Despite having a new home full of rooms to decorate, all of my design energy has been focused on one space since giving birth to my first child in June – the nursery!
I think most interior designers would agree that a nursery or young child’s room is one of the most exciting projects you can be hired to design. It’s a chance to really get creative. What could be more fun than dreaming up wee-sized reading nooks, inspiring play spaces, and cozy spots for cuddle time. But as with all rooms, it’s critical to combine functionality and practicality with décor, and there are a several essential components to keep in mind when pulling together your child’s first bedroom.
The key furniture pieces for a nursery are a crib, changing table, and some kind of rocking chair or glider for middle-of-the-night feedings. With only three pieces of furniture to find, one might think the search would be easy. One would be wrong! Children’s furniture now comes in a wide array of styles from urban minimalist to traditional to Disney-themed. Throw in a variety of wood tones, painted finishes, and organic options, and the choices can quickly become overwhelming.
I think it’s best to first decide if you want to use furniture with non-toxic, eco-friendly finishes. If you choose to go this route, it will significantly narrow the selection and allow you to focus your search on fewer brands. I hadn’t considered this aspect of nursery furnishings until I saw a friend’s son’s crib covered in teeth marks. She never dreamed her little boy would decide to use his crib as a chew toy and now worries about the crib’s formaldehyde-filled plywood and VOC-heavy factory finish. While natural materials and finishes aren’t a top priority for everyone –not all babies are going to eat their beds, after all – they are a “must” for some new parents, so it is critical to decide one way or the other on this factor early in the design process. If going green is a priority for you, be prepared to spend; authentic organic baby furniture can be quite expensive!
The next component to consider is if you would like the baby’s furniture to be temporary or a long-term investment. Many children’s furniture manufacturers now offer pieces that transition with your child from infancy to teen years. Cribs can be converted into toddler beds and later into full-sized headboards. Rather than purchasing a changing table, you may opt for a real dresser with a removable changing topper. Though slightly pricier than a basic crib or changing table, these pieces may prove less expensive in the long run, as they’ll adapt to your child’s changing needs and won’t have to be replaced by additional pieces as he grows.
Proper lighting and, most important, being able to adjust the lighting in the nursery is essential! While you’ll want to have plenty of adequate lighting for daytime and playtime, it’s important to have several additional lighting options. I recommend a dim accent light to set the tone for bedtime – a low table lamp with a three-way switch can be really helpful in getting just the right amount of soft light for a bedtime story and a lullaby. It’s ideal to have another source that provides even dimmer light for middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes; I use three automatic night lights that allow me to see enough to get the job done without signaling “wake up time” to my baby.
Window treatments play a huge role in lighting as well, and new parents are guaranteed to receive two completely opposing viewpoints on this seemingly simple design element. Some people swear by teaching your child to sleep in broad daylight and, therefore, fundamentally oppose blackout shades and curtains. However, I have found that a dark room keeps my little one asleep for an extra hour or so in the morning and, at this point, I will do anything for little extra sleep! As a result of this discovery, my husband and I graciously welcomed blackout shades into our home. Whatever you decide, you’ll want to make sure you have some window covering in place when you bring the baby home, even if you haven’t finalized your design and picked out decorative treatments. This is a room you’ll be spending time in at 2am (and 3am and 4:30am), so having some sense of privacy is key.
The most fun part of decorating a nursery is picking out your color palette and theme. Since so many people decide to find out the sex of their baby during pregnancy, the market is flooded with gender specific bedding and accessories. Those who wait to find out or who want to design a nursery that can work for additional children in the future can become easily frustrated with the seeming lack of options, but there is no need to resign oneself to the yellow baby duck theme! Beatrix Potter is an all-time favorite nursery theme of mine, as is the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh and his gang of pals. I once worked on a safari-themed nursery complete with a hand-painted mural of a giraffe, elephant, and lion – a design concept that should work well into the grade school years. I also love tiny prints in nurseries; polka dots and gingham fabrics work for both sexes, are available in a wide array of colors, and look darling as window treatment fabrics, tableskirts, or on upholstered furniture.
Don’t feel compelled to commit to pink or blue walls! My nursery walls are a soft tan that feels appropriate for a boy or girl, works well with the gender-neutral green and white checked bedding I chose, and allows me to introduce plenty of colored accessories now that my little girl has arrived. Benjamin Moore’s Bleecker Beige and Windham Cream are some of my favorite go-to paint colors for any room, including the nursery, and actually prove a much better backdrop than a pale pastel would to all the bright, primary-colored Fisher Price toys that have flooded my home in the last two months. Be sure to pick a paint color you enjoy, as you’ll be spending a lot of time surrounded by it!
Unlike a living room or guest room, you’ll likely only get to decorate a nursery once or twice in a lifetime, so be sure to take your time and enjoy the process!
[blockquote class=blue]Kitty Burruss is an interior designer, author of The Westchester Decorator blog, and a brand-new mom.[/blockquote]