Stefan's Imagine-Menagerie

Stefan's Imagine-Menagerie

Name: Stefan (14 months)
Location: Manhattan, New York
Room Size: 9.5' x 12'

Tina and Stefan were first-time parents but second-time clients, brought to me from Apartment Therapy itself several years back. Tina's "Good Question," about preserving the freshness in their master bedroom while still showcasing some gorgeous family furniture led to my working with this lovely couple, and designing a nursery for their newest gender-to-remain-a-mystery-until-delivery-date soon-to-be.

So while the project was new, and my very first nursery commission, the clients were not. That helps a designer immensely: with shorthand, with process, with trust, with budget understanding. I had always wanted to do a nursery (What an honor! To design the first room a person will ever live in!), but honestly, I was leery of the Mothers (one too many overly hormonal sit-com momzillas, perhaps?). But with Tina as the mom in question, I knew we'd be good, have fun along the way, I knew she'd teach me any and all new-baby etiquette, and that together we'd arrive at something as lovely as it deserved to be for a couple that even my vendors still can't stop gushing about.

When it's unknown whether a little Mister or Miss will be taking up residence, you have to think outside the Crayola box a bit, as the gender lines in the nursery category are pretty clearly drawn. But, luckily, that's changing, and I've always loved colors a little beyond the norm anyhow. Tina's early mentions of gray as a possible crib color let me know we could take some risks, and her positive response to the art-driven palette of a past virtual nursery design verified it. While the gray eventually gave way to white as our baseline neutral, the yellow and turquoise steered clear of any boy/girl specifics, and would allow future personalization. Also, after the fact and once the color palette was surprise-revealed, I learned these blues and yellows were also modified versions of the colors of the Ukrainian flag, the very background of this lovely young family. Color serendipity.

The white, blue and yellow all draw from the outdoors (and summers, and springs, and pools and skies and beaches and lemonade) without being too literal. What was literal was an animal theme, broad enough to cover the colorful menagerie of barnyard, circus, fairy tale, Ark, jungle, and-- most importantly-- imagination, without getting too deep into any one theme.

The jumping-off point was the high contrast Marimekko print. Wall stripes and the over-scaled abstract rug (Waves? Petals? Vines? Clouds?) meant we'd be going graphic, big-time. The scale of these gutsy prints gave a great architectural presence in this contemporary construction room with little of its own, and the big dashes of background whites kept the color and scale of the prints from overwhelming the room.

First published in American Baby, the room was also designed to grow, soon and later, right along with its little inhabitant. That ottoman is perfect for pull-up practice, and gives mom and dad and happy grandmothers a place to perch while little Stefan plays on the super-soft rug. That Runway console will someday be home to homework and (if he's good and lucky, which I know he is both) a TV or desktop computer, and a third layer of color can be introduced down the road... navy, orange or more grass-green would be great, later.

In all, it's a room where sunny dispositions rule, animals roam and the mind wanders. Not a bad place to start.

How would you describe the look and feel of this room?
"Sunny!" Crisp. Modern, but "friendly-modern."

Tina wanted "happy and energetic" but also "calm," and at first I thought those two traits were further apart than they seemed to be once we got rolling with the design.

What is your favorite piece or element?
I like what paint does in this room, from the room-widening stripes to the pale blue that makes the ceiling dissolve, and brings a little outdoor feel to this city room. And the matte-and-gloss stripes react to the light in beautiful ways during the day and night.

I also like how we were able to use white so intentionally, from wall color to the textiles to the furnishings and lamps. That's where a lot of the tranquility and freshness of this room comes from.

And I love that Tina was open to having a non-nursery piece of art over the crib, a custom piece by a talented friend of mine. It pulls all the room's colors together, but also gives the parents something to look at.

I really love the extra storage under that crib, too, which we hid with a custom bedskirt.

What was the biggest challenge decorating this room?
Timing! Pregnancies tend to go faster than some furniture delivery times! I was starting to tape off the stripes the morning Tina went into labor. The message I got was "My water just broke!" Talk about a motivational text to speed things up!!

The other big challenge was knowing when to stop, theme-wise. There are so many cute things out there, it was hard to stop styling!

What do your friends say about the room?
All reports indicate that we got the "happy" down, for sure. "Fresh" is another word the room seems to garner.

Do you have any advice for parents creating a room for their child?
Have fun! But never lose sight of function. Adults spend a LOT of time in a nursery, so give them places to sit, lights (on dimmers!!) where they're needed, storage that makes sense, a side table by the glider or rocker.

And design some things into the room specifically to trigger play and imagination.

As for selecting items for the room, don't think every purchase has to be made at a nursery-specialty store.

If money were no object, what's your dream source?
If money were no object, I'd buy even more art... and I would have hired someone to do the stripes!! But honestly, nurseries are such hardworking yet temporal spaces, I'm not even sure this room would have been all that different if we had all the money in the world. I don't feel like budget caused us any compromise here.

Why the animal theme?
A few reasons. Mainly, since we didn't know who'd be occupying the room, animals made a great gender-neutral starting point. But when I saw the black-and-white Marimekko fabric, based on European fairy tales, I knew it was the right way to go: the couple collects black-and-white contemporary Ukrainian artwork, many with natural themes and motifs. This pattern seemed a great way to introduce the new little resident to some of the couple's old-world roots and artistic heritage. I can just picture, when Stefan gets a bit older, his mom or dad making up little stories about the animal shapes. The couple has always had a "story book" quality to me, too, so I loved that part of the fabric's origin.

Tina had also seen a virtual nursery design I had created, and there were animals in that. Along the way, I got a great lesson in everyone's favorite animals, which were considered good luck to have represented, and some that weren't! Turns out, adults have very specific reaction to animal types and traits!

They also refer to the little man as "Stefanchik," so the little chick picture from Sharon Montrose was also another happy accident. I just loved the newborn nature and tiny pop of yellow it gave us!

Above all, I think introducing animals to a new little human is one of the most important things any parent can do. It's how we learn about the world beyond our doors, how we learn empathy, how we learn to be better humans. I have the fondest of memories of my plastic animal collection, and early zoo trips.

How do you keep a scheme colorful yet calm?
Big doses (there's nothing too fussy in this plan at all) of a limited palette, and repetition of shape and color, and again, a really intentional use of white.


Wall colors, all Benjamin Moore, low-VOC formulas
• Base color for the walls: "White Opulence" OC-69 (matte)
• Stripes: "Little Angel" 318 (semi-gloss)
• Trim: "White Opulence" OC-69 (gloss)
• Ceiling: "Innocence" 2055-70

Source List:

• Crib: Moda, Room & Board
• Changing table: Moda, Room & Board
• Glider: Grano, Monte
• Tall dresser: Adams 4-Drawer Dresser, West Elm
• Console: Runway, CB2 (no longer available)
• Ottoman, and black and white fabric: Marimekko "Kalevala," Crate & Barrel, (no longer available through Crate & Barrel)
• Hanging storage units: Hyde wall-mounted cabinet (pair), CB2
• Rug: Lollipop, Shades of Light
• Giraffe lamp and elephant night light: Jonathan Adler
• Ceramic Fox: Jonathan Adler, Delfinium Home
• Yellow lamps: Tube Top, Pablo, Room & Board
• Mobile: Petit Collage, purchased from Land of Nod
• Drum side table: West Elm
• Standing drum lamp: "X" floor lamp, CBS (now in chrome only)
• Striped yellow mug (with wheatgrass): Marimekko
• "Smile" pillow: Pottery Barn Teen (no longer available)
• Black and white throw: IKEA
• Lamb and baby chick photos: Sharon Montrose, The Animal Print Shop
• Abstract painting (custom): Caroline O'Connell
• Framing: Steven Amedee Custom Framing
• Roman shade and custom bedding fabrication: Solomonic Couture
• Knit hat: Loopsy Daisy

Thanks, Tina, Big Stefan and Little Stefan!

(Images (all but last four details): Jody Kivort)


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