4 keys to decorating your dream nursery on a budget

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When Springville native Melody Aanderud got pregnant with her second child, she knew it was time to give the nursery a makeover. With a husband three years into medical school, though, she knew the budget would be tight. Determined to welcome her new baby in style, she set out to design her dream nursery... on a budget. "We've been without an income for three years," laughs Melody. "So I'd feel really guilty if I couldn't find great deals."

Although funds were limited, Melody had some great assets to draw on. Before becoming a stay-athome Mom, Melody was an interior designer for a chain of clothing stores. With a good grasp of design principles, Melody also has an endless supply of creativity to draw from and is an accomplished painter. "Looking around the nursery," says Melody, "I realize that almost all of the decoration is hand-made." Although most new Moms lack Melody's resume, they can draw on their own reservoirs of creativity to kick start the design process. Here are some ideas to get started.

Getting Started >> Your Road Map

You need to know where you're going before you get started. Melody shares some tips on how to set reachable goals and stay flexible enough to enjoy the trip.

Plan Ahead.

Before you get started, spend some time envisioning your end goal. Do you adore shabby chic? Do you want to recreate that log cabin you visited as a child? Or do you prefer to go with a theme such as Noah's Ark, outer space or a Princess Castle? The planning stage, while often overlooked, can be the most fun because there are no limits to what you can dream up!

You might want to plan around a special color scheme or one sentimental item that was passed on from your parents. Whatever you decide to run with, take some time to put your ideas on paper. Melody started out by sketching a rough plan for her nursery. With very limited space, she had to get resourceful to fit both of her children into one room.

With a vision in the back of your mind, sit down to list out what you have and what you need. Make a wish list for what you need, knowing that you might not be able to afford everything right away. When Melody started her design, she already had a crib, armoir, rug, handpainted artwork and a lamp. She still needed a toddler bed, window coverings, dresser, bookshelf, and other miscellaneous items.

If you have time, Melody highly recommends making a simple color board with paint samples, fabric colors and other design elements. "I like to make one of these that I take with me when I'm shopping," says Melody. "I can make sure that everything I pick can match well with all the colors and stay in keeping with the theme. "

Also keep in mind that your design is just a road map and you may take detours or go another route altogether. "Design is about editing," says Melody. "If you have baby blankets or other things that just don't go with your theme or color scheme, they can throw the whole thing off. See if you can recover or paint items that don't match."

Now you're ready to stretch your creativity in another way: fitting your dreams into your budget. The following pages give ideas for four of the main categories that you'll need to consider: lighting, furniture, wall coverings and flooring.

Lighting the Way >> All Night Long

Every room needs light and a nursery needs just the right kind of light. Between midnight feedings, midday naps and story time, a nursery's lighting deserves special attention. To start, most rooms are equipped with one general purpose ceiling light in the center of the room. While this is functional for older kids, babies may be startled by the intensity when they awake for nighttime feedings.


A lamp can be the perfect solution for a nursery: the light is bright enough for diaper changes and story time but dim enough to make baby and Mom comfortable in the wee hours. Another benefit to incorporating a lamp into your design is that it definitely won't kill your budget.

New lamps are often affordable, and you might get lucky enough to find just the right vintage item at a thrift store or garage sale. With your design in hand, you can keep your eyes open until you find just the right item. Melody's simple lamp, which rests on the bookshelf, was a garage sale find.


Another great solution for nursery lighting is to install a dimmer switch for your overhead light. Dimmer switches are easy on the pocketbook and can be purchased at any hardware store. Once installed, you have perfect control over the level of light in the nursery. You can slowly illuminate a darkened room or even leave the light fixture at its lowest level all night long.


Another great way to control the level of the light in your nursery is by playing with window coverings.

Window shades can be both decorative and functional. Choosing a light-blocking material for one layer of curtains will help baby sleep in later on those early summer mornings and can insulate against a cold winter breeze. Top that with a decorative curtain, such as a sheer panel that you've customized with applique shapes that match your nursery decor.

Melody chose some solid-color curtains that match the detail work that she painted onto the walls. Their bold colors brighten up the room and unite style elements on the walls and floors. To afford just the right curtains, Melody chose to cash in a gift certificate received from a baby shower. By planning ahead, baby showers are a great way to receive those items you've wanted to splurge on- without the guilt.


While you're hunting for the perfect lamp, keep a few things in mind:

  • "Safety first" is a must in the nursery. If you go the vintage route, make sure your items meet safety codes and haven't been recalled.
  • One "must" for lamps is a stable base that isn't easily tipped by your child. Focus on a safe and attractive lamp base, and you can accessorize with a trendy new lamp shade later on.
  • A lamp is a great way to spice up your decor. If you've been conservative with colors elsewhere, don't be afraid to give your accessories a punch of color!

Furniture >> The Big Decisions

Choosing furniture for your new nursery can be exciting, but the high price tags may sap some of the joy out of the process. With careful planning and creative shopping, however, you can make your dream nursery come alive.


Having a place for baby to sleep is obviously a must, but the options are plentiful. While some parents prefer to share their bed with baby for the first few months, others prefer a bassinet, play yard, or crib right away. A good bassinet can fit easily into a small space, but baby will outgrow it relatively quickly, so you'll need to plan ahead. A thrifty alternative to a bassinet is a portable play yard, which can serve as either a bassinet, portable crib for travel, or play area while Mom's hands are busy.

Either way, you'll need to plan for a crib eventually. Although a good crib can cost a pretty penny, it is an important investment. If you plan ahead, you can find a crib that will later convert to a toddler bed and full sized bed. This may cost a bit more upfront, but will save you money down the road.


Besides a place for baby to rest his head, Mom needs a place to rest during late-night feedings and while rocking baby to sleep. A comfortable glider, rocking chair or other soft spot is a great investment for a new Mom. Check out thrift stores for a used chair that is sturdy and comfortable, then take some time to personalize it with paint or fabrics that match your design. If you can't afford the perfect chair right away, you can substitute any other kind of chair temporarily like Melody did (above right).


You should also be able to find a great dresser for baby that can be customized to your own style later. Paint, again, can give a dresser new life. An inexpensive way to give your dresser some character is to shop for a few new knobs-they're cheap, stylish and easy to install!


Melody enlisted the help of her husband in finding great deals on furniture. After exhaustive research, Melody found just the right items on craigslist and sent her husband out to collect the items. Although Melody's husband, Paul, spent five hours in heavy traffic, they were able to get a new toddler bed and dresser at a fraction of the original cost.

Although there are lots of options for finding used cribs at thrift stores, online auctions or garage sales, safety should always come first.

Check for sharp edges, missing hardware or parts that don't function properly anymore. Once you're assured that your crib meets the latest safety codes, you can always repaint or refinish when you have the time!

Wall coverings >> Spice it Up

The choices you make for wall coverings and wall decor will set the mood for the entire room if chosen well. Making an impact doesn't have to destroy your budget, however. As Melody got started with her nursery design, she chose several different wall colors to tie her design together.

Wall Color

Pulling inspiration from a rug she already owned, Melody chose a rich chartreuse and a pale blue for her walls. Her final price tag was a mere $22 but the impact was huge. Set against the pale blue, Melody painted a broad, green leaf inspired by the flooring (top center). The same green was used to highlight the bookshelf and paint the armoire. The blue was repeated in a stripe of color next to the door.

Wall Decoration

Atop the bold wall colors, Melody put her artistic and budgeting skills to good use. One nook sports three beetle pictures (top left and top right), all taken from a calendar and mounted with bamboo. Next to the dresser are several of Melody's original paintings, sporting the leaf motif in bold colors (bottom left and bottom right). Above the bookshelf hangs one of Melody's popular name paintings, sporting the name Eirik with a playful frog (bottom center).


Another great idea that Melody incorporated was the use of shelves for decoration and storage. At only $12.50 for materials from Home Depot and IKEA, her shelves are a bargain. Loaded with toys and books, they're a feast for the eyes and a great way to keep some of the clutter off the floor.

Other budget-conscious decisions for wall decorations might include wallpaper borders, stenciling, vinyl letter boards, simple paintings, handmade quilts, shadow boxes with baby's keepsakes, or a collage of family pictures and baby portraits.

Flooring >> Make a Statement

Chances are good that your choice for flooring will be determined before you design the rest of your nursery. If that's the case, don't despair: you can still make a bold statement with a high impact rug.

Rugs may not be cheap or easy to find, but keeping your eyes open will help you find just the right item.

"I believe you can't skimp on rugs," says Melody. Her rug choice-a blue rug with a large green leaf pattern-ties together all the other style elements in her nursery. A rug might be a great way to start your design since rugs are harder to find secondhand or discounted.

Taking time to look around, however, will be rewarding. One great resource for inexpensive rugs is IKEA. With bright colors, unique shapes and fun designs, the eye-popping low prices make their rugs irresistible.

The Result >> Before & After

From imagination to sketch pad to real life, Melody's dream nursery took shape. And the miraculous truth is that the complete makeover cost under $130!


Total price tag for Melody's nursery redesign: $128.50

  • $25 Toddler bed (craigslist)
  • $45 New IKEA dresser (craigslist)
  • $12.50 New shelves on walls (50 cent brackets from IKEA and wood from Home Depot)
  • $24 New bookshelf (Wood and paint from Home Depot)
  • $22 Paint for walls

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