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Nursery Decorating 101: Your 7 Step Plan For Creating A Stylish Themed Nursery

Just a few months ago you were browsing West Elm for chic throw pillows and ceramic vases. Now you're bombarded with endless amounts of pastel crib sheets, baby animal shaped mobiles and gaudy cartoon artwork.

But what if there was a way to create a nursery that is both adorable and sophisticated, one that both you and your little one will appreciate, and one decorated in a way that will last long after your baby is out of diapers?

It is possible and it doesn’t have to be difficult. The trick is to look beyond the generic, room-in-a-box style décor that the big baby stores like to push. Read on for seven tips to create a tasteful, design-savvy nursery that you’ll love for years to come.

Baby nursery with blue wall, light wood furniture, and globe artwork

Broaden your definition of “theme”

What comes to mind when you think of a nursery theme? If it’s Mickey Mouse, safari animals, or superheroes, it’s time to look beyond the obvious. Creating a stylish nursery that’s not tacky or generic requires a more subtle approach.

A theme could be something as simple as a style (like boho or mid-century) or a color scheme (think neutral hues or pastels). It could also be a classic motif like florals, celestial, nautical, or nature that will always be stylish, timeless choices. Be wary of cartoon characters, pop culture, or any other fads that would quickly date a room.

But a theme could also be more abstract, like an idea or a personal value. Diversity, female empowerment, kindness, and travel are all concepts that could become a theme. And their deeper significance means that you won’t tire of them as quickly and they will be easier to transition to more mature rooms over time. Speaking of which... 

Choose decor that grows with baby

With all the time and planning that goes into creating a nursery, you’ll want to make sure it can last for years. Just as it’s smart to choose a crib that will convert to a toddler bed, it’s also smart to choose décor that works just as well for a newborn as a 4-year-old.

So, how do you know if décor has longevity? Think curtains and rugs in solid colors or classic patterns like stripes. Full size dressers can be fitted with drawer organizers to work for newborn onesies and will accommodate larger clothing as baby grows. Artwork and decor with a meaningful message or subject matter can become a keepsake as your child grows.

Choose something that you love too

Let’s face it – your baby is not going to have an opinion on his or her nursery décor. You are the one who will be spending countless bleary-eyed, half-awake hours in the room, so you want to make sure you’ll at least enjoy looking at it. Be sure to incorporate some of your favorite colors, patterns, quotes or special keepsake items. 

Still stuck trying to decide on a theme? Think about the things that you love – chances are your little one will want to be just like you (at least in the early years). Are you a bibliophile? Try a classic literature or children’s book theme. Do you love sports? An all-star theme could be just the ticket.

Use the “main character” approach 

No matter what theme you choose, do not, I repeat, DO NOT cover the room with every item you can find in that theme. Think of decorating like a movie cast. There should be a main character (a focal point piece that represents the theme), a couple supporting actors (decorations that nod to the theme but are smaller or less obvious), and a bunch of extras (other pieces that just pull colors or patterns from the main theme).

Call me biased, but I think it’s best to make artwork your main character. There is a huge variety of art available in all subjects, colors and sizes, making it possible to find the perfect piece to become the focal point of just about any nursery.

Once you’ve chosen your main character piece, use that to select your supporting actors. These could be crib sheets, blankets, lamps, toys – anything that depicts your theme in a more subtle way. Keep in mind that a few well-placed nods to the theme are often more impactful than a room full of identical items.

Finally, you can fill in the “extras” by simply taking colors or patterns from your main character and supporting actors. For instance, if your main artwork has a lot of navy blue in it, consider navy curtains or a deep blue dresser.

Don’t match too much

You want your nursery to look cohesive, but having everything perfectly matching is a big mistake. One of the best ways to avoid the matching trap is to choose products from a variety of shops.

In addition to (or instead of) the mall stores, try small local shops, vintage and secondhand stores, online boutiques, and marketplaces like Etsy. Not only will you get a more curated, custom look, but you’ll also be supporting small business in the process.

Whenever possible, it’s a great idea to mix new pieces with old. Whether you have hand-me-downs from relatives or thrift store finds, the juxtaposition of old and new will give your nursery a unique and personalized look. You’ll avoid the matching trap and potentially save a few bucks in the process. Just stick to your general color scheme to make sure these second-hand pieces actually bring character to the space instead of clashing.

Seek out creative ways to represent the theme

The best nurseries are the ones that express a theme in unexpected ways.

Let’s say you’ve chosen a nautical theme. Instead of putting anchors everywhere, try a more creative approach. A circular mirror can simulate a porthole and a wall hanging made of rope will bring those coastal vibes inside. Plus, these items will be much easier to repurpose as your child grows and could even be used in another room in your home.

Make it personal

This is the X factor in creating a nursery that feels truly special. Look for ways to incorporate personal touches that have a larger meaning to your family. They will contribute to that collected, intimate vibe that makes the room unique. Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

  • Something from your or your partner’s childhood – Raid your parents’ attic and search out that long-lost favorite blanket or toy that you loved as a child. Have something that was handmade for you as a baby? Even better!
  • A hand-written card from a relative – Save those baby shower cards or other letters from loved ones near and far. Pin them to a bulletin board in the nursery or put them in a floating frame. Not only will you create a cute DIY décor piece, but it’s also sweet to read them over and over to your sleepy little nugget.
  • Name artwork – Choosing your child’s name is the ultimate personal decision. Celebrate it with a wooden sign or framed art print bearing their name. If you wait until after the baby is born, you can even have it personalized with their birth date, stats, or other important information.

There you have it! My 7 best tips for designing a unique, stylish nursery full of meaningful elements that both you and your child will love. It’s a bit of an art and a bit of a science, but mostly it just takes a whole lot of heart (and you’ve already mastered that!).