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Cover story: Nurseries grow up as colors, furnishings look past infancy

- - Thursday, November 8, 2012

When Rachel George was preparing for her first baby four years ago, she and her husband designed the nursery themselves by picking out everything they loved from Pottery Barn Kids. Now that Mr. and Mrs. George, who live in Falls Church, are expecting their third child, they're working with interior designer Jessica Bonness to ensure that their children's bedrooms complement each other as well as the rest of the house.

"We've been working with Jessica since we moved into our new house a couple of years ago," Mrs. George said. "Our priority is to have common elements and similar style in the three children' rooms, especially the baby's room and our son's room because they're Jack-and-Jill rooms with a connecting bath."

Mrs. Bonness, owner of JGB Interiors in the District, said customers rarely spend as lavishly on a nursery as they do on other rooms in the house, but she said it makes sense to spend money on some items that can be used in the room as the child grows.

"Don't be wedded to buying really big or really expensive furniture for a nursery because you want to maximize the floor space so that the bedroom can also be a playroom," Mrs. Bonness said. "It's better to go with neutral and inexpensive furniture and maybe invest in a dresser that will last."

Megan Blake, an interior designer and owner of Megan Blake Design in the District, said the crib usually is the focal point for the nursery, so buyers should think carefully about the style and color they want.

"You can find ornate cribs or modern, contemporary cribs in white or deep espresso brown, and that color and style will be an inspiration for the room," Mrs. Blake said. "People tend to spend more money on a dresser and buy a dresser instead of a changing table because a dresser can be more of a multipurpose piece."

Most nurseries include a rocking chair or a glider if there's space, often one that's already in the family.

"I've found some great vintage chairs on Etsy.com, but you can also refinish a chair you already have or accessorize it with pillows and a throw," Mrs. Blake said. "One client wanted a simple wing chair in the room, which worked well and added a mature element to the room."

Designers recommend considering how the nursery will grow with your child, rather than focusing on the relatively short baby phase.

"With our first child we concentrated more on what was convenient for us," Mrs. George said. "Now we're more interested in creating an engaging environment for our children and want to accessorize the space with interesting things at their level. Now that we've had children, we realize it's important for them to be able to entertain themselves a little bit as early as possible."

For example, Mrs. George said she bought a vertical bookcase that turned out to be impractical because most of the books and toys are out of reach, even for a toddler.

"I bought an Ikea bookcase for the Georges with big, cubical openings that can be put on its side and used as a bench," Mrs. Bonness said. "It's very functional because babies can hang onto it when they are at the cruising stage and we can put baskets inside for books and toys at their eye level."

While nurseries are traditionally pale pink for girls and pale blue for boys, parents today often choose a more sophisticated palette and punch it up with interesting accessories to attract their baby's attention.

"We're still doing pink for girls sometimes, but we use rose, coral and lavender shades," Mrs. Blake said. "We use navy and teal instead of pale blue for boys, but we also lean toward lighter neutral walls and bring in color with accessories, artwork and window treatments."

Mrs. Bonness said she uses pale gray, pale gray-blue or pale gray-purple paint for nurseries and accessorizes the room with red or pink or yellow.

"Both of my boys' rooms are a beautiful gray-blue color with steel gray curtains and a white bed or crib," Mrs. George said. "The accent color in my toddler's room is yellow, but in the nursery we have a red floor lamp and a bright red pendant light. We reupholstered the glider in a different shade of blue from the walls, and Jessica found a great rug in the same color, but with a white outline of a football stadium in the center. She also found coordinating photos of a detail of a football and one of a detail of a baseball."

Mrs. Blake said some homeowners opt for wall-to-wall carpeting in a nursery, but those with hardwood flooring usually choose a soft rug. She said dhurrie rugs are popular and recommended wool sisal rugs that are softer than other sisal rugs.

"Lighting is extremely important because nurseries are used 24 hours a day," Mrs. Blake said. "Always have your lighting on a dimmer switch and include an overhead pendant light or chandelier or vintage fixture for interest."

Mrs. Bonness said she found a glow-in-the-dark clock at Urban Outfitters that works as a great accessory and yet is practical for the parents.

"For accent pieces and artwork, I've been using a lot of letters to spell out a child's name," Mrs. Bonness said. "I like to personalize the room to reflect the parents' taste, too, and to pick up the colors from other rooms in the house. I found pillows in the shape of states on Etsy.com and bought them in red for a couple who has red accents in their home. I bought the home state of each parent, plus one for D.C., where they live now."

Mrs. Blake said almost anything can be used for decorative items. She said she has seen pinatas hung from the ceiling for decoration, Chinese lanterns and even big floral-looking poufs of tissue paper tucked into the corner of the ceiling.

"Hanging something interesting from the ceiling not only has a decorative impact, but it gives babies something to focus on when they're looking up from the crib," Mrs. Blake said.

Another item that mixes practical and decorative elements are book ledges attached to the wall, Mrs. Bonness suggested.

"I think it's nice to collect drawings or paintings from cousins or siblings of the baby and frame them inexpensively for wall decoration in a nursery," Mrs. Bonness said. "You can also collect art from storybooks and frame them."