Ten days ago, I became an aunt again. (Hurray! Welcome to the world, baby R!) Of course, any new baby in the family is an excuse to think about nurseries, so this seems an appropriate time to share my own experience on the nursery design front. While looking for inspiration for our own two kids’ rooms over the years, I have realized that very few of the articles about nursery design tell you what you really need to know. The fact is, bringing a new baby home for the first time is a stressful experience. As I found out with our two babies, all those little design decisions I had thought so brilliant in my nesting phase, turned out to be completely impractical the minute we got home.
So, for the sake of any other moms-to-be out there, here is my ‘no-nonsense’, ‘tell it how it is’, ‘the stuff your own mother never told you’, guide to nursery design. Before I launch into this, I should say that I’m basing it on my own experience and that of my friends who are moms. I’m no baby nurse, child development expert or safety guru. Just a mother with an acute memory of the initial few weeks of our children’s lives…
Ok, you know the basic nursery set up: crib, rocker, changing table, lamp, rug. What else should you know?
Rule 1: keep calm
No, not you. You can accept now that you won’t be in serene maternal bliss the entire time. I mean the room. For the first few weeks of a baby’s life, he/she just can’t handle too much stimulation. Yes, they need interesting things to look at. But, one thing at a time is enough. You know the feeling when you go into a new store that’s packed with things you absolutely love and you don’t know where to look first? Your heartbeat increases and your eyes are on stalks. That’s what it feels like to a new baby all the time. So spare the poor thing and keep it calm and simple. If you put a mobile over the bed, ideally you should be able to detach it or move it away when the baby needs some peace. Don’t cram the space with bouncing, bopping, twirling, tweeting, musical things. All baby needs for entertainment is you, so edit the rest.
Rule 2: clear the surfaces
You’ve picked out some adorable trinkets to make your baby’s room just perfect. Now, here’s the thing: when you get home from the hospital, you will sweep all those cute knick knacks into the nearest drawer and load up every surface with diapers, tissues and feeding supplies. You’ll be surprised at how much space all this paraphernalia takes up. Wherever you are in the room, these things need to be within arm’s reach. Anything that gets in the way will just be an annoyance. I know you don’t believe me now, but you will. The one exception here is a clock. You will need one of these to time feeds. Get one you can read in the middle of the night when the lights are dim.
Rule 3: the rocker is your best friend
Maybe your baby won’t like, or need, rocking. Maybe you will be very lucky and get a good sleeper. But chances are, at some point, you will be willing to try anything and pay any amount to get your baby to sleep. If, for aesthetic reasons, you have chosen to go with a chair that doesn’t rock, you will regret that decision. Now, rockers are like sleeper sofas: over-priced, usually ugly and never as comfortable as an ordinary chair. But, when you’re feeding, their true meaning in life is suddenly revealed. You will be thankful for that upright back and those big arm rests that seemed so ugly in the store. I should also add a note on cushioning here. For the first few weeks, it’ll be difficult enough to sit down on anything, let alone a hard, cold, plastic surface. So, whatever you do, please don’t buy an Eames rocker. Yes, they look fabulous, but, at 3am, when it’s cold and you’re sore, you will wish for the monstrous, but comfy, rocker you eschewed earlier. ‘Ah’, you say, ‘but I have thought of that and will have a lovely sheepskin rug over my Eames chair’. Yes, and that will look wonderful. It will not, however, help you when you’re into your second straight hour of nursing and your nodding head is desperately seeking something comfortable to rest on. (I’m sure hundreds of Eames-owning moms out there will disagree…)
Rule 4: cater for your support team
Hopefully, you won’t have to do all the feeding, bathing and rocking yourself. If your other half/best friend/mother are there to help, you will need space for them too. Your nursery probably won’t be big enough for two chairs, but that is why the ottoman was invented. Yes, you bought it imagining you’d be lying back, feet up, blissfully cradling your child. Maybe in time. But in the first six weeks, that space will mainly be occupied by your husband or some other valiant helper, who will be manically flipping through the pages of the baby care manual searching for answers, while you struggle to master the art of feeding.
Rule 5: control noise and light
Your baby doesn’t really care what the nursery looks like, but he/she does care what it sounds and feels like. The key here is to be able to vary sound, heating and light easily. Firstly, you’ll want to be able to block out daylight for naps. Whatever napping philosophy you subscribe to, there’s no doubt that getting baby used to sleeping in the dark and being awake in the light, is a good idea. At the very least, you want to avoid bright sunlight interrupting his or her sleep. So, a blackout shade is ideal, plus drapes to cover the edges of the shade around which light will seep. I’d also highly recommend a dimmer switch for your lamp, for more soothing night-time lighting.
Controlling noise is critical. We found playing bird and water sounds was quite effective at calming our child and getting him to sleep. Not all babies go for it. Some friends swear by white noise machines. But the aspect I wanted to talk about here is the unforeseen, annoying noises that keep your child awake – but can be avoided. For example, that crib with the drop down side you thought was such a clever idea. The theory is great: you feed the baby, he drops off to sleep, you ease out of your chair and lower the crib side to place him gently on the mattress… Now, when you test this in the store, try lowering the crib side with just your foot. Does it glide noiselessly down? No. It falls into place with a resounding crash. Now your baby is awake and you have to start again. Similarly, when you test that rocker, try getting out of it, without using your arms. First of all, can you even get out? Assuming you can, does the whole thing creak? If so, forget it. I know these seem like small things, but, believe me, they could mean an extra few hours of sleep for you so are well worth investigating.
As you can see, in the first few weeks, practicality really does rule. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice aesthetics – far from it. But my advice is to make sure you put comfort (yours and baby’s) at the top of the list.