Cost-effective guide to fall decor

By Shelby Sheehan-Bernard, McClatchy-TribuneOctober 12, 2012 

It's that time of year again, with crisp leaves crunching underfoot, cider simmering and a chill in the air.

But before you unpack those decades-old plastic pumpkins and puffy paint-inscribed "Give Thanks" signs, consider a more modern side to fall decor. The key to a fresh fall spread, say Maureen Anders and Adria Ruff, owners of the custom design company Anders Ruff -- -- is all about embracing natural elements.

This doesn't mean spending a small fortune on high-end seasonal items. Think natural fabrics, earthy colors and an approachable-yet-sophisticated atmosphere. "Get rid of the fake stuff -- bring in the real -- and don't be afraid to use old pieces from your home in new, unusual ways," Anders said.

An approachable feel is as much about design as it is about practicality. "We both have young kids, so we create designs that are elegant but not too formal," said Anders, who incorporates inexpensive items like Kraft paper into her fall party prep, using it for everything from lining the dinner table and to wrapping dessert stands. "It gives it a rustic feel and makes cleanup easier too."

Not sure where to start? Although much of the season is about what's familiar, check out these tips to freshen things up.

Embrace the craft store

Anders suggests heading to a craft store like Hobby Lobby to pick up textured, inexpensive elements like burlap fabric and wheat stalks. "You can get a roll of burlap for really cheap and create many different design elements," Ruff said. The team has used the earthy fabric to make custom chargers for dining (just use a cardboard circle as a template and cut the burlap with fabric scissors) and strips for chair decor. And don't worry if there are a few snags. "It's not supposed to be perfect; it adds to the charm," Anders said.

Note that not all craft store departments are created equal. Beware of the silk floral department, said Ruff: "If you don't want to spend the money on fresh flowers, make them out of paper."

Decorations made from paper and other natural materials are big right now, and add to the season's earthy feel. Paper Source sells a range of items that fit the bill, such as its "Give Thanks" Garland Kit ($13.95, ) and Wooden Fall Leaves ($8.50 for a pack of 8, ).

Keep it personal

Above all else, the season is about giving thanks and celebrating loved ones. And this should always reflect in your decor.

"It has to have a personal touch," Ruff said.

These days, personalization isn't reserved for professional party planners thanks to printable paper items. Anders Ruff's Fall Harvest Thanksgiving Printable Holiday Party Collection provides everything you need to DIY holiday entertaining in style with top-notch design in a fresh color scheme incorporating muted green, orange, brown and ivory.

The collection includes digital files for customizing and printing a party logo, thank you tags, flag labels, bottle and drink wraps, menu cards, place cards, food tent cards and modern patterns. It also includes a template for "I Am Thankful" cards, which is a hit with guests and young children.

Anders and Ruff suggest filling them out beforehand and hanging with twine and wood clothespins (not included) for a rustic feel. ($12.50 for digital printable file, paper not included;

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