Nursery Ideas for Better Baby (and Family) Sleep

Today’s article is a guest post by Paige Rien, a mother of two small boys and an interior designer. She has been featured on HGTV’s “Hidden Potential” over fifty times and has her own design consulting practice where she provides “real-life house help” to people all over the world. Paige is often sleepless, not because of her children, but due to her nightime Hulu and Facebook addictions. Paige blogs at indoorsy ( and can be found at

I’m no baby expert, but I am passionate about making spaces work to make life better. Space has the power to transform us – it can relax, rejuvenate, inspire, stifle, frustrate, and sadden – babies included. If there is even the slightest chance that nursery design can either help or inhibit my sons’ sleep, I’m paying attention.

Nicole talks a lot about routines and sleep associations. These can all be translated into good furnishing and décor decisions. Just as Nicole advocates that every family find their own way- this is certainly true of interior design and nursery décor. You must find what works for you as a family – there is no linchpin, unfortunately, to create a space that will guarantee good sleep. But the things you put in the room can work for you, not against you.

Window TreatmentsYou can signal nap time by creating darkness with flexible, multi-layered window treatments (Note: In picture, there are black-out shades underneath the sheers). You can create an atmosphere that is not just cute, but friendly and interesting, so as your baby gets older, she wants to be there! It’s also important that the primary caretaker, whether mama, dada, nonna or nanny, also feel comfortable, soothed, and interested. In many ways, the nursery will work better for the baby if it works well for the adults involved.

Since you can’t ask the baby what will soothe him, ask yourself, what makes you feel good? What colors and shapes are interesting to you? The nursery should be a whimsical, youthful expression of your own personal aesthetic – what I would find in the rest of your house, or even in your bedroom closet. Make the room true to you, as a parent. Once you decide on your inspiration for the room, give yourself the following functional elements, before you pick out a mobile, before you pull out the first baby blanket or set up the crib:

An absurdly comfortable place to sit. This need not be expensive nor must it be a “glider” or “nursery rocker” sold by the big baby stores, as I find them to be marginally better than hospital furniture in the looks department and completely useless past the rocking-babies stage in your house. (Just take a gander at how many of these guys are being sold “like new!” on Craigslist) Choose any comfy soft chair that feels good to your back and backside. Ideally, choose something that can clean up easily.

Damn good lighting. So you can see what you’re doing. Ideally on dimmers, install both overhead and task lighting. The task lighting should illuminate the dirty business of the changing table and the mechanics of the nursing chair, which will likely transition into the reading chair over time. You need not hire an electrician – look into IKEA’s plug-in fixtures and DIMMA attachments that make any plug-in light dimmered. (They cost under $10.) Light and darkness are big signals to kids that nap or bed time is approaching – it’s really nice to have this control at your fingertips, even during the day.

The power to tread lightly. I do not care for wall-to-wall carpeting, but I do like something soft on the floor to minimize noise. My favorite? The short-napped, easy-to-clean and replace in-piecemeal-fashion, FLOR tiles that come in a billion colors and textures. Plus, ding-ding-ding – you can use them again. Have fun using that Thomas rug again after your kid is over trains.

Good supply chain management. You will never see stuff come in (diapers, clean laundry) and stuff go out (dirty laundry, soiled diapers) like this – babies need and produce stuff very quickly. If you don’t have a system for managing the basics (diapers, wipes, clothes) not to mention the sometimes needed (diaper creme, thermometer, saline spray, tissues) – you are lost. Plan on needing all of these things at any hour of any day, until your child sleeps through the night – they should be easy to find and replenish, at adult arms reach, but out of reach for your child – as he or she will be looking for something to grab and explore at about 6 months. Find an organizational strategy that works for you. I am a big fan of dressers in lieu of changing tables, where everything is out and about and it’s again, useless whenever your child is either out of diapers or too big to lug up there. In a drawer, you can keep an eye on the supply, and keep the stuff out of your curious baby’s hands.

Their stuff on their level. This does two things – it creates a positive association that the bedroom is not just a place to sleep and get your nappy changed. There should be interesting, stimulating stuff that keeps his interest as you ready the room for nursing or story time. Whether you let them in the crib or not is your business – I just think it’s important that they’re in the room and accessible to your soon-to-be-crawling-cruising-and-walking baby. I like smaller bins throughout the house, as opposed to giant toy chests, where stuff just gets lost. Those are better for boring things like sheets.

I hope these ideas help and I’d love to hear more of what you’re doing with the nursery to encourage soothing and good sleep both for your child, and yourself! E-mail me at paige [at] paigerien [dot] com.

How does your nursery design help your baby sleep?


  1. Julie says

    Where can you purchase those round toy bins?

  2. Karin says

    I’m wondering where I can find blackout shades. Any suggestions? Great article. Thanks!

  3. Debbye says

    @ Karin:
    We bought our blackout shades at Home Depot and Lowes. You can get them cut to size right there, and they are super cheap!

  4. Tiz says

    The point on lighting is one I find especially important. My son is the easiest to put down for a nap when we can darken the room considerably. I find that also to be the biggest problem when we find ourselves having to nap him at other people’s homes. Even homes with kids, have rooms that are so bright and cannot be darkened for naps, that it takes us double the time to signal him that he can nap.

    We found great drapes at Fabricland (Canada) that are designed to block out 99% of light, block some outside sound and keep in heat – best investment we made.

  5. says

    @Tiz – we have the same issues when travelling. Last summer, we took blankets + big binder clips to a beach rental make the window darker and it helped a lot.

    As for buying drapes that block out light – it’s often difficult to find fabric that does the job all on its own. That’s why I like the layering – the black out shades – which really don’t completely do the job – light filters out the sides, and then something over top. The drapes in the photo above are thermal + light filtering drapes (off the rack) from JcPenney online -very affordable – maybe $35/window, if that.

  6. says

    @Tiz – for traveling with children to vacation homes/condos and blacking out the windows. I suggest you use large black garbage bags held over the window with blue painters tape (use mulitiple bags on windows when needed). Works great. Cheap to use and doesn’t require a lot of luggage space or you can purchase anywhere when you arrive.