Unique Nursery Decor You'll Actually Want in Your House

It can feel like all the nursery design advice out there is about finding the “cutest” items for an “adorable” room. But isn’t everything kid-size inherently… cute? Can’t we raise our decor standards a bit and aim for child-friendly pieces that are also creative, unique, well-designed — even (dare I say?) elegant? I know it sounds like a lot to ask from a room that’s often relegated to the overly cutesy realm of rainbow-colored everything, plastic toys and chevron. (Please don’t get me started on chevron.)

It is possible to create a nursery that looks neither like a Toys R Us on Black Friday nor your aunt’s Pinterest board circa 2009. All you need are a few key items to take the aesthetic from Elmo to elevated. Ahead, you will not find: chalkboard paint, plastic overload, gender-arbitrary pastels or anything involving Mason jars. What you will find are innovative designs, recycled and recyclable items and veritable pint-size works of art — all in muted neutrals and chic pops of neon you’ll be proud to display in your home, not shove into kiddo’s closet whenever guests come over. Because 2018 is nearly upon us, and every new year is a chance for a new style. Besides, doesn’t your budding artiste deserve better than chevron? At the very least, your house does.

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A version of this article was originally published in November 2017.


Illustrated Wall Decal

Nothing sets the scene in a room quite like wallpaper — but we know how expensive and time-consuming (and if you’re as unskilled at DIY as we are, wrinkly) that can get. Instead, go for a chic monochrome illustrated line-drawing decal like this one from Rookie Humans. 

Swan wall decal, $55 at Rookie Humans

Hippo ride-on

You could drop $200 on a Monique Lhuillier elephant rocker — or you could let kiddo take a ride on this friendly wheeled hippo instead. It’s just as extravagant, less than half the price and even has a compartment for toy storage. You decide.

Hippo ride-on toy, $85 at MoMA Design Store

Ricepuffy blanket

Whether or not your child enjoys napping on a hardwood floor and also a stuffed pineapple like this brave lad, they’ll likely love the Ricepuffy blanket’s bizarrely cute, friendly monster face and cuddly embrace. It’s part blanket, part stuffed animal, part sheepskin throw and entirely an adorable mystery.

Ricepuffy blanket, $138 at MoMA Design Store

Minted gold-foil city map

The instinct when selecting nursery art can definitely veer toward the saccharine: clouds and cuddly animals in pinks and blues and what have you. But with the goal of not doing a room redesign every year in mind, why not pick a piece that works just as well in a baby’s room as it does in a teen’s? This gold-foil print from Minted is an upgrade on the classic plastic-laminated map — and it’s never too early to teach kiddo where she came from.

Gold-foil city map (Nashville pictured), $36 and up at Minted

High & Mighty floating shelf

For lazy but design-inclined parents everywhere, the High & Mighty floating shelf is the only hack you need for a Pinterest-perfect DIY that is… not actually DIY at all. Just place, push and hang — and then cover with tiny succulents or baby books or however people are styling shelfies these days.

High & Mighty floating shelf, $24.88 at Home Depot.

Neon heart light

The MoMA Design Store (can you tell I love it so?) calls this retro neon light “a sweet reminder that love is all around.” It’s made of lead- and BPA-free plastic and lit by energy-efficient LED — aka baby-safe and cute to boot.

Neon heart light, $69 at MoMA Design Store

Zaq sky diffuser & night-light

No, nobody needs a night-light that projects a starry sky and also doubles as an aromatherapy diffuser. But that’s also basically everything I ever wanted in my (shared, sometimes with multiple siblings, alas) bedroom as a kid, so damn straight my child gets one of these. It comes with lavender oil to soothe kids to sleep, but I also use eucalyptus in stuffy-nose season. And the twinkly night-sky scene can be projected in a range of shades, from blue-green to a more realistic white-yellow. Boy, it’s good to be a kid in the tech era.

Sky diffuser and night-light, $49.99 at Zaq

Emily & Meritt pom-pom toy dump

If you’ve ever had, babysat or been in the home of a baby, you know they basically need two things: diapers and a place to dump their stuff. This is the latter, and it’s a beauty. Woven from natural fibers and featuring pom-poms that are splashy but not over the top, this basket is the perfect “Grandma’s coming over hurry up and shove all the toys/books/dirty clothes in one place” deposit.

Emily & Merrit natural woven pom-pom toy dump, $79 at Pottery Barn Kids

Neon wood blocks

All these neutrals and muted hues are great for keeping Baby’s room chill and ready for dreamland, but babies need playtime too. These blocks juxtapose blond wood, black paint and bright neons in unique shapes (no squares here) for an eye-catching design that looks like it jumped straight off your Trapper Keeper circa 1991. Rounded edges and nontoxic craft paint and sealer really seal the deal. 

Neon wood blocks, $35 on MadeByTheMadOnes/Etsy

Pom-pom pillow

If you’re not so much into the neon thing but still looking for a hint of the rainbow, this pom-pom-studded throw pillow lets you branch out from ecru, but just barely.

Pom-pom ecru pillow, $25 on anekdesigns/Etsy

Felt ball mobile

Or maybe you prefer your neon pom-poms in mobile form? This one features natural driftwood and hand-felted wool — and may even be enough to distract kiddo through diaper changes. Maybe. 

Felt ball mobile, $44.25 on FeelFeltFelt/Etsy

Junk Gypsy branch chandelier

Yes, a baby’s room needs to be baby-proofed — which means lots of cushion and zero sharp anything. Except when said sharp stuff is suspended from the ceiling, safely out of Baby’s reach, right? This twiggy fixture is a serious investment piece, but hey, it’ll be in your kid’s room for 20-odd years, right? And it sure shows up any crystal chandelier.

Junk Gypsy branch chandelier, $239 at Pottery Barn Kids

Patterned floor cushion

Here are those cushions I was just talking about. These black-patterned puppies can set up as seats for storytime and provide comfy play cradles for kids, adults and yes, even actual puppies. 

Patterned floor cushion in waves design, $125 on ZanaProducts/Etsy

Casagami solar night-light loft

Finally, a SoHo loft you can afford! If you weren’t keen on that star-projection essential oil diffuser night-light, this option is less colorful (and it’s scent-free) but still plenty wacky. It’s also made of recycled card stock and is solar-powered — you know, everything you could possibly want in a SoHo loft that costs $14.

Casagami solar night-light loft, $14 at MoMA Design Store

Banana leaf mural wallpaper

You could go the usual route and paint your baby’s room pale blue or gray or yellow or the oh so 2016 rose quartz, aka millennial pink. But if you’re looking to splurge, why not pick one crazy-patterned wall? Maybe one that channels Pantone’s 2017 color of the year, “Greenery”? Gone are the days when wild wallpaper was reserved as a powder room risk only. Let Baby be a bit avant-garde with a fun print they may even still like when they’re 12. (Just don’t put it right by the bed, OK? This pattern is not snoozeworthy.)

Banana leaf mural wallpaper, from $419 on anewalldecor/Etsy

Wooden play gym

Play gyms are one of those items that are often more complicated — and colorful — than they need to be. Newborns can only see black, white and gray, anyway; you might as well make that black, white and chic as all get-out. This play gym is made of local pine wood, nontoxic food-grade silicone and cotton — and it will look good anywhere.

Black wooden baby activity gym, $100.15 on SweetiePieDesignCo/Etsy

Miley DIY house

And when Baby outgrows the all-natural eco-chic play gym? Well, there’s always this all-natural eco-chic igloo-shaped playhouse made out of corrugated recycled cardboard. We’ll just leave this here.

Miley DIY house, $50 at MoMA Design Store

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