White wall with yellow and white stripes separated from stars and swirls with fringe.
Photo: E. Andrew McKinney

Yellow and white stripes below are separated from the stars and swirls above by a glued-on strip of ball fringe.

Walls can be a simple background for the nursery's other highlights. Or they can be the room's focal point, setting the theme with an elaborate mural or whimsical wallpaper. Whichever you choose, the finish should be nontoxic and easy to clean.

A fresh coat of paint in just the right shade can change a room's look overnight. While color is the main paint question parents ponder, there are important safety issues to consider, too. First, if your house was built before 1978, when lead-base paint was banned in this country, have the walls and trim checked for lead by a professional or by using a home test kit. Lead poisoning is a serious danger for adults, children, and even a fetus. If lead is detected, call the Lead Information Center and Clearinghouse at (800) 532-3394 for information on how to proceed.

Next, which finish and type of paint should you choose? Most parents select a water-base latex in a wipe-able eggshell finish for the walls, and a durable, easy-to-wash semigloss finish for the trim. Water-base paints are not only less smelly than their oil-base counterparts, they are also quick and easy to apply, and they dry faster.

Because of increased awareness about the harmful effects of solvents, more and more parents are choosing not only paints that are water-base latex (which have less solvent in them than oil-base formulations) but also those labeled "Low VOC" or "No VOC" (for volatile organic compounds). Most paint stores carry these health- and environment-friendly products in the same range of colors as regular paints. Whatever product you choose, paint the nursery at least a month before the baby is due, and allow plenty of ventilation during and after painting.

Decorative painting
A baby's room seems the perfect place for a mural or stencil treatment. An increasing number of professional muralists are offering their services; word of mouth is the best source, followed by references from baby-furnishings stores. College art students are a less expensive alternative. There are also paint-by-number mural transfer kits that give professional-looking results to the most amateur painter. Rubber stamps dipped in acrylic craft paints are perhaps the simplest and quickest way to give walls an individualized treatment.

One money-saving approach that will make changes easier down the road: Limit the mural to one wall, and paint the other walls in the background color or a complementary shade.

Another way to jazz up nursery walls is with colorful wallpapers or borders. If you've already selected the bedding, window coverings, or trim paint, be sure to bring samples or swatches with you when you go to the wallpaper store. Bring along room measurements, too, so you can get an accurate estimate of how much paper you'll need.

Vinyl wallpaper is most durable and the easiest to clean, but it can harbor mildew in hot, humid climates with air conditioning. Coated paper is also wipeable, but be sure to ask about recommended cleaning procedures. Uncoated paper wallpaper isn't practical for a nursery or child's room. If you haven't wallpapered before and/or your walls are uneven (as they are in many older houses), you may want professional installation.

Wallpaper borders are an even simpler way to bring pattern to nursery walls. Though often applied where the walls meet the ceiling, mounting them lower on the wall provides more fun for the baby. Some parents apply the border about 30 inches from the floor, or about where a chair rail would be, and either use different colors above and below it or apply an easy-to-clean paint below and wallpaper above.

As with paints, ask store salespeople or your installation expert about using low-VOC adhesives, and allow at least a few days for the room to air out after application.

Wall accessories
Plain walls can be dressed up easily with all manner of pictures, framed photos, and cloth wall hangings (here's your chance to display the quilt or comforter that can't be used in the baby's crib). Make sure whatever you hang is secured to the wall firmly; anything hung above the crib should be extremely lightweight (consider decorative paper plates or printed fabric). Posters or fancy sheets of gift wrap laminated on pressboard give a finished, easy-to-wipe look without glass; most frame shops offer this service―and charge less for it than for regular framing.

Nursery no-nos
While chalkboard paint and corkboard walls are great choices for older children, they're unsafe for babies. Chalk and chalk dust are too likely to be ingested, and the tacks used to attach things to cork walls are a hazard.


Ideas for Great Baby Rooms

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