By Elizabeth Parker
Creating a nursery for your new baby can be one of the most fun and satisfying nesting experiences for a mom-to-be. And that’s true now more than ever because of the wide variety of styles and colors available in furniture and fabrics. If you’re staring at an empty room and don’t know where to begin, we’ll help you get started.
Let Yourself Dream a Little
Start looking through magazines for photos of rooms with colors you love that create the style and mood you’re imagining in your nursery. Do you want a cozy country look, a clean, fresh modern style, a fun, colorful space? “Look for ideas that make you feel good and happy,” says Leslie Sachs, a Los Angeles interior designer and owner of Breathing Room Designs, a design and decorating firm. Cut out the photos and keep them in a folder so you can refer to them. Visit furniture stores and pore through catalogs to get to know all the styles out there. At the same time, be sure your dream can fit with the room itself by taking some measurements.
“To really understand the space you’ll be working with, draw a floor plan,” says Sachs. “Get out the tape measure and write down the lengths of the walls, and draw a similar shape on a large piece of paper with the dimensions noted.” To indicate solid walls, draw solid lines; for doorways and windows, make the lines broken. Then start penciling in your must-have pieces.
» Nursing chair
» Changing table
» Storage containers
Remember Practical Considerations
For safety reasons, a crib should not be near a window, drapes, hanging pictures, or anything with a cord. If it looks like the room isn’t big enough for all the pieces you want to include, don’t despair. “You can simplify by putting a changing tray with a pad on top of a dresser,” says Sachs. “Or try placing the crib or dresser at an angle rather than flush against the wall.”
If the room doesn’t have a lot of storage space, consider buying an armoire (you can get an unfinished one and paint it yourself). While considering colors and styles, remember that your baby will only be an infant for a short time (difficult to imagine, but true). “Choose colors that will last beyond the infant stage,” says Sachs. That goes for furniture styles and accessories, too. The dresser, rug, and chair should be functional for years to come. A Baby-Room Blueprint Once you settle on a style, you can begin buying the pieces. Some tips on what to look for:
■ The crib
Although the crib mattress size is standard, some cribs are designed to be large and colorful while others are compact and sleek. When choosing a style, consider how much you want the crib to dominate the space. Choose one that feels sturdy, with a drop-side panel you can lift and lower easily but that will lock securely when baby is in the crib.
Some cribs can be transformed into toddler beds, which can save money down the line. In terms of safety, remember the following: Crib slats should be no more than 23/8 inches apart. There should be no cut-out spaces on the headboard in which the baby’s head could get caught. The crib mattress should fit snugly in the crib. Corner posts should be either flush with the side panels or at least 16 inches high, so that baby’s clothing cannot get caught on them.
You’ll need a crib sheet, bumper, and skirt. These are sold separately and in sets; you can buy several sets and then mix and match colors and patterns. They can be inexpensive or quite pricey. Remember: Do not place blankets, quilts, or pillows in the crib with your baby because they can cause suffocation. Some experts have expressed concern that bumpers may also be a risk. Once the baby can stand, you should definitely remove the bumper so she can’t stand on it and risk a fall.
■ The nursing chair
A comfortable chair for nursing is a must, but choose one that you can get into and out of easily. A rocking chair is a great choice as its motion can soothe your baby (and you), and it can be placed anywhere in your house when your child is no longer a baby. Many women also like to have a footstool for extra comfort. You’ll need a sturdy side table to hold burp cloths, a glass of water for you, etc. Keep a nursing pillow nearby, too.
■ The changing table
Get one that is a comfortable height for you to stand at while changing your baby’s diaper; after all, you will be changing thousands of them! There should be a strap to keep the baby secure during diaper changes and space to keep diapers, cream, wipes, and a few small toys. For babies younger than six weeks, many pediatricians recommend using warm water for cleaning their bottoms since commercial wipes can irritate their skin. So consider purchasing a small thermos to keep on the changing table along with cotton balls. Do not hang shelves on the wall near the changing table.
Since parents and their babies inevitably spend a lot of time on the floor together, you may want to invest in a soft area rug for baby’s room, but look for one that will be easy to clean. Remember not to get one with too big a pile, which can be unsafe for a baby. Another idea is to buy carpet modules of all one color, or in several colors to create a checkerboard effect. These are great because if one gets stained, it can be cleaned or replaced easily without having to replace the entire carpet.
■ Storage containers
If you don’t have a lot of closet space, you may want to purchase an armoire; some large wicker or wire baskets to hold baby’s books, blankets, and clothes; and a toy chest (one with a slow-closing hinge and lid space so that fingers don’t get pinched). Another idea: Stack a few square wood boxes on top of each other to hold books or toys (again, you could buy them unpainted and go to town with your own paint colors).
To create a soothing mood, nothing is more important than lighting. “I like to use ambient lighting for a nursery,” says Sachs. “Recessed lighting is best, but in some older houses there may just be one light in the center of the ceiling. If this is the case, you could put a larger fixture in its place and change the switch to a dimmer.” You can get that mood even if you choose to use lamps. “A lamp store can put a dimmer switch on any lamp,” Sachs says.
When thinking of color, first decide what color you want to paint the walls. “The rule of thumb is that the wall colors are on the lighter side and the darkest colors in the room should be the furniture,” says Sachs. To create a playful, cheerful room, think beyond the traditional pastels, she says. “A boy’s room could be a combination of reds, blacks, and blues,” she says. “For a girl, instead of white, maybe go with bright pinks, yellows, and lavenders, with black accents.” Feel free to mix stripes, gingham, floral, or polka-dot patterns with solid colors.
■ Personal accents
For the final touches, look for simple art pieces to put on the wall. You could frame a decorative piece of fabric or vintage wrapping paper, family photos, or pages from old children’s books. A colorful quilt could be hung on one wall. Antique dolls or baby books of your own could be placed on a high shelf that goes around the perimeter of the room. If you want to hang a mobile, just make sure it’s well out of baby’s reach. If you love the look of big, colorful pillows, scatter them on the floor.
Your excitement will mount as your due date gets closer and you begin to see your dream nursery become a reality. Once the baby arrives and you start spending all your days and nights together nursing, singing, dancing, and playing, you’ll be glad you created a room that so warmly welcomes this new person and relationship into your life.
Elizabeth Parker is a Los Angeles writer and mother.
If you’re staring at an empty room, use this list to help get your nursery started!