It’s been almost two years since I set up my baby’s nursery in a whirlwind of late-pregnancy nesting fever. When the room was complete, I took pictures – so proud of the perfect nursery I’d created, trendy neutral colour scheme and all. The completed room seemed to signal that I was somehow ready for anything baby life was about to throw at me. In hindsight, I had no idea what I was doing.
Today, I have a toddler, and virtually nothing of the room I originally created remains. Neutral colour scheme? Out the window. Light and airy window furnishings? Totally inadequate. Top-of-the-range Scandi-style cot? Dismantled. Musical mobile to help my little one nod off to sleep? Well, it had the total opposite effect. Despite my best efforts, I’d designed a pretty nursery that just wasn’t very practical.
Going back in time to do over my nursery isn’t possible. But what I can do is pass on the lessons I’ve learned to other expecting parents, so they can hopefully spend their hard-earned money on baby items that are actually worth it and save their energy for the parts of raising a newborn that really matter. Here, I’m sharing all the practical nursery design tips I wish someone had given me prior to the arrival of my daughter, and I spoke to two design-savvy mums Suz Hennessy, founder of The Muse Edition and Alexandra Tanya-Weller, co-founder of Miss Amara – to share their advice, too.
It’s important to keep safety front of mind when setting up a baby nursery. For more information, visit:
1. You may not use the nursery as much as you think
First thing’s first, take the pressure off. You may feel like you’re running out of time to prepare the baby’s room before they arrive, but here’s the thing: you probably won’t use the nursery as much as you think (at least for the first few months anyway). Your baby may want to be close to you at all times, and Red Nose recommends room sharing for at least the first six to 12 months anyway. So take a deep breath, get as much of the nesting done as you desire, but know that you have plenty of time to get things done and it’s so so important to prioritise rest, self care and prepping nutritious and tasty meals to stash in the freezer for when baby arrives.
2. Room to grow
Decorating a baby’s room is fun – you can be playful with colour and pattern and even themes. But to avoid having to do-over the room every few months, keep the permanent aspects of the room simple enough to grow with your child. “As a first time parent it’s easy to get carried away with a specific nursery theme that might not transition well as your child grows,” says Suz. “You’re not just designing a nursery – you’re shaping a space that will grow and change just as beautifully as your child does.”
“We chose a calm and neutral colour palette for our nursery,” says Suz. “This created a peaceful backdrop, balancing the vibrant energy of children’s toys without making the space feel too busy or overwhelming.”
Then it’s a matter of bringing in a fun hero piece, says Suz. “It could be a unique rug, a striking piece of furniture, or a colour you really love.”
3. It’s ok to just have the basics
House sizes are shrinking and the cost of living is rising, so if you’re feeling the pinch that comes with accumulating and storing all of the baby gear Instagram ads say you need then I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to take a step back and prioritise the absolute basics.
After all, so many baby accessories have a limited lifespan before bub completely outgrows them. Baby bassinet? Only good for about 3 months. Free-standing baby bath? I couldn’t wait to wheel that bulky thing out of my life courtesy of Facebook Marketplace. Purpose-built change table? Handy, but soon enough you’ll have a toddler on your hands and you’ll wish you’d just selected an ordinary set of drawers instead. Think long-term with your baby purchases and your hip pocket will thank you. There’ll also be a lot less decluttering to do down the track.
Alexandra looked to Facebook Marketplace for bargains on baby essentials. “We bought a beautiful crib and change table but both were preloved and found on Marketplace. Babies grow so fast so preloved can be your best friend. The idea that you get to breathe new life into an item another baby loved and used is just all the more special – bite marks and all!”
Rather than buying everything you think you’ll need, it’s not such a bad idea to start with just the absolute essentials and then buy (or rent, or borrow) any additional items you feel will make life easier once bub arrives.
4. Never underestimate the importance of storage
If you don’t end up using the nursery for the first few months, beware: it can quickly become a dumping ground for everything from outgrown clothing to unused bed linen, toys you’re saving for when the baby is a bit older, clothing you’re saving for when baby is a bit older and accessories you no longer need. When the time comes to use the room, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the task of decluttering it. Prevent a pile-up by ensuring everything has a place ahead of time.
- Where/how will you store clothing baby has grown out of?
- Do you have room to store large baby equipment such, e.g. standalone baths, bath supports, car capsules, pram bassinets and bassinets?
Suz says a lack of storage and the arrival of her second son inspired her to create a series of beautiful, storage baskets for The Muse Edition. “Storage was a top priority,” she says, “Our toy storage baskets were strategically placed around the house: one by the armchair for muslin cloths, another for stuffed animals and more in the living space. It’s amazing how the right baskets can transform clutter into a design feature, blending functionality with a touch of style.”
5. Do a sound check
Babies may not need complete silence to fall asleep (which is why white noise machines have become so popular) but there’s a big difference between gentle background noise and sudden, inconsistent sounds that can wake a baby you’ve only just managed to get to sleep (after what seems like hours of rocking and singing lullabies). Here are some of the ways to reduce noise in the nursery:
- Grease door hinges to prevent squeaks
- Familiarise yourself with your air-conditioner’s ‘Quiet’ mode and consider setting up Wifi control because remote beeping sounds will drive you up the walls!
- It’s easier to quietly sneak out of a room if the flooring is soft. If you don’t have carpeted floors, opt for a soft, plush rug that will help absorb sound and provide added insulation to the room.
- Check reviews on baby monitors – mine was great, but it the camera lens made a loud “click” sound every time the lighting in the room changed. It also made an obscenely loud beeping noise every time the monitor screen ran out of battery or became disconnected.
6. An armchair is just the beginning
You might be wondering ‘Do I even need a nursing chair?’ The answer is yes, yes you do. Spare no expense for a chair that is both comfortable and stylish. I spent countless hours, night and day, glued to my armchair, holding, feeding, and doing storytime with my daughter. Mine was just a simple armchair with a pair of comfy armrests, but something with a matching footstool and a headrest will also provide extra comfort on days you really need it.
But don’t stop with just the armchair. Think of the nursery armchair as a rest station for you, too. Get a little side table so you can set down your phone, water bottle and snacks. Get a tablet or phone stand so you can binge your favourite show during feeds and set up a hands-free voice assistant so you can say ‘Google, play the latest episode of The Kardashians on Disney+’ without having to put bub down.
7. Sunlight is the enemy
If you’re an interior design lover, you’ll know that natural light is revered above all else. But not so much in a baby nursery. “When you become a slave to a nap schedule, you learn that sunlight is the enemy,” says Alexandra. “The first thing that happened when getting assistance from a sleep coach was having blackout blinds suctioned to the window.”
Some babies do just fine sleeping in a bright room. Others, who tend to get distracted or riled up can benefit from a cool, dark room to help signal that it’s time to wind down and sleep. Suction cup blackouts are a great last-minute and travel-friendly solution but investing in good quality window coverings from the get-go will set you up for sleep success.
Even though I already had blinds in my nursery, I found that way too much sunlight was creeping in around the edges, so for me the solution was to install a set of both sheer and blackout curtains.
8. Decorate from the ground up
Something nobody tells you before you become a parent is just how much time you’ll be spending on the floor. You’re on the floor for tummy time, nappy changes and playing as well as the not-so-occasional rough night when it’s 3am, you’re exhausted and lying on the rug next to the cot holding bub’s hand through the bars, reassuring them so they can drift on back to sleep. So don’t make the mistake I did by putting in a sisal rug. Sure, it looked great, but it was rough, scratchy and hard.
Alexandra says she switched out the rug in her baby’s room a number of times. “I have learnt after all these years that children are the pickiest when it comes to texture and comfort underfoot, so having something lush and soft underneath their little feet was a must. At the moment, we have a rug that’s on the spongier, bouncier side, which makes playtime safe and enjoyable when most of the time we’re down on the ground playing.”
So don’t underestimate the importance of a good floor covering and if you are getting a rug, opt for something soft and cushiony, and something that can be washed easily, too.
9. Calm lighting
So you’ve created darkness, now you need to find a way to add back just the right amount of lighting so you can safely get around the room and ward off monsters when you need to. “We incorporated beautiful lamps and filtered mood lighting,” says Alexandra. “The filtered lighting sets the whimsical tone and adds a glow that we love.”
One item I splurged on during a bout of extreme sleep deprivation was a Nodiee Sound Machine. While I only used it for white noise for a short period of time, it is one item I still use daily – for the dimmable, multi-coloured light function. You can also control it remotely via a Smartphone app, set it up to respond to voice commands and create a lighting schedule that’s in sync with your bub. It’s also extremely useful during the toddler phase, creating security for a little one who is afraid of the dark.
Nursery decor you’ll actually use
Large foam play mat in terrazzo/weave, The Muse Edition
Suz says a playmat is “an absolute necessity.” Playmats come in handy for all sorts of things. In the early days “it provided a soft spot for post-bath tummy time, and playful moments,” she says. As your child grows it will also provide a soft landing space for a little one learning to walk. The surface is also easy to wipe clean.
Nuage Interiors Cloud rocker and ottoman in cream, The Memo
A comfy armchair with a matching footstool is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. “If the Nuage Boucle Armchair was on the market back when I was preparing my nursery, it would have been a dream addition,” says Suz. “Not only does it radiate sophistication, but it’s also wonderfully practical – perfect for a nursery and versatile enough to look at home in any room of our home as our needs changed.”
Logan beige and ivory abstract checkered washable rug, Miss Amara
A soft, cosy rug will make your baby’s nursery a comfortable and calm place to be. Accidents happen, so to ensure the room stays pristine, it’s a good idea to invest in a washable rug. This design from Miss Amara is available in an on-trend beige colourway but is still fun enough to appeal to kids.
Monochrome Natives I wallpaper in nude, Urban Road
One item Alexandra splurged on when decorating her son’s nursery was wallpaper. “Wallpaper really sets the tone for the whole space,” she says. Stick to soft neutral colours and classic wallpaper prints for a room that will grow with your child. We love this design from Urban Road which features a collection of native Australian flora and is available in navy, smoke, olive, mint, khaki and nude.
Universal 6 drawer chest V23 in almond, Boori
Storage is essential, and a sturdy chest of drawers is great for storing everything from clothing to nappies and more. Placing a changing pad on top will mean you can use it as a change table in the early days, but adapt its use as needed. There are plenty of optional extras you can use to evolve this piece over its lifetime, including a super cute bookshelf / hutch to store your child’s keepsakes and budding book collection.
Adairs ‘Safari Friends’ printed basket
When there are toys, nappies, blankets, burp cloths and spare outfits to contain, stylish storage baskets are your best friend. This basket features easy to grab-and-go handles, a muted, neutral design and a fun checkered interior.
Nodiee Sleep Assist Smart Pro, Nodiee
It’s a sound machine and a night light that can be controlled from your phone. Sounds simple enough, but there’s a reason this night light has almost 2000 positive reviews. It’s portable, powered by a USB cord, and is great from the newborn phase (it will get plenty of use as a breastfeeding light) right through to the toddler phase. Some adults even swear by the white noise to get a peaceful night’s sleep.