Jennifer Cohen wishes she had had the sense to think about the cents she was lavishing on decorations for her baby daughter's bedroom.
Cohen pulled out all the stops for the dream nursery — down to the custom-made crib bumpers and skirting. But baby Gabrielle quickly outgrew the nursery and those precious and pricey baby items were stowed away all too soon.
For her 9-month-old son, Ryan, the New York City mom says she has been more prudent, investing in the basics such as window treatments and light fixtures that will last him through childhood.
"I learned from the first time," she recalls. "It was wasteful. You want to make wise choices."
It's natural to get caught up in the excitement of welcoming a baby home. But unless money is no object, parents should plan ahead and invest in the underpinnings that will carry a child through different stages, experts advise. The fun part: Batman, baseball or ballerina themes can be rotated in and out with new bedding or wall hangings.
"Many new parents imagine their baby only in the infant or toddler stage and don't think about how their choices for the nursery might later work with an older child who now has his own tastes and opinions," says Sherri Blum, a Westminster, Md., designer who specializes in children's rooms. "Your 3-year-old son might love dinosaurs today, but next year he will want a soccer theme in his room and be complaining that the dinosaurs are too babyish."
But just because it pays to be practical, doesn't mean you shouldn't have fun, says Celia Tejada, senior vice president, product design and development for Pottery Barn. If they want to go on a safari, add a mosquito net above the bed, she says. "It doesn't have to be expensive."
Before thoughts turn to themes of unicorns or dinosaurs, it's time to build an infrastructure that will hold up until the child is off to college or on her own.
That's as simple as starting with a good paint job in a solid color. Wallpaper could prove short-lived and costly to remove, but wall hangings and removable vinyl decals liven the room and are easy to change and update.
You'll want neutral, sturdy window treatments like wood blinds, shades or shutters. This is an area you don't want to skimp on because they get a lot of wear and tear, says Jamie Gibbs, a New York decorator. "Buying three cheap ones will turn out to be more expensive than one that's good quality," he says.
Be careful about drapes or blinds with long pull cords that can be dangerous for toddlers. One inexpensive solution: You can twist the cord around a small piece of decorative hardware installed on the window molding. Manufacturer Hunter Douglas offers a retractable mechanism to raise and lower shades, which keeps the cord at a constant length.
It's also worth investing in good lighting. Start with a sturdy ceiling-mounted fixture, then add lamps for reading. Use a basic design for the base and play with the shades, Tejada advises. They come in all manner of colors and designs.
When it comes to establishing the basics, relate the kids room to the rest of the house — it shouldn't be a jarring contrast. "It should be an extension of your home," Tejada says. "Think about the finishes. Is it white or dark wood? Country or modern?
After those nearly invisible items like shades and lights, you can move on to the furniture. Once your infant is out of the crib, don't bother with a junior or toddler bed, experts say. Their advantage is that they are lower to the ground, but most kids quickly out grow them.
The alternative is to move him or her right into a twin or even full-size bed with a portable guardrail. Make sure the rail is tight against the mattress. One alternative for toddlers is to place the mattress on the floor and avoid using the frame until he or she is older.
Blum speaks from experience about twin beds. "My son was already 6 feet tall at age 13; he barely fit into a twin bed," she says. "Full-size beds also make sleepovers easier and make for great guest beds."
Along with the crib, you need a changing table, but forget about those traditional wicker numbers that are quickly headed for the yard sale. Instead, purchase a standard dresser. Many sold at specialty retailers come with changing tables or trays that bolt to the top and are easily removed.
Another alternative: a new or used armoire, especially if it has a fold-down or pullout shelf. You can hide the diapers and accessories behind the doors and later use the piece for clothes or a TV.
Whatever you buy, choose the same finish as the crib and one that you can match later when you're ready to add a desk or bookshelves. You won't need those early on, but will want to add them by the time he or she is in elementary school. That's when you will also need to buy a desk that can last through high school. Make sure it's big enough for a computer, keyboard and printer.
Many retailers sell play tables with removable legs of different heights. That way, the piece works as a low play surface for a toddler, and can later be raised for an older child. Don't get too hung up about creating play spaces in the bedroom, though. Social creatures that they are, many prefer to be near the action in the rest of the house or apartment.
You'll be tempted to buy a big plastic box to stow piles of toys, but instead go for a storage chest that is a classic trunk and later can be used to store blankets, sweaters or memorabilia, Blum suggests. The trunk also could double as extra seating when friends come over to play. If the layout lends itself, it's efficient to add a window bench seat with storage beneath. Add a cushion and you've got a great nook for reading, listening to music or just daydreaming — something your child will do at every age.