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A Gender Neutral Nursery

I love decorating kids’ rooms. You can infuse them with personality, playfulness, whimsy, and kids make such fun clients because they’re not afraid to tell you straight up what they like or dislike. When it comes to newborn baby nurseries however, I like to take a more reserved approach.

Without knowing baby’s personality (or gender), I feel like I’m decorating for a client I’ve never met; in that vein, I’d venture to say that in many ways the nursery is more for the parent than the baby. After all, you’re the one who’s going to be spending oogles of time in that rocking chair staring at the walls, right? Baby is really just there to sleep, most presumably with your black out shades drawn, hiding all that cute décor. And as baby ages, we often tend to transfer them to “big kid” rooms that speak to their individual personalities, meaning that the nursery design is often quite temporary.

All that said, I’m not advocating that you put baby in sterile room. Only that it’s ok to think about it being a space that you and your partner enjoy, and even more so, a space that has some longevity to it if and when you eventually decide to turn it into that “big kid room”.

With that in mind, here’s a (very belated) look at our sweet Hollis’ (Toots*) gender neutral, serene little nursery. The design goal here was to create a space that exudes calm, using natural elements and a minimalist approach. We did not know her gender prior to birth, so not only is the space gender neutral, but it’s also a room that we felt could be easily transitioned as she grows up.

The biggest transformation to the room is most definitely the North wall (this wall with the brick and the darling animals). I had never liked (read: always hated) the built in bookshelf over the radiator cover (this is a reoccurring issue for me. see bookshelf hatred here and here). See dingy "before" photo below of the same wall which clearly I took somewhere in between removing the playroom decor and dismantling the room. Disclaimer - in an effort to show you which products I used, some of the links below may be affiliate links.

Once I realized that with a little modification that this could work as a changing table, I went straight to the sledge hammer. See that little molding I added around the edges of the new “top”? Not only did it dress up the radiator cover, but it gave me another 1.5” of depth, making the top wide enough to fit my changing pad. It’s definitely a higher setup than your normal changing table/dresser, but I actually prefer it vs bending over.

Originally I had been obsessing over a pair of sconces for the now opened space above, but after a heart-to-heart with an electrician (and my budget), I settled for a new outlet instead, which allowed me to add a lamp and eventually things like the baby monitor. The two animal prints and Arteriors lamp I found at HomeGoods; while I hadn’t originally planned to add anything too baby-ish to the room, the bamboo frames and black and white prints totally fit my natural/calm vibe and the $40 price tag could not be beat.

Toots loves babbling to the (well secured) bear while getting her diaper changed, and we use the cabinet below to house all of our extra diapers and wipes (a.k.a. where all my money is going). All winter long, the radiator has been serving as an unexpected wipe/dipe warmer. Perfect storage + cute animals + warm baby bottoms = win/win/win.

And of course the brick wall! Based on the structure of our house, I knew that the chimney stack had to be right behind that wall. Of course what I didn’t know, was what kind of shape the brick would be in, but since it was drywall (most of our walls are plaster), I took a risk and cut out a big chunk of the wall to find out.

PSA: this is far from the first time I have ripped up a wall or floor in our home hoping for magic underneath; note: the gamble does not always pay off. So don’t be running home throwing hammers in your wall unless you are also prepared to fix it if you’re wrong. And yes, I have a very trusting husband who no longer flinches when I do these my crazy things. Or I just don’t tell him about it until it’s over. Orrrr he sees me doing it on an instastory. Whoops!

Anyways, I was epically thrilled to discover such gloriously perfect brick here, both because I adore the texture it adds to the space and because I didn’t have to fix a giant hole. Ripping the remaining drywall off made a huge mess (always wear a mask!) but the dust was well worth the end result, and I love how the brick adds one more natural element to the space.

Other changes included paint; we took the room from dingy blah to bright and airy with Sherwin William’s Extra White, painted in a flat sheen on the walls so as to keep that calm vibe. I also took down all of the outdated blinds (with totally unsafe cords) and replaced them with these linen beauties that do such a better job of showcasing the windows when open. If my S E V E N M O N T H O L D ever actually napped in this room instead of on my lap (help me people), these black out shades would perfectly darken the space.

I also added new crown molding, applying it right over top of the dingy crown already in place - that's how small the old stuff was! If you’ve never installed crown, don’t be intimidated! I knocked this out nine months prego completely by myself in an afternoon. Really. You can do it! I highly recommend Sawdust Girl’s tutorial if you’ve never tried it. She does a great job setting a beginner up for success.

The final change was to the closet. The room is a long rectangular shape (as many sunrooms are), and the closet door swung into what was really one of the only spots for a chair. Not wanting to battle the door constantly, I built a simplistic sliding door (a seriously easy and cheap DIY) and hung it on barn door hardware that I painted white.

While I love the look of barn doors in other homes, I didn’t think it was necessarily appropriate stylistically for our 1926 house. As such, I went with as minimalist of a look as possible so that it’s not so much a design feature as it is a functional addition to the space. I did not alter the original door casing in the event that we want to add back a traditional door someday.

Inside the closet, I added a unit from IKEA’s ELVARLI system. While I absolutely loved the PAX system that I added to Teddy’s closet, that approach doesn’t really make sense in a non-walk-in space. The ELVARLI system was a great alternative to give me the drawers I really wanted in here for all of those tiny baby items, despite the fact that I don't think it's necessarily intended to be used inside a small closet. It was easy to put together (if you speak IKEA....I would consider myself relatively fluent), is completely removable, and the soft-close drawers and shelf/bar options gave me pretty much everything I could want here without me having to custom build it. I love how that bamboo top ties back to the frame of the animals above the changing station.

In terms of furniture, the only piece I purchased new for the room was a round linen ottoman to use as one other place to sit/play/change a diaper. Ironically, it has also become a spot that our three year old seems to fall asleep on constantly. Possibly it’s the incredibly soft sheepskin on top. The vintage Turkish hemp rug I scored on Etsy and I absolutely love this thing. It’s a great fit for the odd-shaped room and it is beyond soft underfoot. As we did in the playroom, I added these foam tiles under the rug to give it a soft squishy baby-safe feeling, better than your average rug pad in my opinion, and obviously reusable in other configurations. The other furniture, including the rocker and our $79 crib (I repeat: $79 people), we already owned.

And that's it! It's definitely a less is more kind of space, and we all love it as you get a seriously relaxed feeling every time we walk in there. Teddy is vying for her little sister to hurry up and get big enough for bunk beds, but for now I want to slowly enjoy the baby days and keep rocking my little ball of cuddles in this sweet space.

Thanks for looking!



All photographs (except the "before" shot) taken by Catherine VandeVelde.

*In an effort not to put my childrens' names ALLLL over the internet, I refer to them by nicknames here on the blog -Teddy and Toots!