How to Design a Nursery

How to design a nursery

Talitha Photos / Cathie Hong Interiors

While there’s a sweet and dreamy quality to the notion of designing a nursery, the practical work of creating a safe, comfortable, beautiful, serene room for a baby can feel overwhelming. Here’s a step-by-step guide filled with expert advice to help get you started. 

Meet the Expert

Plant a Seed

Naomi Alon Coe of Little Crown Interiors, an interior designer specializing in nursery and child design, says that many clients come to her with a single item that inspires the overall design. “Sometimes it’s a wallpaper pattern they fell in love with, other times it’s just a crib or another piece of furniture,” Coe writes in her comprehensive how-to book Your Perfect Nursery: A Step-By-Step Approach to Creating the Nursery of Your Dreams. “I’ve even had a client show me a photo of her tropical vacation that she wanted to base the whole nursery around. I call this the ‘seed’ item—it’s the item from which the rest of the design grows.”

How to design a nursery

Christy Q. Photo / Cathie Hong Interiors

Don’t Go Overboard With a Theme

Interior designer Cathie Hong of Cathie Hong Interiors cautions against overdoing the modern trend of having a theme for your nursery. “I like to start with a neutral base for the furniture, then build on it with accent lighting, wallpaper, artwork, rugs, textiles, toys and books,” she says. “So even if tastes change, the accent pieces can easily be changed out while keeping the large investment pieces the same. Even if a nursery has a specific theme, I try to keep the color palette soft and minimal to create a calm and non-stimulating environment for both mom and baby.”

How to design a nursery

David Casas / Little Crown Interiors

Map Out Your Floorplan 

A successful nursery design of any size has distinct zones for sleeping, changing, nursing, and playing. Measure your space, and make practical decisions about the best and safest areas to locate the room’s essential furniture: the crib, changing table, and a comfortable rocking chair or glider for nursing. Spend on big ticket items first to keep your budget on track and allow the proper lead time for online orders and assembly.

It's not always necessary to buy new or baby-specific furniture that will have to be replaced in a few years. A vintage dresser can double as a changing table, and your favorite rocking chair can be moved into the nursery in lieu of purchasing a brand new glider. However if you are short on space or starting from scratch, Justin Segal, Director of Product & Brand Management at Storkcraft, suggests considering multipurpose nursery furniture with added storage, such as a crib with a built-in drawer, chests with built-in changing toppers, or cribs with an attached changing table and storage.

How to design a nursery

A Beautiful Mess

Color Palette and Décor

While it’s perfectly fine to go old school with pink or blue, today many parents are opting for gender neutral nursery designs. Interior designer Mel Bean of Mel Bean Interiors suggests choosing calming colors such as white or pastels for the walls, then having a little fun with the ceiling.

“Wallpaper applied to the ceiling brings playfulness without being over the top,” Bean says. “Babies are on their backs a lot, and it's more interesting for them.” If you like the idea of going bold and whimsical but fear the commitment, think about installing removable wallpaper or wall stickers that you can change out as the baby grows. And whatever color you choose, be sure to opt for no or low VOC paint. 

Above all, keep in mind that the nursery should harmonize with the rest of your décor and can be as contemporary, vintage, boho, minimalist, modern, rustic, or simply eclectic as any other room in the house. Don’t forget to add plenty of soft textures, easy to maintain natural materials, and baby-friendly plants. Resist the urge to overdecorate or accessorize to keep the room calm for baby and easy to maintain for you.

How to design a nursery

Coco Kelley

Light, Air, and Noise Control

The main goal of the nursery is getting your child on a sleep schedule, so it’s crucial to have options for blocking out light, mitigating sound from other rooms, and controlling temperature and air flow. Use thick pile rugs and drapes to help absorb noise. Layer solar shades, black-out shades, interior or exterior shutters, and/or curtains to control and filter light. 

“Don't underestimate the importance of lighting in a nursery,” Bean says. “Choose window coverings and lamps that can mimic night time even during the day, and choose dimmable options when possible.”

How to design a nursery

Nick Glimenakis / AHG Interiors

Design a Room That Will Grow With Your Baby

While you want to create a beautiful room for your baby’s arrival, be sure to keep the design flexible enough to be easily adapted throughout childhood. Bean says that means “choosing ageless elements in draperies, wall coverings, and lighting so that with a few changes in furnishings, art, and accessories the room can still work for tweens and teens.”

Interior designer Stefania Skrabak of AHG Interiors. says that she designs nurseries with two guiding adjectives: whimsical and transitional. “Whimsical because it's kids, we want that visual excitement while still being conscious of not overstimulating the environment," she says. "Transitional because we want to design a room that will grow with the kid, and you don't even know your kid yet.”

How to design a nursery

Kacey Gilpin / Mel Bean Interiors

All In the Family

A nursery symbolizes a fresh start but it’s also about continuity. “I’ve always been a fan of incorporating a family heirloom into a kids bedroom,” says Segal, “so there’s always a strong sense of family history present in the room. Whether that’s accomplished by hanging something on the wall that used to belong to grandpa or dad, or by framing something special that’s been passed down through the family from generation to generation, I think that incorporating a family heirloom is a personal touch that carries meaning, and will never go out of style."

How to design a nursery

David Casas / Little Crown Interiors