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Decorating Children's Rooms - The Nursery

The bottom line when decorating a nursery is safety and comfort for the baby, but beyond that the sky's the limit. There's now an absolutely vast selection of not just the usual wallpaper and bed linens aimed at the little people, but serious furniture–club chairs and ottomans, sofas–scaled down to kid sizes; things that they used to have to grow into are now being made just for them.

In recent years as the economy has boomed, a certain sector of the retail industry has enjoyed a remarkable explosion: products for babies and kids. In days of old, the prevailing attitude most people had toward clothing and furniture for their kids was one of economy–after all, kids outgrow everything in a just a couple of years. But nowadays it's more common for parents to go all out for everything. All the very latest fashions for their little one, right down to the label on their jeans, and the indulgence doesn't stop with outfits. The home decorating sector for kids has had a boom as well. For many families, hand-me-downs are a thing of the past.

There's now an absolutely vast selection of not just the usual wallpaper and bed linens aimed at the little people, but serious furniture–club chairs and ottomans, sofas–scaled down to kid sizes; things that they used to have to grow into are now being made just for them. Some say it's great: kids are finally being catered to on their own terms, even in the furniture world. Some others say the trend only encourages people to spend more money on things they don't need.

Who's to say who is right? Certainly not us here at Sheffield. Truth is, the stuff is most likely here to stay, like it or not; so we're here to help you figure out how to wade through all that's out there to create a place that's just right for your child or for the child's room of a client. We'll tackle it in three sections: this month we'll give tips on getting together a baby's room, or nursery; then next month we'll get into rooms for bigger kids. Then last but not least, we'll share some insights on decorating for teens.

Let's Start With Lighting: Before you go out looking at wallpaper and fabrics and paint, the best place to start when planning a nursery is by going into the room you've chosen and spending some time there. See what it's like at different times of the day, find out if a particular window is more drafty in the winter than another. A spot with too much sun in the very early morning may have junior waking you up earlier than he would in a shadier spot. Or a corner that's constantly lit by the street light outside may keep the baby up all night. Many people get attached to the picture they have in mind of the perfect nursery and determine to make it happen come hell or high water, but that mental image isn't always in line with the needs of a real baby. It's important to keep practicality in mind first and foremost. To get a feel for the child's room–spend some time there. In Unit One, Sheffield students learn how to "have a conversation" with a room. When you have a "conversation" with a child's room, think like a kid.

And having said that, let's now move on to furniture. What items will you put in the room? What's essential, and what's essentially for show? (Well, if you want to get really practical, the truth is that most babies would be just as content to sleep in a plastic laundry basket lined with a soft blanket as in the finest Queen Anne–style antique cradle. And a matching changing table and chest of drawers are cute, but a deep, waist-height bookshelf might serve both purposes just as well. But we'll assume you want to make the place look nice, too.)

The basic list of furniture essentials for a basic nursery are as follows:

a bassinet or cradle
a crib
a changing table
a chest of drawers
a rocking chair or glider
a mobile to hang over the crib or bassinet, and another to hang over the changing table

Some safety precautions for the crib: Make sure that the slats or posts are no more than 2-3/8" apart. Any wider than that, and a newborn's body might slip through. Also make sure that the corner posts don't extend much more than 1/16" above the railings, as the baby's clothing can get caught on taller ones. You shouldn't be able to fit more than two fingers between the mattress and the sides of the crib, and avoid decorative cutouts that can trap the baby's head or limbs. And if the crib is secondhand and has been painted by its previous owner, make sure the paint isn't lead-based, as babies do tend to chew on whatever's handy.

Pads for the changing table should have straps to keep the baby from wriggling off onto the floor.. And remember that all furniture that can possibly be tipped over by a little one's tugging should be bolted to the wall. For the same reason, avoid floor lamps when choosing lighting, especially halogen torchieres as they tend to burn hot.

Once you've chosen furniture for the room, considering the overall look and color scheme of the room can be an overwhelming experience. There are gazillions of wallpaper patterns out there just for babies' rooms, and even entire lines of paint for them that are formulated to be as nontoxic as possible. And the current craze for "theme" rooms, with wallpaper, borders, paint and even carpets to match add to the frenzy. There is a tendency to get excited and go all-out when it comes to decorating a nursery, wanting everything to match and work together just so, for we all want everything to be just perfect for the new arrival.

But many experienced parents will tell you that as much fun as it is to create a whole new world in that little room, the baby will be just fine and just as happy without such a big production. Truth is, by the time the baby is old enough to appreciate a decorating scheme at all, the child will want to have a say in the matter. And they quickly reach the age when they find all the bunnies and chickadees to be too babyish, and then it's time to redecorate all over again. All in just three or four years. If you're working for a client, it can be a wise idea to check in every few years regarding children's rooms. Maybe there's a recurring job every few years.

Here's a do it yourself tip: A practical way to indulge your decorating urges without creating unnecessary work for yourself down the line is to choose furniture and wall treatments that are appropriate for any age, then use accessories to create babyland. Painting the walls a solid color instead of using wallpaper, then using a removable wallpaper border for interest is a good idea, as is avoiding wall-to-wall carpeting and using inexpensive area rugs on a wood or cork floor. Hard floors are easier to clean up, they don't harbor allergy-aggravating dust, and you can easily replace the area rugs as the child's taste changes. Use lamps, mobiles and framed pictures to bring in the baby duckies and teddies, then simply switch them out when the child gets into the Powerpuff Girls or Elmo.

And a word about window treatments: There are a number of window coverings that are suitable for any room in a home except the baby's room. Among these are floor-length curtains or drapes of any style, for once the crawling stage begins, it will be easy for the baby to grab these, pull them down on top of himself and possibly suffocate. Blinds with long pull-cords are also a no-no, especially looped cords, as a baby can easily get these wrapped around her neck. Curtains that end at the windowsill are perhaps the safest option.

The bottom line when decorating a nursery is safety and comfort for the baby, but beyond that the sky's the limit. It's worth bearing in mind that since the baby won't really care, the decorating is mostly for the client's benefit. If you're planning your own child's room, who says there's anything wrong with decorating to suit yourself? Just like with any other room in the house, start by taking some time to think about how the space will be used, not just now but also in the future. Then decorate your little heart out.



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