The Ultimate Nursery Design Guide
Let the nursery fun begin! Designing your soon-to-be little one’s new place to sleep and grow should be an exciting and stress-free process. You will be spending A LOT of time in your nursery, so it is well worth it to create a room you and your baby will love. Many of you will be starting from a blank slate with decorating, so enjoy and let your style rule the day.
Not sure where to start? Decorist designers have designed hundreds of nurseries, so below we’re sharing our definitive guide full of insider knowledge and tips to help you create your dream nursery.
Still feeling overwhelmed or short on time? Decorist designers are always here to help, whether it’s just a quick question or a full nursery design.
Decide Your Overall Style and Look
The look of your nursery is an important (and fun) step that will guide many of your choices, so spend a little time now thinking about how you want the room to look and feel. Narrowing down your aesthetic will pay off, ensuring you have a pulled-together and functional nursery you are proud to call your own.
To get started, simply save a few images on Pinterest that capture your favorite nursery or other interior looks. You can reference this inspiration as a guide for key pieces, your color scheme, accessories, and more. Don’t worry about how many you choose; you can always add to or subtract from your board over time.
Remember, there are no rules. Not feeling cutesy, frilly, or baby themes? Don’t worry! Your nursery is about you and your baby—what makes you happy should be your north star. Nursery design has never been more exciting or sophisticated so get creative and let your personality shine.
Don’t feel limited to nursery images as you’re sourcing inspiration. Any interior design (living room, kids room, etc.) or any image at all can help you determine the color palette or general feel of your space. Get inspired by art, fashion; you name it!
Determine Your Core Furniture Pieces
There are some must-haves in every nursery (don’t worry, we have you covered with the list below). You don’t necessarily have to choose the exact pieces at this point, but you should decide what you need (and think can fit) in the room.
#1: Your Crib
Your crib is your primary investment piece for your nursery. Even if you only plan to have one child, your crib can be used for two to three years and is the focal point of the room, so choose carefully. New cribs meet current safety standards, so you want to go this route vs. a hand-me-down or vintage piece. If you are not sure of the gender of your baby or want to have more than one child, a gender-neutral crib is an excellent way to go—they work with most nursery styles. More on this below!
Photo credit: Project Nursery
Want to know what our designers love? Check out some of our favorite cribs here.
Not sure of the crib that’s best for you or want a designer’s help? Our designers will help you choose the perfect crib here—all for free!
How about bassinets?
Portable bassinets can be an excellent addition to your home in the early months of your baby’s life, mainly if you want your baby to sleep in your room. Know that they have a short shelf life and don’t replace a crib, but for the right lifestyle, are a convenient furnishing to own.
And conversion cribs?
A conversion crib, sometimes called a convertible crib, is another great option, as it will grow with your baby into toddlerhood. This type of design converts from a crib to a toddler bed or daybed with an included toddler guard rail.
#2: Your Changing Station or Dresser
Don’t underestimate the importance of this combo. You will use it many times a day, and it is critical that it is functional, comfortable, and of course, stylish.
We love the idea of adding a changing pad to an existing or new dresser because you can use one with any piece (see tips below), and you can continue to use the dresser after your baby grows out of diapers. If you use an existing furniture piece, be sure that the top of it is at a comfortable standing height; You do not want to be hunched over while changing your baby. Also, be sure that the drawers open and close easily with one hand! It can be very frustrating trying to hold your baby and wrestle a drawer open to grab a onesie in the middle of the night.
If you have a big nursery and lots of room, consider a changing table—it allows for lots of additional storage of changing essentials, and often comes with some drawers for clothing storage as well.
#3: Your Rocker and Ottoman
While your baby will spend much of his or her nursery time in the crib, you will spend most of your time in the glider/rocker—with your baby in your arms of course! Your glider will be the centerpiece for many hours of happy, bonding memories (and probably a few tears as well). This important chair provides you comfort while feeding and snuggling with your baby, and it also helps to calm your baby (and sometimes you!) with a smooth rocking motion.
Most rockers are designed to be roomy enough to hold you and your baby, and eventually a cuddling toddler, but we recommend checking the seat measurements to be sure. Rockers are also usually ergonomically designed and engineered for comfort, so your choice often comes down to style. There are many stylish, well-priced gliders/rockers available—we rounded up our favorites for you here. You want to pick fabric that will hold up to many days and nights of rocking, squirming, spit up, and everything else that comes with a newborn.
Need help choosing the perfect glider? Our designers are here to make the right choice—all for free.
#4: Your Side Table
A side table is often overlooked piece in a nursery, but when you are trying to minimize your movement with a sleeping baby, it’s important to have something beside your glider/rocker that can store your essentials—clock, wipes, ointments, water, books, tissue, etc. A multi-shelf table is a good option when storage or space is limited.
#5: Your Rug
If you have hardwood floors, you will want to invest in a soft and cushiony rug, not only for noise reduction and warmth, but for a comfortable spot for both you and your baby to play, crawl, and roll around. If you are investing in an area rug, choose one that covers the central floor area of the nursery. If you have a large room that is too big for one area rug, you can use one area rug under your glider station (see below) and another under or around the crib for noise control.
Wool rugs spot clean very well, are environmentally friendly and can be very cost effective. If you have carpet, a flat-weave rug (again, we recommend wool) can add a nice pop of color and texture. Nylon rugs tend to be less stain resistant, but they have a plush softness your baby will love. Either way, keep a spot remover handy, as you will use it frequently!
#6: Your Bookcase
If you have the room, a bookcase, however small, can be a great addition to a nursery. It provides a place to store books, of course, as well as to display accessories and keepsakes. Bookcases can tend to get cluttered, so add organizational bins and fun bookends to keep things looking pulled together. You can also use the top of the bookshelf and any extra space on the shelves for a few plants to add a dose of life—succulents or indoor tropical/desert plants are a good choice. Before your baby comes home, be sure to secure your bookcase (and all furniture pieces that can tip) to the wall.
Plan Your “Stations”
You will have three core activities in your nursery—nursing, changing, and playing—and you want to make sure it is well-equipped to do all, with ease. You will often be in there in the wee hours so it is essential that everything can be found quickly and is easy to grasp.
Here, comfort is paramount. Feeding your baby should be a relaxing and enjoyable activity, and the right set-up can make a big difference. As we recommend above, many new moms choose to invest in a rocker/glider because they spend so much time nursing. Your nursing station should include a comfortable chair or rocker/glider, an ottoman if you like to have your feet up, a side table with a soft light lamp, shelves, and baskets with all your necessities. Add a cozy throw and a lumbar pillow to your glider, and you are ready to go.
This is a frequent activity that shouldn’t get sidelined in the planning process. We’ve discussed your options for a changing pad on a dresser versus a changing table above, but whichever option you choose, be sure you have ample diaper/wipe/ointment storage near and accessible. Keep three bins on or underneath the table for easy access (with supplies separated, so there is no guesswork or rummaging). We also love the idea of a fun shelf next to (but not above, in case things fall) the changing station to hold these items; Add a stack of onesies to complete the area. Whichever direction you go, be sure that everything stays out of your baby’s reach.
Leave room in your dresser for spare diapers and wipes; These are the two essentials you need to stock up on and always have extra on hand. If you can store the extras in the nursery in a hidden spot, all the better.
This is not a critical activity to do in the nursery, so if space is limited, you can always have your playtime in a main living area. If you do have some space, even a small area, you can use it for quiet, one-on-one playtime, including tummy time and more. Keep a few blankets and toys in a basket ready to spread out or a baby gym that can be stored in a closet or folded when not in use. You don’t need to overbuy here—a few favorite toys can go a long way.
Design by Decorist Celebrity Designer Consort Design
Key Nursery Layout Tips
Nothing helps a design process more than a quick floor plan with all of your key pieces. You don’t need a fancy tool or program to do this—a bit of graph paper and measurements of your room and pieces are all you need! Don’t forget to indicate where windows and doors are located to be sure you have the walking room and space you need.
Most likely you want the crib along the longest wall—ideally the opposite wall to the room’s door. The trick is that you want to be able to peek in the room (even with today’s high tech monitors there is nothing like seeing your little one in person) and easily see the crib. Also, do not place the crib near a window—not only can it be drafty or noisy, but once your baby can pull up, they can grab your window treatments, which can be a hazard and messy!
Next, the dresser/changing station. This ideally is not in a cramped location and leaves room to maneuver. This station can be near a window to provide natural light and give you both something to look at. As we mentioned above, the height of the dresser/table is critical; You want to be at a comfortable standing height when changing your baby. Also, do not put your changing station easily within reach of art or decorative items above the table—your baby could pull them down. Opt for secured art or higher-up items. Placing the changing station next to the closet is not essential as we recommend having all the necessary clothing items before you start changing. Or, better yet, keep everyday basics in the dresser—you never want to leave your baby unattended on the table.
Then, your rocker/glider. Choose a spot that has enough space for your rocker to, well, rock; we recommend at least 2 1/2 feet all around the chair. If you are able, place it near a window, so you get natural light and have a few view options while feeding your baby. Space-constrained? Many new moms (and dads) like to put the rocker in a central room of the home like the family room. Just be sure it’s a place where it’s quiet when you need it to be.
And finally, the rug. Once you have the key furniture pieces, you can determine your rug size. You have a few options—covering the whole room area or choosing to put one or two rugs under each station.
Below are a few nursery layouts we like:
Think Through Storage
Yes, your baby is small, but she will seem like a giant when you see how much laundry she creates. So you will need ample storage for multiple outfits. For ease and sanity, focus on lots of onesies in the very beginning: Find the best fit and fabric for her and stock up on multiples of the same one, so you know what you are getting every time. Have them readily accessible in a drawer or shelf near your changing table. In addition to onesies, you will want several swaddling blankets readily available (again, we like the multiple of the one you know and love to keep the decisions to the minimum). Eventually, you will add all kinds of oh-so-darling outfits to the mix, and when you do, we recommend sorting everything by type of clothing and size.
In addition to clothing storage, you will need room for a multitude of new products: wipes, ointments, cloths, pacifiers, toys, books—the list will get longer. But you don’t need to go crazy with the new gear—start with the essentials, learn what your baby likes (and doesn’t) and add to the stock as you go.
Bins and trays are essential to keeping like items organized, and you can find many in your style and color scheme, so they are a great way to add some style to your nursery. Again, stock up on items you use frequently and plan storage for them, so you are not searching for your one pacifier, or hunting for that extra box of wipes you thought you stashed in the bathroom.
Design by Decorist Elite Designer Jessica McCarthy
Add Window Coverings and Lighting
Window coverings are necessary for many reasons. You want to be able to darken your nursery so that your baby can sleep at the right times, and you want to keep the room cool in hot summer months. Blinds or drapes can both do the trick, and the choice often comes down to the style of your nursery. A fan is also nice to have during the summer—a tabletop, floor, or ceiling fan can all work.
If you are going for a clean, modern look, blinds are a good choice. Just be sure they come with kid protection on the cords: Your baby will be pulling those sooner than you think. Drapes can give a softer, sometimes more dramatic look and can be traditional or modern. Whichever direction you go, be sure your curtains provide enough light reduction to darken the room adequately. You can also purchase blackout liners if your drapes do not come with them, but know this may require additional window hardware.
Ample soft lighting in your nursery is crucial. We highly recommend having a lighting dimmer installed in your room if you don’t already have one. Not only will it significantly improve the overall atmosphere of the room at night, but it will allow you to adjust the amount of light you need, particularly during late hours. The last thing you want is to turn a blaring light on a cranky baby in the middle of the night.
Task lighting is also important to light up key areas (nursing and changing stations in particular). If you don’t have room for table lamps, floor lamps are a great alternative. Just be sure they are sturdy enough that your baby won’t pull them down. Wall sconces (plugin or hardwired) are also a good option that can provide a dose of style.
Research suggests that a simple ceiling fan can lower the risk of SIDs so consider replacing your overhead light with a ceiling fan (many come with lights built in).
Choose a Safe (and Stylish) Paint
Choosing the right paint color for a room can be daunting, and add that to the concern over chemicals in the paint in your baby’s first room and it can be even more stressful than ever. Do not fear! There are many great low-EOV paints on the market, so you can rest easy and pull out the paintbrush. We think painting is a great way to define the look of your nursery and can create a great ambiance even during those late nights and early mornings.
There are so many ways to add style with paint. You can choose one color for the whole room, paint one accent wall, or even create a design or motif with paint easily. See our nursery paint tips here.
Add Personality With Accessories
Now for the fun stuff! Accessories add life, personality, and style to your nursery and are an important part of your overall look. Your overall color and style choice should guide your accessory choices, but we don’t recommend getting too thematic. Strict or overdone nursery themes can get tiring or feel cliche, so if you have a theme, keep it light and add some of your own (and your baby’s) personality to the choices. We also recommend going beyond typical baby accessories and looking at unique or vintage accessories that don’t all scream "baby."
Your crib bedding is an important accessory in your nursery. You can stick with one set of sheets or rotate in a few. If you decide to use a few different sheet sets, choose prints or colors in the same palette so you can mix and match for a layered look.
Other accessories we love include throw pillows for your rocker (and any other seating in the room), decorative objects for shelves, of course, bins and trays, a fun large toy or stuffed animal, as well keepsakes.
When to Order Your Pieces
Planning your nursery “installation,” as we like to call it in the design trade, is an important component of the project. You want to make sure you have all your essential pieces well in advance in case your little darling arrives early. We recommend having things ready to go at least a month in advance-especially the crib. While you may not use the crib for the first few weeks, having a set-up, pulled-together nursery will give you a sense of calm happiness. Many furniture pieces are quick-ship, but if you are looking for custom colors or finishes, you will need to start three to four months (sometimes more) in advance to be sure everything arrives on time.
Once you have your rug, fabrics, bedding, and color chosen, you can pick your paint. You want to paint your room before you place any furniture or rugs—it is much easier (and cheaper) to paint an empty room, and you also don’t run the risk of dropping paint on your new furniture!
The paint choice will pull the room together and determine the overall feel of the nursery. Are you going for light and bright? All white or light gray are foolproof choices. Sophisticated? Think about adding a dark accent wall. Overwhelmed and need help here? Don’t worry our designers are ready to help you pick a great paint color—for free—get started here.
Once you have painted, you are going to feel very accomplished! Your nursery will be taking shape and it’s time to get excited. You will want to install your window coverings at this point. Once that is done, it’s time for the rug and then the furniture. Lastly, begin to layer in your accessories. Start slow and keep it minimal at first so you can see how items impact the whole look. Feeling like some things not working? The best way to style an area is to remove all the items and slowly put each back one-by-one to create a cohesive look. Grouping things in odd numbers and adding books and a few plants can help to elevate your new nursery. Enjoy!