When it comes to sweet projects that are an interior designer’s dream, nurseries are the beloved little darlings. For me, on the other side of mothering little ones, looking back on those fleeting days with a small baby always has me feeling a bit nostalgic.
I tend to take extra care with the details of these projects – every little thing seems so important when I think about all the time that parents spend in their baby’s room tending to them and basically trying to survive that first year. When everything feels like it’s hanging on by a thread it’s so nice to have a lovely, well thought out space to spend time in.
Since my own boys were babies so long ago (one drives me around in the car and shaves! I go to bed before them sometimes! I sleep all night long! Rejoice, there is hope!), today I’m looking back on what I think was essential during those baby years, not in terms of gadgets and gear, but in terms of interior design.
These are my 5 best practical ideas for your nursery as you prepare for a new baby, settle into a new space with your little one, or even just now that you finally have the time and energy to focus on turning their room into something special.
So, here it is:
My list of 5 practical nursery essentials, from an experienced mom.
1. Make it dark
Drapery isn’t always an exciting design topic, especially when we are looking at something that needs to function well and not just look lovely. I assure you, though, that there is nothing more exciting to new parents than a deep-sleeping baby. A dark room means a sleeping baby and a baby that sleeps deeply and on some semblance of a routine is bliss for parents.
When I think back on my own days as a new mom, one of the clearest memories are the early mornings that came so much earlier than they needed to, especially after a long night of being awake off and on, because of the morning sunlight. I want to yawn and cry just thinking about it.
It took me months with my first son to clue in to this one: get a room-darkening roller shade. Get it wide enough to cover the sides of the window. Then get some thick drapes that cover the sides of the shade.
Yes, I know roller shades aren’t being featured on the cover of Vogue Home. Who cares! There are actually plenty of decent looking ones out there – just look for something neutral with a bit of texture and low shine. You can build or buy a valance box if you want to hide the roller, and unless your little one is sleeping, the shade will be up and almost unnoticeable anyway.
Straight to the point: get a room-darkening roller shade and some drapes.
2. Have somewhere comfortable to sit
You are going to be in your baby’s nursery night and day, so you might as well get comfy. Rockers, gliders, recliners, bouncers – whatever suits you, just make sure it’s either well-padded or can fit a pillow across the arms.
Putting your feet up will get you through some long stretches, so look into a footstool, ottoman or pouf if your chair doesn’t recline.
Please don’t overlook a side table within arm’s reach with room for a lamp & a place for everything you need while sitting (phone, book, water, tea, soothers, bottles, medicine, etc).
Straight to the point: get a comfortable chair, a footstool & a small side table.
3. Create a functional change station
If you can make your changing area function with precision, your days and nights will be so much smoother. You change table should stock everything you need within arm’s reach while keeping one hand on your baby – diapers, wipes, garbage can, fresh clothes, a few small toys are all things to consider.
To make this work, choose a change table with some storage below, but also look at wall shelves hung above, a bookcase beside and even small cubbies mounted to the wall. Keep in mid that your baby will grow and eventually stand on the table at times, so ensure that any shelves within reach are sturdy and mounted securely to the wall.
Straight to the point: set up your change table so that everything is within arm’s reach.
4. Lighting is so important
Soft lighting makes nights so much more cozy and, let’s face it, you are going to be spending some significant time in this room at night. There are a few simple things you can do to make this work well.
First, look into changing out the light switch for a dimmer. This is not only great for middle of the night when you will need to change a diaper or find a dropped soother, but also for easily checking on your sleeping baby without waking them, making bedtime routines soft and cozy, and for slowly waking up babies after naps or in the morning when you need to get going (oh, I used to hate doing that but it was necessary sometimes!)
Second, a great lamp with a very low wattage light bulb and a soft shade is perfect for reading a bedtime story or finding something that’s dropped in the night without completely waking anyone up.
Soft lighting in the night is not only great for getting your baby back to sleep in the night, but don’t overlook the benefit to yourself, too. Having soft lighting for the time you are putting your little one back to sleep allows you to fall back to sleep easily as well… not that parents usually have any issue with this, but just in case.
Straight to the point: a soft lamp and a dimmer switch are worth their weight in gold.
5. Your art & decor create the mood in the room
This is the time to spend some time looking at how you want this room to feel.
Soft? Serene? Joyous? Earthy? Vibrant? Natural? Vintage?
You can bring on so much detail to a nursery and if you do it right, it will last a long time. Good design ages well, so as your baby grows and changes, the framework remains in place (the paint, the flooring, the lighting, most of the furniture) and just the details can be updated with smaller swaps.
Things like new bedding, art prints, accessories and small details that reflect a budding personality, can easily be slowly added over time. A more timeless approach is my preference in spaces for babies. Bring in those details to make the space sing but keep the framework classic.
Straight to the point: pick a few great accessories to create the perfect feeling in the room.
I can’t believe sometimes how fast life evolves when it comes to parenting babies. The technology, philosophies, gadgets and accessories that roll out year after year, I could never pretend, from this side of the fence, to have my pulse on what’s current with babies. My oldest child is taller than me. He drives. I’m not the source for what’s hot in newborn mothering. What I bring to this conversation is a level approach to designing a nursery and some basics that I think are timeless essentials. Sometimes the old advice is the best advice.
What I can best offer is this: the philosophy of living your babies well or taking care of yourself along the way starts with carving out a small, peaceful space to do that hard work. The needs of babies and new parents just never changes or goes out of style. I hope my perspective has given you some things to consider when designing a nursery for your little one. From this side of things, I just want to say to enjoy these years and don’t underestimate the value of making the time & space you spend them in as lovely as you can.
I’m so happy to have added these fresh new mini-guides to my shop! Simple. Efficient. Beautiful. Done. Check them out if you are looking for an easy way to ‘hire’ an interior designer to pull together all of the design details for your nursery in a really streamlined and simple way.
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Hi, I'm Tara. I'm a professional interior designer living in rural Canada where I help the practical & down-to-earth to love where they live. I offer professional interior design services in person and online and am the author of a design & style guide to Living With Oak.
I believe you can become a happier person in a more beautiful home and I’m here to guide you in creating a practical plan to pull it all together. I’m here to offer interior design advice and inspiration to help you make that happen.