Save Yourself Some Stress

The 7 Rules For Designing a Nursery, According To Interior Designers

Say goodbye to overwhelm and hello to the nursery of your dreams with these tips from the pros.

by Dyana Goldman
Originally Published: 
Baby boy nursery design
Kathy Kuo Homes

Designing a nursery can be one of the most exciting parts of pregnancy — and the most overwhelming — for moms-to-be. You want this room to be unique and special, but you may not know where to begin. Wouldn't it be great if you could call in reinforcements to help you figure out the best approach to nursery design?

Luckily, Scary Mommy spoke with some top interior designers who can guide you on your way. Let's leave the crying for the baby and make this process all smiles! According to the pros, here are the top seven rules for designing a nursery.

1. Begin with a Color Scheme

Like so many things in life, just getting started can be the hardest part. "Definitely start with your color palette — once you know the tone that you want in the room, then you can go and pick the right crib or the right carpet," says Brittany Tompkins, the founder and owner of MP James and Design Management.

While neutral, calming walls have been the reigning look for many years, Nina Patterson, the co-founder and principal of Two 7 Interiors, shares that they've seen the use of vibrant colors making a comeback: "In the last 5 years, we've seen the trend of all neutral palettes. However, more recently, we've been reintroduced to bright and vibrant colors and patterns in design schemes." If you're not sure where to start, spend some time on Pinterest and see what nurseries resonate with you.

2. Try Going Gender-Neutral

If you were designing a nursery back in the early '90s, your color scheme was likely blues for a boy and pinks for a girl. And hey, if that's your thing, you can still very much go for it! However, nowadays, there is a trend toward more gender-neutral tones, like creams, greens, and serene tones. Green, in general, is having a moment in design this year. "We don't need to tell you that green is one of the most popular colors of the moment. But in 2022, we're going to see green on more than just kitchen cabinetry," shares IDCO design studio on their interior design blog.

Going gender-neutral can also be cost-effective; if you decide to have multiple children, the nursery works, regardless of if your next child is the same sex.

3. Consider an Accent Wall

Tompkins shares that adding an accent wall has been the number one trend she has seen this year in the nurseries she's designed (including that of actress and entrepreneur Ashley Greene). Often, these walls are board and batten, which adds a fun texture to the room by using wood detailing that is then painted over.

Wallpaper, too, is having a moment. "It's not how your grandparents' houses' wallpaper used to be," she says. "It's more about choosing wallpaper that gives a neutral texture on the wall… it's more grasscloth wallpapers that add in a coastal textural element." Interior Designer Stephanie Saabe seconds the use of wallpaper. "I love wallpaper. I think you could have an adorable nursery with just wallpaper and a crib. Our second child slept in a closet for his first year, and that's exactly all he had — and it worked great."

4. Look Beyond the Baby Years

One of the biggest takeaways we learned from designers was to not just look at the nursery as a temporary space but rather one where your kid can grow into, or you yourself can use it in your home for years to come. In an article for Elle Decor, designer Tatyana Miron is quoted saying, "It is important to remember that your baby will not be a baby forever! In all of our nurseries, we suggest an element of sophistication and timelessness that a child can grow with. That could be anything from a paint color to a wallpaper, upholstery, or lighting."

Sabbe adds, "We design little boy nurseries that are reminiscent of [an] Ivy League dormitory from the 1950s and little girl nurseries that feel like a formal dining room in an upper east side apartment. Children's rooms are going to look like children's rooms; the toys and accessories will always be there. But babies are babies; make the room something the adults can enjoy as well."

This is also an important consideration when purchasing furniture. Look for pieces that can grow with your baby. For example, Patterson suggests avoiding purchasing a changing table. "If you already have a dresser or are planning to purchase one, it can be adapted into a changing table with an appropriate changing station topper. This also allows you to use the dresser for your kid's room after their infancy stage, and as a bonus, it has ample storage space!"

Similarly, there are many cribs on the market, like the Babyletto 3-in-1 Convertible Crib, that can transition into a toddler bed when the time comes. "These pieces are going to likely cost a little more in the short term, but they will ultimately save you money because you can avoid having to buy many separate pieces as your child grows. Convertible and adjustable items are also a better choice from an environmental standpoint," explains Kathy Kuo, founder and CEO of Kathy Kuo Home. "There's no need to limit yourself to items marketed as being 'for the nursery' — choose pieces you love and plan to use them throughout your child's different ages and stages," she adds.

5. Safety First

We interrupt the more exciting part of your nursery design planning for this important message: Safety matters. Pay extra attention when you are purchasing items for your nursery and consult the many resources available online about newborn safety. "In general, make sure you follow all of the age and usage recommendations for any furniture pieces in the nursery, take care to use wall anchors for items like bookcases and dressers, and familiarize yourself with safe sleep recommendations when you set up your crib," Kuo advises.

While several stores still sell crib bumpers, President Biden recently signed into law the Safe Sleep for Babies Act (H.R.3182), which prohibits the manufacture and sale of padded crib bumper pads and inclined sleepers. And while you may think all those stuffed animals are adorable to have in the crib, find a place for them on the bookshelves instead. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a stuffed animal falls into the category of dangerous items that should never be placed near a sleeping baby in a crib or carriage. Similarly, the recommendation includes other comfort items such as pillow-like toys, blankets, quilts, and additional bedding.

Along these lines, an overall design trend this year has been a focus on eco-friendly design. Tompkins shares that many of the moms she's working with request blankets and other nursery items that are 100% cotton or don't use synthetic materials.

6. Pay Attention to Lighting

"I always think about lighting. Nothing worse than harsh lighting in a space that is meant to feel safe and cozy," Sabbe shares with us. She highly recommends installing cordless, blackout roman shades. This will also inform how you lay out the items in your nursery.

"You want your rocker to be near a window for natural light as you're nursing your baby, and you want the crib far away from the window to ensure light doesn't disturb your newborn's sleep. Make sure your lighting sources have adjustable brightness to mimic different times of the day as your baby adapts to a normal sleep regimen," explains Patterson.

7. Splurge On Your Rocker and Save On Decor

If you're trying to stick to a budget, the one item designers all agree is worth the splurge is your glider or rocking chair. You'll be spending a lot of time here, so you'll want to make sure it's comfortable. Be sure to read reviews online or, even better, visit the store in person to test out the piece.

Brooke of Minimalist Mama echoes the importance of choosing a comfortable glider. "When putting together my son's nursery, my husband and I initially made the huge mistake of trying to save a few bucks on the chair that we chose, and boy, oh boy, did we regret it. My recommendation is to find ways to save on other pieces for your nursery and to invest in a good quality, well-made, comfortable chair for your little one's nursery."

An area you can save on? Skip the expensive decor. "Your baby grows up so quickly, and the phases of their life and corresponding decor will change. Instead, check out your local vintage store for unique finds at a lower price tag," advises Patterson. From inexpensive finds on Etsy to repurposing home decor from other areas of your home, there are many affordable ways to personalize your baby's nursery without spending a lot of money. Happy shopping!

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