Sorry, Winnie the Pooh. These days, parents are as likely to deck out Junior's nursery with the jolly old bear as they are to get matching Barney tattoos.
"Clients aren't doing themes. They're doing rooms that mimic the rest of their homes," says Dana Evans, co-owner of Daisy Baby shop in Bethesda, Md.
"Baby rooms look less and less like baby rooms," says Tracy Hutson, a Los Angeles interior designer and author of Feathering the Nest (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009).
Products for tots have changed, much in the way maternity fashions have evolved from muumuus to elastic-waist Seven jeans and pregnancy-cut Hanky Panky thongs.
"In the last few years, lots of imaginative people started having babies," says Tiffany King, owner of the Pajama Squid, a children's shop in suburban Washington. "They combined their experience and creativity. The cribs got better, the toys got better. Everything took a design-oriented turn."
You can also credit older, wiser parents for bankrolling the trend. "They're more likely to have their own aesthetic," says Ali Wing, founder of Giggle, a chain of children's gear stores. "They aren't putting in a nursery at the same time they are buying dishes."
Though Janet Bloomberg decorated her son's nursery on a budget, she didn't sacrifice design. "Everything we pick for Ian has an aesthetic criteria, even the books," says Bloomberg, a partner at Kube Architecture in Washington. She chose timeless furniture, bright colors and minimalist toys from the Museum of Modern Art. "If he gets surrounded by quality stuff from Day One, he will understand good design," she says. It seems to be working: Bloomberg reports the toddler prefers simple wood cars to plastic ones he was given as gifts.
Sandra Velvel, owner of Bethesda design boutique Vivi, wanted her daughter's nursery to reflect her taste. "I didn't want to do something really specific, because you never know what your kid is going to be into," she says. "I wanted a room that could reflect Annabel's interests as she got older."
The green movement has also invigorated and elevated kiddie design. Such thoughtful, progressive products can come at a price. But when children's welfare is involved, some parents are willing to shell out. "If it just looks good, I'm not sure that's enough to get people to spend their money," says Lisa Mahar, owner of Kid O, a children's store in New York. "If it looks good and it's beneficial to their children, they may be still willing."
The toys and furniture at her shop reflect progressive educational philosophies. "People like Maria Montessori really believed that an environment with well-made materials helps children understand the importance of craft and hard work," Mahar says. Montessori, a physician and educator, developed the child-centered educational program that bears her name.
Of course, that's not an endorsement of monogrammed cashmere blankets for your Baby Pukes-a-Lot. "If the nursery is a place you want to show off, then so be it," says Hutson, the designer. "Just don't expect the baby to appreciate it as much as you do."
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ON THE WEB
Make it modern
- Daisy Baby:This boutique specializes in custom linens and furnishings. Choose from 15 lines of bedding, plus furniture that's contemporary (Nurseryworks, NettoCollection) or traditional (Bratt Decor); shopdaisybaby.com.
- Dawn Price Baby: Known for trendy togs for those 6 and younger, this chainlet also carries classic furniture from Newport Cottages and Serena & Lily; dawnpricebaby.com.
- Giggle: This national chain evaluates each product it sells against 10 criteria, including "innovative," "portable" and "space-saving." To be considered for store shelves, baby items must meet three of the criteria; giggle.com.
- National Building Museum: Choose from wood blocks, a Bauhaus mobile and new toys from Active People; nbm.org.
- The Pajama Squid: Find quirky wall decals, clothing and retro-cool throwbacks such as wooden phones; shop.thepajamasquid.com.
- Vivi: You'll find cute lamps and kiddie tableware from Jonathan Adler and Alex Marshall Studios at this contemporary home accessories and tabletop store; vivionline.com.