Baby Spaces on a Budget


Simple tips for decorating Baby’s nursery beautifully—all without breaking the bank.

Wanting to create the perfect baby space is as natural as needing saltines in the first trimester—and if you’re on a budget, just as discouraging. Very few of us can afford the gorgeous nurseries advertised in catalogues, yet with a little effort, you can create a baby space as special and beautiful as the baby you’re creating it for.

KISS (Keep It Simple and Safe)

Whatever you do, make sure your baby’s items, from furniture to first toys, meet current safety regulations. Paint should be non-toxic, and decorations firmly affixed to walls, especially near the crib. Curtain pulls or ties should be out of reach, and rugs should be securely affixed to the floor. Make sure you have a clear path from the door to the crib for those middle-of-the-night wake-up calls. And don’t forget the nightlight.

Remember that your baby, so new to the world, isn’t going to care about the latest designs or most popular characters. Instead of spending a fortune on matching character prints, find a cheaper, more generic style. If you simply adore Pooh, consider getting a few stick-ons or a framed poster, then use the colors in it to plan the rest of the room. Instead of a theme lamp, get a simple lampshade and add appliqués.

For furniture, consider your needs. Bassinets, while sweet, are quickly outgrown. Will you practice family bed sleeping? Forgo the crib and make the room something more suited for play. (You may even want to get a double-size mattress for fussy nights when your husband needs to sleep.) Is the baby’s room on a different level from the living area or where you spend most of your time? Instead of a changing table, invest in a couple of changing pads and baskets you can keep handy. Consider a crib that converts into a toddler and youth bed to save you money as your child grows.


Children grow quickly, and what’s darling for an infant doesn’t always match a toddler’s tastes or needs. If you don’t have the money (or energy) to redecorate every few years, be sure your walls, rug and furniture will grow with your child. Paint in a single color or simple design and rely on art for personalizing. Instead of buying a baby-specific changing table, consider a dresser with a wide top. Attach safety straps (one side screwed into the back and the other to the underside of the top) and add a changing pad. There are also some wonderful modular sets and convertible pieces (change tables that convert to dressers, for example) that can be worth the investment.

Bargain Buys

Because babies outgrow things so quickly, you’re bound to find some wonderful slightly used items at good prices. Check out flea markets, garage sales, and consignment shops, grandma’s attic, and friends who have moved on from this stage. Don’t go overboard buying too much. Babies don’t need as much as our consumer-oriented society would like us to believe; plus you’ll probably have a baby shower. Register at a department store for the baby shower and plan on getting things that don’t match, anyway.

Check that all items meet safety standards and contact the manufacturer to make sure an older item has not been recalled. (Often if it has, you can get a repair kit or a coupon for a discount on a similar item.)

What about that old Raggedy Ann doll you loved as a child but would never want your child chewing on? Put it in a shadow box on the wall. With a fabric background and an alphabet block, it’s a treasured heirloom.

Try out items before you buy them. Your dream of nursing your baby in that lovely bent-wood rocking chair may turn into a nightmare when you find out the seat’s too hard, it leans back too far for balance, and the arms are in the wrong place for cradling the baby.

What do you do once you’ve collected several lovely pieces that don’t match in style or color? Susan Welch Heeney, member of the American Society of Interior Decorators and creator of, says you’re on your way to “shabby chic.” “All you need to do to pull the different pieces of furniture together is to paint them in a soft white. Plus, in a shabby chic nursery, the different mix of linens will look fabulous!”

Look Up

Babies spend a lot of time on their backs. Consider things from that point of view. Pretty mobiles of wooden ducks are just brown lines when seen from below. The white ceiling that makes the room look bigger to you seems very far away, and dull, to a baby. Heeney recommends painting the ceiling to “bring it down” to baby’s level, and to add decorations to give him something interesting to look at when naptime’s over and he’s waiting for you.


Paint is the easiest and cheapest way to change a room. Since babies prefer to be someplace warm and cozy, opt for darker (but not dark) colors. If you’re having trouble selecting colors, try this decorator’s trick: find a fabric or picture or baby item you love, and find paint chips for three or four colors that match it. Or take the photo of your dream nursery to the paint store and ask them to match the colors.

Be Creative

If you have a flair or just an urge for the artistic—indulge it in the nursery. Paint the mural you’ve dreamed of. Put nursery rhymes on the ceiling. Try stenciling. Make your own artwork. Your baby will love it.


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