In Vancouver, it seems, we’re in the midst of a population spike. Everywhere I look, women are pregnant, pushing strollers, or chasing toddlers. With more than the average number of babies being born, there are now more than the average number of people going crazy over babies. The scene is familiar: the cooing and gurgling (by adults, of course), the world sharpening to a single focal point, and a flurry of crib-building and stroller-buying.
My experience is that the greatest fussing over infants takes place primarily among the upwardly mobile. Perhaps that’s always been the case. Among the people with a view to moving up, it’s natural that parents’ ordinary concern for a child’s safety dovetail with their wish that he never lack for tactical advantage. One recent and absurd example I heard was the Baby Mozart video franchise, whose premise is that a correctly “enriched” environment – i.e., one awash in classical music and art – confers developmental benefits on a child. The lesson? That it’s never too soon to commence one-upmanship – even if the baby is not yet a boy is not yet a man.
Anxiety is a poor emotional foundation for a home – and a poor starting point in designing one. Although parents with the means and inclination to fuss over interior design are often the same ones to fuss excessively over their children, we wanted this nursery, on the second floor a renovated 80-year-old home on tree-lined Balaclava Street, to be a room that resisted the instinct to worry. (It is, after all, a place mostly for breast-feeding and slumber.) Here are three ways we pulled it off.
By choosing what lasts
Humans are curious things, no doubt. No animal on earth takes longer to arrive at full maturation and self-sufficiency. A two-year-old child has teeth and willpower, to be sure, but a two-year- lion can kill an adult gazelle. The point is, kids are going to be around and under your roof for a long time. It’s important that your nursery can become other rooms as they grow.
On Balaclava, our design took the long view in two ways. The first is the wainscoting, whose durability takes in stride any amount of splashed vomit, banging with toys and crayoning. (The same can’t be said for paint or wallpaper.) The second is the paint colour: a warm, buttery neutral, it splits the difference between male and female values, and because it incorporates no stars or cartoon animals, won’t look embarrassingly babyish to a six- or 10-year-old.
By picking one item to spend big on
An item other than the child, that is. A nursery should be a place of warmth and ease, and extravagance isn’t necessary to achieve these. A great way to dial down the anxiety in any room, particularly a nursery, is to pick your spots wisely. Don’t spend all your money in one place, no – but do spend most of it.
Most of the pieces in our nursery are modestly priced. The most expensive is the largest and also the most defining: the crib. It’s part of the thoughtfully-designed Oeuf line, and it cost $1,000 – expensive, yes, but really just the starting point for top-flight cribs, some of which can cost you as much as a used late-model Honda.
By adding unique touches
One thing people battle when they have an on-the-way child – especially their first child – is the advice mill. Mothers-in-law, siblings, even co-workers – nearly everyone brims over with opinions on names for the child, remedies for this or that, strategies for feeding, sleeping, bathing and burping. And they’re not the only ones trying to get in your head.
The baby-themed magazines and websites are there, too. When putting together a design for your nursery, they can be a helpful resource, but they run to the generic. The reason? They tend to offer “looks” – “trees” is one popular recent theme, “owls” is another. Lifting a scheme from a magazine or website, especially in the harried days before a baby arrives, can save you time, but it is usually to the detriment of the design. The guiding principle of a “look” is the notion that you can’t do better yourself. You can.
Add touches that speak to the individual sensibility and history of your family. They’re often closer at hand than you think. It still pleases me to look at the three framed illustrations above the crib. They’re pages from a book of 1940s nursery rhymes we found in a small antique shop an hour east of Vancouver. Harking back generations, they lend the space an old-fashioned air while reminding any adults in the room that this business – of parents and babies – has been going on for a long time.
Babies, in the end, don’t need stuff so much as people. Mozart, by itself, is fine, but it’s no substitute for being touched, held, talked to, loved. For parents, those are pretty simple marching orders, and they extend to design. Make your nursery nice, yes, but don’t worry about it.