A room that grows with baby

In the nursery, details go a long way to creating a comfortable environment that can change as your child grows.

"Light, soft colours work best for babies: light pinks, yellows, greens and blues, something that feels very natural,” says one Dubai designer
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When it comes to the nursery, details go a long way to create a comfortable environment that is flexible enough to change as quickly as your child does, explains Jo Wadham

If you've just found out that a baby is on the way, your head is probably buzzing with excitement and anticipation. You will also want to make sure you have the perfect nursery for your child, and with eight months to complete your task the clock starts now. But where do you begin?

As babies spend the majority of their time asleep, chances are the nursery is the place they will spend most of their early lives. (Not, of course, that they will necessarily sleep when you want them to, but that's a whole other story.) This means that the nursery will need to be a flexible space, a place for sleep and play, day and night, for a baby who within a year to 18 months will be a toddler with all the challenges and new requirements that brings. So, unless you want to be redecorating again in a few months, you will need to create a space that can accommodate change and a fast-growing occupant.

"When it comes to colours you definitely want to grow with it and have something that is easy to change as the child grows," says Hanne Gokstad, an interior designer based in Dubai (hanne light pinks, yellows, greens and blues, something that feels very natural."

If you don't plan on finding out the baby's gender, Gokstad recommends going for off-white. "Use wall stickers or pictures - these are easy to change and easy to apply."

If you have a particular colour in mind for a feature wall, advances in paint mixing mean that you can pretty much have whatever you desire. "Lots of companies have laser-matching," says Colin Thomas, a co-partner of the Dubai-based firm Jim Will Fix It (www.jimwillfixitservices.com), which offers maintenance and painting and decorating services. "Rather than going in to the paint shop with no idea of what colour to get, go in with exactly what you want - a piece of material or cutting from a magazine - and get the closest you can to that."

The safety of the paint will no doubt be a concern. Modern household paints no longer contain lead, which is generally only an issue in properties more than 50 years old. Although some paints contain solvents, their application is limited.

"The main solvents are in oil-based paints such as enamel or eggshell, but their application is generally limited to very wet environments," Thomas says. "For walls we recommend people to use either vinyl matt or vinyl silk emulsion, which is a water-based paint."

Or cover one wall in something entirely different. Affix cork boards on which to attach those first artistic efforts, or photos for the baby to look at. Alternatively, you can have great fun with blackboard paint (available in ACE Hardware stores). Paint or spray it onto the wall and older children can then draw on it with chalk, and wipe it clean.

The Dubai-based wallpaper company Muraspec (www.muraspec.com) stocks special wallpaper called MemErase, which works like a whiteboard. It can be drawn on with dry-erase markers and wiped clean with a soft cloth or felt eraser. At Dh120 a square metre, it isn't cheap, but you don't need much of it. Consider sticking a cheap picture frame over a small piece of MemErase (the next trick would be explaining that not all walls are meant to be drawn on).

Once you have tackled the walls, what about the flooring? Most villas in the UAE have tiles - great for keeping a place cool, but a bit too hard and cold when there are babies around. "A wooden floor and a rug will soften the room," says Gokstad. "It's not as hard as tiles and looks better. Wall-to-wall carpeting is an option but as the child gets older, it can get very dirty. And some people don't like carpets because of the dust."

Alternatively, she suggests laminated flooring. "There are lots of options with laminates and now it looks like real wood. It's cheaper, easy to clean, and here, with the humidity, solid wood is not always a good idea."

Nursery lighting should be adaptable. The room has to be dark enough for babies to sleep during the day, but light enough that you don't trip over anything when you go in to feed the baby at night. Overhead lights with dimmer switches will enable you to have enough light at night to see without rousing the baby too much. A little lamp with a low-wattage bulb near the nursing chair will do the job, too.

To keep out the light, Gokstad recommends having curtains lined with blackout material. "Or you could have some light decorative curtains and a blackout roller blind behind. These curtains can be decorative on the sides of the window. There is no need for them to go all the way across. There is something about a curtain in a bedroom that really softens the room and makes it look comfortable."

Unless you have a spare room to designate as a playroom, the nursery will serve double duty. Gokstad suggests clearly defining the "sleep area" and the "play area", which should also help at bedtime. "If the room is big enough, you can use dividing curtains or floor screens." Floor screens in which you can mount photos are ideal for a nursery because babies will spend hours looking at faces.

When it comes to furnishing the room, it is worth buying furniture that is durable and adaptable. Mamas & Papas, for example, sells dresser/changer tables that not only offer plenty of storage but also feature a removable guard rail so they can serve as a normal chest of drawers when the child is older.

The final thing to consider is safety. Beware of lamp cords that a small child can grab, thus pulling down a lamp on their head, or bookcases not attached to the wall, which might topple over when babies start to pull themselves up to stand. Mothercare and BabyShop sell safety kits containing plug covers, door latches, door stoppers and toilet lid locks (sure to baffle anyone who hasn't read the instructions, resulting in hours of fun for all the family).

There are increasing numbers of great furniture shops for children in the UAE. Pottery Barn Kids just opened a second store in The Dubai Mall and has some lovely bedroom furniture and a wide selection of co-ordinating rugs, blackout curtains, lamps and accessories. Just Kidding has a great range, as do Mamas & Papas and Mothercare. Express yourself and enjoy the decorating, because once kids are older you will have limited say in how they decorate their rooms - other than, "I'm not sure that black walls really work."

Style Tip

If you're in rented accommodation and unable to paint or redecorate, peel-and-stick wall art creates a decorative, stimulating focal point that can be removed without damaging the paint or plaster.

Newborn babies can only see 30 to 40 centimetres away and are drawn to contrasting black-and-white geometric lines and shapes. Such high-contrast visual patterns can also help promote infant brain development. With this in mind, the online store Wee Gallery (www.weegallery.com) has created a range of removable wall art featuring animals, birds, flowers and trees - all made from eco-friendly polypropylene. The same high-contrast designs also feature on a range of cot mobiles and flash cards. Order online through www.supernice.co.uk, which offers worldwide delivery via UPS (check the website for prices).

Laura Ashley and Pottery Barn Kids also stock a range of colourful, decorative stickers and easy-to-apply decals.