- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

If you believe salespeople and some baby books, you need a glider, a changing table, a toy chest and about a thousand other things to complete a nursery a daunting thought for new parents. But do you really need all that stuff? No, say some local parents. You can create a nice space with some used furniture, a splash of paint and maybe some curtains or blinds.

Remember, it wasn't that long ago that two or three siblings would share a bed and infants slept in padded bureau drawers.

What's important is to create a space that is practical, safe and comfortable for both parents and child. If it also is aesthetically pleasing, that's a plus, parents say.

When Luanne Griffin of Old Town Alexandria prepared for the arrival of her daughter Tori, now 22 months, she chose a pink-and-green color scheme for window treatments and upholstery, used secondhand furniture and soft, crawl-friendly wall-to-wall carpeting.

"I wanted to have a room that would last more than through her infancy," Mrs. Griffin says. "I felt that the pink and green [touches] would be something she'd grow into as a little girl."

While Mrs. Griffin put a lot of thought into colors, Theresa Owens, a resident of Capitol Hill and mother of 4-month old Isabel, focused on space-saving features. They include hooks on the walls for hanging clothes, a wall cabinet and a collapsible changing table.

"We have a small house, so we're always trying to create space," Ms. Owens says. "The [changing table] fits across the crib [rails], and when you're done, you just fold it up. It's great."

There probably are as many approaches to nurseries as there are parents, and as long as the room and furniture are safe, it's nice to add personal, sometimes quirky touches, says Jessica Strand, author of "Baby's Room Ideas and Projects for Nurseries."

"I think there are very few items that you really need," Ms. Strand says, "but I think you need a crib and a comfortable chair to feed your baby, and you need a bureau."

As for decorating, Ms. Strand recommends that parents get upholstery, decorations and bedding that appeal to them. After all, the child probably won't care if the walls are light blue or light yellow for a while. It's the one chance in a lifetime when parents have control over how their child's room looks, Ms. Strand says.

The materials don't have to be expensive. They even can be used, as long as they are clean.

"You don't have to spend thousands of dollars. I think spending $500 for the entire nursery is plenty," she says.

As with any room, Ms. Strand recommends a little bit of planning before shopping and setting up. Look at the space, she advises, and let the room's size and shape help you define your choices.

If the room is dark, maybe bright colors on the walls and in the windows are a good idea. If you have no built-in closets, creating attractive storage space becomes important.

She also recommends that parents mentally organize various nursery items into two categories: necessities and personal touches.

The necessities include a crib and a chest of drawers; the personal touches are such things as pictures of family members and a family quilt, things that make the room cozy. Some people like themes, such as decorating the whole room with Disney characters or circus animals. Others, such as Mrs. Griffin, focus on certain colors.

Ms. Strand says that whatever themes or colors parents choose, it's advisable not to overdo the decorating of the room.

"You will find that you need a lot of empty surfaces," Ms. Strand says. "You need to have places to put things down when you are changing their diapers or clothes."

• • •

Along with the aesthetic and practical aspects of setting up a nursery, some safety issues also need to be addressed.

Crib slats should not be more than 23/8 inches apart, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The reason is that if the slats are wide apart, a baby's head could get stuck between them.

Any crib made before 1991 should be checked, because safety standards have changed since then. For more information on cribs and other child products that have been recalled from the market for safety reasons, see the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site at www.cpsc.gov.

It also is important to remove any excessive bedding from the crib and to avoid soft mattresses, says Dr. Dawn Estabrook, a pediatrician with Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children and Inova Alexandria Hospital.

"This is soft medicine, but some people think that one of the causes of SIDS is if a baby lies on their tummy with their nose pushed into the mattress, the air they breathe in is carbon dioxide," Dr. Estabrook says. SIDS stands for sudden infant death syndrome.

"Also, don't leave stuffed animals and blankets in the crib," Dr. Estabrook says. These items can also inhibit good breathing by covering the child's nose and mouth.

It's important that the room is clean and uncluttered and provides easy access for the parent if he or she needs to get to the baby quickly in the case of an emergency, Dr. Estabrook says.

She agrees with Ms. Strand that in the beginning, the nursery should be more about the parents' taste and comfort.

While art, mobiles and other toys with sharp contrasts stimulate learning, it's important to make sure that they also are safe.

"You have to make sure that furniture and accessories don't have small pieces, dangling strings and sharp edges or parts that can be taken apart by small hands," Ms. Strand says.

Also, if the child is agitated and overstimulated easily, toys and art with sharp colors may have to be removed from the crib and the wall space immediately above it to allow the child to calm down, Dr. Estabrook says.

Some furniture that can become top-heavy, such as chests and bookcases, may have to be bolted to the wall to ensure the child's safety.

As the child grows, the look of the room and the child's wants and needs evolve and change. Some things, such as a diaper pail and a changing table, won't survive once the child is toilet trained. The crib will be changed into a junior bed if it's the convertible kind or will be replaced.

"My advice to young parents is not to buy too many things," Mrs. Griffin says. "You just don't know what you're going to need. It's better to take a step-by-step approach Otherwise, you'll just have a bunch of furniture that ends up in storage."

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