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2004 Home Design: Child’s Nursery

If you don’t know the sex of your baby, how do you decorate the nursery? Easy—a gender-neutral room. Here are some hints.

Boy or Girl?

When I was pregnant with my first child, my old-fashioned husband convinced me that we should not find out the sex of our baby.

Then it came time to decorate the nursery.

Maybe it was the hormones that kicked in during my second trimester, but I couldn't stop thinking about the room: I wanted something pink and swirly for a girl, blue and stripey for a boy. I ended up painting our baby's room chamois—a buttery yellow from Ralph Lauren—and added white Ikea furniture, a yellow-and-white-checkered upholstered rocking chair, and a red, four-poster crib from Bratt Décor.

I fought the impulse to decorate the room in my own tastes and tried to focus on making it a fun space for my baby. When people asked me what the nursery theme was, I shrugged and answered, "Primary colors?"

We hung an illuminated paper star above the crib and decided to work out the details—curtains, wall decor, linens—after our little angel arrived. We could wait to decide on bedding, because we had planned to have our newborn sleep in a cradle in our room for the first several weeks.

Custom-order companies can take as long as 12 weeks to deliver linens, so I looked to companies like Babystyle.com and Warm Biscuit Bedding Company (800-231-4231; warmbiscuit.com), which can ship stock within days, or stores such as Pottery Barn Kids, where I could pick up ready-made linens.

Those weren't our only options. Some stores, including Lewis of London in Rockville and Baby 2 Teen in Manassas and Fredericksburg, will keep two orders on hold—one for a boy's room, another for a girl's.

The expectant parents give their doctor permission to contact the store with the sex of the baby so that employees place the appropriate order.

Other stores, including Ethan Allen Kids in Reston, provide free in-house design services, utilizing traditional gender-neutral palettes, then suggest touches like wallpaper borders, lamps, and rugs to play up the baby's sex after he or she is born.

There's more to gender-neutral color palettes than just yellow and green. The design staff at Ethan Allen Kids suggests that almost any color, including blue, is considered appropriate for either sex, although pink still seems out of the question for a boy. Experts say that pale colors are soothing for babies, while bright or contrasting colors elicit the earliest responses.

A mom friend avoided predictable pastels in favor of a café-au-lait color for her baby's nursery walls, which complemented the dark-stained antique furniture and crib. She chose vintage prints from children's books to adorn the walls. When she learned she was having a boy, she accented the framed prints with periwinkle mats.

After my son was born, I decided to stay neutral. I bought a simple white crib bumper embroidered with nursery-rhyme characters off the shelf at Lewis of London. After that, it was easy to mix and match linens: a white-on-white striped fitted sheet from Babies R Us and a white matelasse crib skirt that I ordered online from Pottery Barn Kids completed Ethan's room.

With a second baby on the way, I'm being rewarded for my patience the first time around: Whether we have a boy or a girl, the nursery is essentially done. No paint fumes to worry about, no three-month wait for a new crib bumper.

I know I won't be able to resist picking out some new pieces for our second baby's room, but those sleepless nights during my third trimester won't be brought on by a nursery-nesting mania.