Top 10 basic tips for designing a nursery

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I have been doing a lot of thinking about nursery design over the last couple of months. Colours, fabrics, space, storage and so on have been flittering in and out of my nesting mind. I turn to magazines and books for inspiration and have since come up with my top 10 tips based on the input from a lot of these publications and from our experiences working on the room for number two. These points are pretty basic but if you are feeling your way through this for the first time they might be useful.

1. Keep it basic – choose things which can be added to as time goes by.

Your essential needs in a nursery are:
A crib
Changing mat (either on a dresser or a table) with storage for wipes, nappies (diapers) and lotions
Rocking chair / arm chair
Bedding including a waterproof mattress protector
Waste basket
Storage for clothes

2. Keep function firmly in mind. In the longer term, will this room be the room when they need to put in a desk for homework or a computer? Will your child also have use of a playroom or family room or will this be where all their toys are kept and most of their playing is done? Will they be sharing with older or younger siblings? Plan built-in fixtures (bunk beds, storage etc.) accordingly.

3. Choose a unisex colour scheme if you don’t know whether you are having a girl or a boy — or a boysie-girl or a girlsie-boy. The most suggested colour seems to be white which you can then accessorise with colour, but other suggestions are apple green (we love and recommend this one – we have one wall painted this colour in AJs room and glows), tangerine, cherry, duck-egg blue or turquoise. These colours are all pretty overpowering so you might want to paint most of the room white and then paint one feature wall a vivid colour.

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4. The best way to add personality to a room is with soft furnishings and textiles which are comparatively cheap and can change with your child’s interests and age. Crib quilts, blankets, cushions for the reading chair, lamp-shades and curtains are all good places to add little colour and personal expression into a room.

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Instead of pasting up an almost impossible to remove wall frieze, why not try a string of fabric bunting in pretty colours or a string of flags or fairy lights.

5. When looking for a theme, focus on one particular element which appeals to you for inspiration – it could be a vintage toy, a particular fabric, a certain style (contemporary, country, eclectic, vintage etc) or a favourite family pastime (hot air ballooning was my nephew’s nursery theme).

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6. Keep a scrap-book of clippings from magazines of ideas which appeal to you. Refer to it often for inspiration and to keep you focused.

7. Consider heating, cooling, natural light and ventilation. Do you need to install some safe heating? Does a lot of cold air come in through the window and should you place the crib well away from it? Will you need block out blinds for day time napping?

8. Attempt to use non-toxic materials which are kind to the environment as well as the baby such as low VOC paints and natural fibres.

9. Electrical tips: As with every other room in the house, lighting adds so much mood and personality to a nursery. Fit a dimmer switch for the overhead light. Have enough electrical outlets so you have one for a baby monitor, CD player, a fan for summer, a lamp and a night-light. Have your electrical outlets tested and buy baby-proof socket covers.

10. Don’t choose expensive baby furniture which looks cute but will be outgrown quickly. Choose a full-sized wardrobe, and consider using a change mat on top of a dresser rather than splashing out on a baby change table.

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Choose a good arm chair for breast feeding and later story telling and even later still lounging on in a teenage kind of way. It doesn’t need to be a special breast-feeding chair, just make sure that it is comfortable, has good back support and low arms.

My sources of inspiration:

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Rooms to Grow In : Little Folk Art’s great rooms for babies, kids, and teens by Susan Salzman and Daryn Eller. Cute, country, folk-art chic. Lots of inspiring pictures if you like flea-market goodies and vintage styles. Leans on the “more is more” philosophy of interior design.
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Children’s Spaces: From zero to ten by Judith Wilson. There are lots of great rooms for kids in this book in a variety of styles. It’s one of my favourites but the nursery images are limited.

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Babies’ Rooms: From zero to three is another Judith Wilson book and it’s quite beautiful. She is definitely of the “less is more” cool, uncluttered design school. Big on white interiors but lots of good ideas.

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Childhood Treasures: Handmade Gifts for Babies and Children by Caroline Zoob. While this is not really an interior design book it is loaded with photos of cute corners of nurseries and packed full of good ways (and tutorials for projects) to inject a little personality into a child’s space. Definitely in the folk-shabby-chic-vintage school of design.

21 Responses to “Top 10 basic tips for designing a nursery”

  1. Ellen

    You posted here so I guess number 2 didn’t arrive today.

    I can’t wait to get home to Melb and set up lots of new rooms, space etc…

    I am looking forward to seeing number 2’s finished room…

  2. Anna

    Very nice article! I think I only have one thing to add, make sure you know what you’re going to do with the furniture when it needs to be removed from the room. All these lovely storage units are great, but when your child begins to move around all your baskets, drawers and boxes will just end up emptied all over the floor and toddlers have no respect for paint finishes or antique/vintage furniture! When you need to replace the cot with a toddler bed you should have a plan as to where you will store it if you plan to use it again, ours is in pieces under our bed which required us buying a valance sheet to hide it.

    My son got Ikea furniture so I’m not fussed now that he’s 3 and slamming drawers, jumping up and down in drawers etc but the useful storage unit that held his diapers is now in an awkward place in the hallway as we’ve nowhere else to put it but could not stand another day of picking up the contents from off the bedroom floor.

    Really enjoying the site!

  3. madame butterfly

    Great Article Claire !!! We are looking forward to your bub no.2 annoucement! We uesd an old table for our changing table,painted it white and bought a curved sided foam change mat covered in terry towelling to go on top and used baskets to keep all our nappies, change things tidy! The table has now gone back to being an art desk and we will use it again if we decide to have bub no.2!

  4. paula

    Lobed this posting. I’m about to redo my kids rooms, and there are some great ideas here. Thankyou

  5. Baby Cheapskate

    Great post! I wish I had read it before we decorated the nursery a year ago. We installed a dimmer switch and it was one of our best ideas–you don’t have to turn on the bright overhead light to check on the baby.

    We, too, owe a lot of our fun decor to Ikea–which just opened a store here in Atlanta!

  6. Joan

    … and yet, there are so many, many children who never have the privelege of a designer nursery, and they grow up just fine. As the mother of four, I say, keep things simple, natural and tidy, and your child will learn that beautiful doesn’t have to mean trendy or magazine-worthy.

  7. Penni

    Lovely article. I dreamed of having a nursery with both girls. But in the end Frederique slept in a hammock which we dragged from room to room during the day and then she was in our bed at night. What makes a space a kids space for us is books. Books books bookedy books. So many beautiful picture books and Fred reads them all. They take it in turns sitting up in prominent positions around her room, so Fred can chat to Olivia or Lola or Milli and Jack and the Dancing Cat all day long.
    Una Pearl is in our room too, though our big indulgence with her was buying a Stokke cot that we absolutely 100% could not afford and I don’t regret a cent.
    It is amazing though what you can do with a corner of a room, even in a rental, so you don’t have to own or have a dedicated nursery to fashion a fantastic space for a baby. We used pictures on the wall, some of the nicer toys we were given (Max and all the wild things, a wooden boat), books and fabric flowers and butterflies to create a delineated sense of space that still flowed into our own space.

  8. Anastasia

    Great article – thanks for all the links
    Ive been thinking of changing our boys room to make it a little more grown up as they are now toddlers….good to see you are still here and didnt give birth yesterday (6.6.06) hehee
    not long to go now – hope it all goes well – make sure you let us know as soon as something starts to happen!

  9. CBP

    I really enjoyed your article on designing a baby room. I would like to encourage your readers to give some thought to the use of feng shui (aka inspired design) when designing or rearranging your baby’s room. For example, the colorful pointed flags that all point at the crib and hence the baby … very, very dangerous. If you’re not familiar with feng shui, I can understand if you might feel that I’m passing on a silly housewife’s tale, but I am not. Anyway, consult any feng shui book or website and you’ll probably come across some great and safe design tips. :o)

  10. Josh

    Wow, we never had time to do anything like this. We didn’t had time to paint, although I plastered up some of the bigger holes in the wall. Owen will be drawing on the walls anyway, so I figure we’ll paint the walls when we move out. It’s not like he gives a crap, he’s too busy shoving stuff in his mouth to notice the lack of a featue wall.

    I modified a desk to create a change table (it’ll get modified back once there’s no more nappy changing), and we used my 30yo dresser for clothes storage. Plus there’s Owen’s bed, and a chair to cradle him to sleep that we dragged in from the loungeroom. I hope he doesn’t grow up feeling deprived.

    I think those flags/bunting look like a strangulation hazard.

  11. feli

    I dont have kids yet but after seeing these I want kids NOW!! ahahahah

  12. Phoebe

    great pointers… My six month old is still in her make-shift room. Paint is there, energy is not… Our long weekend is dedicated to working on that… I hope your’s brings a baby to put in your freshly decorated nursery

  13. kate

    Some great thoughts here.

    One idea we have used is to build a wall of cupboards (with 4 plain doors across a standard victorian house room) with the middle 2 doors hinged for opening flat against the others. The shelving in the mid section is designed as a table/desk with light and power outlet built in. It can be change table with mat, in between a place for folding clothes etc and later a desk for youngsters. The inside of doors can be painted with blackboard paint for messages, notes!, diary facts re bub for later and eventually a drawing space for toddler/kiddlet. We currentl have “things” hanging off them including Ikea buckets for rubbish/ calendar etc.

    And we used paint left over from other rooms/sample pots to paint back walls of cupboards which really helps challenged other-half to locate things (ie “it is in the blue section”).

  14. Sarah

    “… and yet, there are so many, many children who never have the privelege of a designer nursery, and they grow up just fine. As the mother of four, I say, keep things simple, natural and tidy, and your child will learn that beautiful doesn’t have to mean trendy or magazine-worthy.


    Making this nice for a child is an outward expression of love and is something that I believe most parents try to do for their children in one way or another. For some parents that means simply “making things tidy,” as you say, for others it means painting walls and scrounging for secondhand furniture. And certainly there are those for who a trendy or magazine-worthy nursery is the goal but I don’t thing that’s what’s being discussed here.

    Yes, there most definitely is excess in this world and there are many children (and adults for that matter) who go without even the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter. But creating a beautiful space for a child to sleep and play in and being mindful of the existence of poor and underprivileged people are not mutually exclusive.

    You do bring up a good point though. It’s important not to raise our children in a vacuum. Perhaps topics such as teaching children to be charitable, teaching them not to be wasteful, and teaching them about the worth of things are subjects that can be written about here on Kiddley in the future.

  15. Sarah

    After hitting ‘post’ and rereading everying, I think I was perhaps reading more into what Joan was saying than was there. I’m sorry if anyone took offense. Still there were some good points all around.

  16. Melissa

    Just had to say that pictures hung over cots are a really big risk if they are framed. All it takes is for the hook to fail or the baby to fling their bear at the picture and suddenly that picture and all it’s weight/glass are down in the cot. Fabric hangings or paper are fine but worth staying away from anything else…don’t mean to be a black rain cloud but safety comes first chez nous :o)

  17. jacqui

    Yes there are children who have nothing, not even parents, and they grow up fine too, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t try to be the best parents we can be. For those of you who have had no trouble getting pregnant and having as large family, please understand that there are some of us who waited years for a child, never thought we would have a baby far less a nursery to put it in, and every experience, even choosing changing pads is something to be cherished. I had no idea what furniture was even necessary before this. Great site and great ideas.

  18. Tod


    Where can I get that dresser from item 10 in this article?! I’ve been looking for that for MONTHS!


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