Updated: Dec 17, 2019
From the time I got married, before I became an interior designer, I determined that I would use the authentic, refurbished, Louis XVI armoire in my nursery regardless of my child's gender. The irony of this is that I actually wanted a boy and many might say this was a girly piece (after all, it was in my room growing up as a girl)... but being a lover of history, I figured that if this style was good enough for the Louis' of Versailles then it would be good enough for my son. Flash forward to January and February of this year (2019), my husband and I discover we are in fact expecting a little boy! My goal with this nursery was to create a neutral space that was unique and interesting. I realize that many parents have very different goals when creating their nurseries, so I am by no means suggesting that this is the ONLY way to build your nursery- but this is what felt right for us. It certainly ended up creating a unique and interesting space.
1. Include Heirloom Pieces
If you've ever worked with me as a designer or know me as a friend, you might know that I am passionate about heirloom pieces. Heirloom pieces are items that have been passed down for one, two, three (or more!?) generations. I always find it a challenge and very rewarding to reuse and repurpose these pieces within a space. When creating my own nursery, this process was no different. I started, as I mentioned above, with the Louis XVI armoire as my base. This piece has not been in my family for a long time, but because it is something that my parents bought for me it is very sentimental. The challenge became how to incorporate a gilded, ornate armoire into a nursery for a baby boy.
In this vein, we also wanted to use some heirloom objects from my husband's family, and begin build off of the armoire. His mother had two watercolors from France, one of Notre Dame (I'm still not over it btw), and one of the Eiffel Tower. These have been passed down to her by a dearly departed family friend, a second grandmother to my husband, and were very meaningful to us for that reason. Not only did they coordinate through similar subject matter, but the colors just happened to be PERFECT! After reframing and re-matting them in more neutral tones, they became the keystone for the salon style wall.
In addition to the above mentioned items, we placed a very old bookshelf in the space. It was always somewhere in our house growing up, and my father claims it's from a Spanish Monastery. Although this has yet to be confirmed, the natural wood and simple yet curvilinear lines were a great compliment to the heavy armoire. It made the space feel a bit more masculine but continued the same language from the armoire. These are pieces I call bridges, something that bridges a gap between an item on one design extreme and another within a space. When working with heirloom pieces that may be older and ornate, like our armoire, it's important to include bridges.
Whether it's a giant, slightly overwhelming armoire, a few watercolors, or just a really special something passed down to you, I highly recommend including these types of items in the nursery. We are all apt to become a bit more sentimental around the time we are having children, we are creating the next generation after all! I think, regardless of the reason, it always adds a bit more depth to a design to have these interesting items in the built environment. Ultimately, it's my hope that I am fortunate enough to pass these items down to my son and his children will use them too!
2. Include Found Objects
Sometimes heirloom pieces are not available or wouldn't work in a nursery. In cases such as these, I recommend creating your own heirloom pieces through found objects.
What is a "found object"? It's something not mass produced, possibly older but could be new. These are unique items that one happens upon and catches one's eye. The key word when looking for "found objects" is authenticity. We want to make sure that the items are what they present themselves to be- a wood item should be actual wood, and if it's hand carved that's even better! In essentials, a found object is an object you find and love.. pretty simple.
My favorite place to "find" these objects is Scott Antique Markets, I would suggest reading my blog on that for more information. Other places one might look are; flea markets, antique shows, antique stores, thrift stores, your parents basement, your friends basements, or Facebook Marketplace (this is seriously a fantastic place). One place I would not necessarily recommend are designer boutiques. The caveat here is, if you want the convenience of having a bevy of found objects already discovered, curated and presented to you in their best form, definitely go to the designer boutiques to search.
Some amazing designer places I would recommend in Atlanta, GA are BD Jeffries and Dixon Rye. These stores are fantastic and have already gone through the painstakingly long process of sorting through all of the antique stores, antique shows and even gone to Europe, Africa, Asia etc. They have collected and imported all of these pieces, curated them, and created beautiful vignettes to spark the imagination. As a result, you will likely pay a premium but will walk away with some amazing and unique items.
Some of the found objects we included in our nursery are the sketch of the two ladies, as pictured above, and some pieces from Africa. I loved this sketch because it reminds me of "The Thingamajig Book of Manners" which, if you haven't read it- you should. We collected a few things from Africa, not personally but through a source that imports from there, like the mask statue pictured above and the basket pictured below. Not only did these items add a touch of masculinity to the space, but, most importantly, they reminded me of the mission of one of our favorite organizations, World Vision, and it's clean water initiative. This is something my husband's family are very involved in and I wanted to remind us that, while we are surrounded by resources and comfort- many children are not. This is something I wanted my son to learn from his earliest days.
3. Use a Neutral Palette
Not every one needs a neutral nursery, but for us this was a necessity to create the environment that we were hoping for. In order to make such a show stopping piece, like the armoire, work, it was important to have a neutral palette surrounding it. To build upon this, we chose light grey walls (Repose Grey- Sherwin Williams), a medium toned grey rug (Pottery Barn), white moldings (Snowbound-Sherwin Williams), white bedding (also bleach-able), a white sheepskin overlay (faux), natural wood dresser, a custom cream rocker with performance fabric, and warm greige drapery with white sheers (for privacy and blackout capabilities). For the bed itself we went with black iron (Bellini of Atlanta), which was complimented by the drapery hardware and the light fixture (Visual Comfort). This neutral palette helped to not only keep the armoire as the star, but make the environment very calm and relaxing.
We extended this neutral palette into the nursery bathroom. We chose a white granite for the counter, a black iron framed mirror, charcoal matte finish on the shaker style vanity, black iron hardware, and we accented with gold sconces (Visual Comfort) to tie the armoire back in. The wall covering was added to spice things up a bit. It is a black on cream sketch of the original Winnie the Pooh and Hundred Acre Wood crew from Jane Churchill Designs. Cowntan and Tout carries it in the U.S. The tile surround is a simple beige porcelain sandstone with accents of dark grey marble and warm neutrals. The custom shower curtain is a dark cream with a larger diamond leading edge accent that replicates the tone and hues of the drapery in the nursery.
4. Texture,Texture, Texture!
For some reason people tend to think neutral or monotone schemes and conflate that with boring. While it is possible for a neutral or monotone scheme to be boring, it definitely does not have to be the case. The best way one can mitigate this risk is through texture! Texture is so important in any design scheme, but especially so when there are not that many changes in hues. For our nursery, we achieved this through layering various textured in the materials; a smooth polished stone, rough natural and painted wood, linen fabrics, wrought iron metals, paper wall coverings, and high gloss moldings. To these we added the plush velvets of the accent pillows, the soft faux sheepskin overlay, the charcoal ceramic side table, the dynamic weave of baskets, and art with various mediums of texture. Having items that infuse a lot of texture in a space that is neutral or monotone creates depth. In these instances, it's difficult to consider such a space boring.
5. Don't Forget About the Baby Stuff!
So, we thought about the design and how we wanted to build the environment. However at the end of the day a tiny little baby needs to live and function in this space. As an interior designer we preach function over form. I have been remiss in spending quite so much time on form and not any at all on function. Aside from the practical practice of ensuring all heavy furniture is bolted to the wall, and all items are secured from little pulling, climbing hands. I wanted to create a space that could grow with our son for the first two years. The side table, I recognize, will have to go when he is pulling and climbing, which will add a bit more space. We included lots of storage for all of the baby things- armoire, baskets (not shown) and closet space. We also left a generous amount of soft fluffy floor space for crawling, playing and learning. Then, into this space we created all of the baby stuff arrived; see exhibit A of the boppy pillow reflected in one of the first images or exhibit B of the changing pad. I knew these things were coming, they are all necessities in todays world of birthing infants. The only way I could mitigate the visual destruction the baby items were likely to cause was to choose items and covers that were neutral and calming. It is important to think through how the nursery needs to function for one's family. For us, we also have space to spread out in other areas of our house and we know we likely won't spend a majority of our play time in this space. If this were not the case, having large furniture taking up play room may not be the best choice. I also think it is important to consider how each piece relates to each other in terms of function within the nursery. This is super specific to each space and family, but in on a micro level; going back to exhibit A, the boppy is necessary for nursing and should likely be next to the rocking chair- not across the room in a closet. That is a simplistic view, but can be expanded to help answer larger space planning questions. It was also for this reason that I chose a grey and white boppy cover. Realistically, we will eventually have all of the things that we avoided this time around- think loud noise making primary colored toys- arrive... and that's why there exists a giant armoire, which brings us full circle.