of matte polyurethane, can be used as trivets, coasters for drinks, and mini hors d'oeuvre trays.
Branches, found in the woods or available at garden centers, become sculptural pendants when hung from a ceiling with rope or sturdy twine. We used a large piece of desert coral. Wrap the rope around the lowest limbs and the base of the branch, and hang the branch from a hook installed in the ceiling or a beam.