Listen to this article
What does it matter how we furnish our children’s nurseries? It’s hardly as though the mewling bundles tenderly transported home from the maternity ward will praise the aesthetic or (blessedly) yet have the wherewithal to showcase their place of slumber on Instagram. Besides, many of those early purchases — cribs, nursing chairs, changing stations — are likely to prove redundant within months, as babies graduate to toddlerhood and beyond.
And yet what could matter more than getting it right? The tiny person who will call it home needs warmth, comfort and safety; and it can’t hurt that their parents have something nice to look at through tired eyes as they adjust to life with a newborn.
Fortunately, designers are now finding ways to keep up with the swiftly changing needs of little ones: with cots that become beds, changing tables that turn into toys, and hand-painting services that transform baby-blue detailing into — well, whatever a two-year-old’s heart desires.
Such innovations are part of a new generation of nursery furnishings that try to meet modern parents’ tastes for sustainability, individuality and nurseries that fit in with the rest of the home.
The modern parent “wants everything to be eco-friendly,” says Lucinda Croft, managing director of nursery furniture specialist Dragons of Walton Street. “People are interested in products that can do multiple things, such as cot beds, which you can use [from birth] until the children are about four.”
The Cocoon, available at Dragons (£3,645), meets both criteria. The egg-like bassinet is made of flax seed which, Croft assures, is “lovely to touch and totally natural and unsynthetic”. It can also be attached to the wall, creating a snug, pod-like seat, or turned into a table. As with most of Dragons’ products, the Cocoon can be customised.
Nursery bedding is also adapting to the demand for sustainability. Start-up Mori uses bamboo fibre and organic cotton to make throws and blankets to complement its baby clothing lines. “ Bamboo trees require no pesticides to grow, or much water and sunlight to stand tall,” says co-founder Akin Onal. “Organic cotton seeds are non-genetically engineered and grown with natural fertilisers.”
Longevity is a “key design feature” of the BudtzBendix changing table, say its Danish creators Camilla Bendix and Charlotte Budtz. “Our ambition was to design a modern, ‘cut to the bone’ changing table. We always design with an eye for sustainability and we wanted to design a changing table that could be used for many years.”
The pair use steel tubing to create a simple frame on to which parents attach a wooden changing top and storage boxes. Once the child is out of nappies, these can be removed and a special cover fitted over the frame to create a play tent. Other accessories include a changing mat in a tiger print by French illustrator Audrey Jeanne.
The contemporary nursing chair also combines functionality and style, offering the promise of a piece worth keeping once pre-dawn feeds are a thing of the past. UK-based Olli Ella offers a bespoke service for its lumbar-supporting glider chairs (from £875). Options include velvet, wool, leather and silk upholstery, says co-founder Olivia Brookman. “One particularly memorable chair was made for a celebrity client. It was upholstered in a baby pink, hand-dyed cashmere wool, offset by a Swarovski-encrusted pillow and silver velvet piping.”
High chairs, too, can accommodate a parent’s whim. Nursery furniture seller Gigi Brooks, for example, offers a customised Regency-style range.
Going bespoke can help achieve what Ursula Wessenlingh, who runs children’s interior design service Room to Bloom, identifies as a trend: nurseries that “fit in” with the wider home. She says pieces made from birch wood are now in vogue, since “people perceive it as a sustainable material which is increasingly important to them, and it lends itself to a more grown-up design”.
Wessenlingh says the judicious use of wallpaper can achieve the same effect: “Not simply childish designs, but something that could look good in an adult room.” Scribbled hearts, crowns and bunnies are among the motifs used by US designer Jill Malek in her range of children’s wallpapers for Sissy+Marley. Hand-screen printed in New York (and wipeable), colours range from an understated silver to candy pink.
Children’s lighting specialist White Rabbit England also offers cross-generational appeal. Its pendant light (£115), which takes the form of an upside-down acorn, was conceived by the husband of co-founder Charlotte Thompson. “The shape comes from a real ostrich egg, [which was] cast in bone china,” she says. The company, based in north-west England, prides itself on creating sealed ceramic lighting as an alternative to plastic imports. “We use specialist casters in Stoke-on-Trent . . . When we get an acorn order they just drop them through the casts and put them in the kiln with whatever else is in there.”
Vintage designs are popular as a means of extending a nursery’s shelf life, says Joe Burns, managing director at interior designer Oliver Burns. “We often mix vintage furniture such as rocking horses and materials such as lace and bows with more modern statement pieces,” he says. “Parents often want to infuse memories of their own childhood into their baby’s room, whether that’s an antique piece of furniture or a personalised memory wall.”
Whatever the latest innovations, there is always a place for old-fashioned toys, though with a quirky twist. Steiff, the renowned teddy-bear maker, offers modern takes on the rocking horse, including a splendid green dragon. Larger toys include a 2.5-metre giraffe, which takes Steiff’s “dedicated in-house animal stuffer” two weeks to perfect.
Bespoke is also an option here; recent projects include bears with fur interwoven with gold silk and diamond and sapphire eyes. A Steiff spokesperson promises: “If money is no object, anything is possible”.