Our inexpensive, DIY, gender-neutral bedroom: From nursery to toddler room to shared space

Color is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to decorating your baby’s bedroom.

Buckle up: Many photos ahead.

We recently moved out of state, and while the new city and new adventure are exciting for all of us, there are some things I’ll miss. And one of them is my kids’ bedroom.

We bought a house when I was eight months pregnant with R, and there were still rooms we had to unpack in order to pack up again three years later, but in that time I decorated her bedroom not once, but twice. So you can see where my priorities lie.

That said, when I decorated her room the first time, we had just bought a house without selling our previous home, our health insurance had a ridiculously high deductible that we were guaranteed to hit due to my pregnancy, and due to the policy at my job at the time, I was looking at having to take an almost entirely unpaid maternity leave. My challenge, then, was to decorate a room so it looked like a million bucks while trying not to spend too many actual dollars.

With our first baby, we decided not to find out the sex ahead of time, but even if that hadn’t been the case, I would have wanted to keep the nursery pretty gender-neutral, both because that’s more my style and because we knew we might want to have another baby and use the same room. Initially, I wanted to use bold colors (I started these Pinterest boards for my Pantone picks), but I was gradually romanced by the grey-and-yellow trend. It was simple, it was chic, and it left room for adaptation as R grew. Here it is half-finished with no curtains (well, kind of; you can see the roll of fabric propped up against the window), pre-occupancy.

Gray nursery

Obviously I didn’t take a single photo of the finished room, because why on earth would I want to document the exquisite bedroom I lovingly designed for my firstborn child? Instead, here’s a collage of blurry and/or weirdly-lit snapshots of R in which you can see snatches of the original room under layers of laundry and other everyday accumulations of baby-related objects.

Gray nursery collage

The gray on the walls is from Valspar’s now-discontinued Pantone line at Lowes, with which I had a short-term obsession. Just about every room we painted was painted with a color from that collection.

When she was about a year old, we decided to swap R’s bedroom with the guest room, and by then I was tired of simple, conservative gray and ready to go back to my initial longed-for bold colors. And I figured I’d actually take a whack at some of those ideas I’d been pinning. Because if you’re not going to experiment with home decor projects in your toddler’s bedroom, where?

The great thing about starting with that simple palette was that it translated nicely to a bolder color scheme. Just by adding a single bright color on the walls, I was able to take all the elements of the original room and adapt them to a whole new look without spending much money at all.

This time I went with Pantone Peacock Blue, again from Valspar (and now, sadly, discontinued).

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The toddler bed is a convertible crib, which we were fortunate enough to inherit from a friend whose toddler outgrew it while I was pregnant with R. It has held up well under climbing, jumping and… other… conditions.

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About the furniture: It used to look like this.

Dresser

My father-in-law downsized around the time we moved, and we consequently inherited a lot of furniture from my husband’s childhood home, including his childhood bedroom furniture, which was in solid shape but bore the cosmetic battle scars of having survived a lifetime in service. I pried off all the hardware, cleaned all the surfaces, filled in the holes where the old drawer pulls had been installed, and primed everything with Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3, a magical wonder product that lets you paint laminate surfaces. Then it was a fresh coat of paint for all the white surfaces and new yellow fronts for the drawers. This is another Pantone color (like I said, obsessed) that I want to say was called Sunshine? It’s weirdly hard to find a good record of the colors in that collection.

Not pictured: the many paint-stained maternity tanks that gave their lives for this project.

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The changing table was originally a chest of drawers. I wanted something open, so I disassembled the drawers, painted the bottoms, and glued them in place to create shelves. The white baskets came from Target.

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We had a playroom in this house, so we didn’t keep a lot of toys in the bedroom. I did want to create a space for R to sit and read, though. The rug, beanbag chair, pillows and baskets all came from Target. The picture frames are Art Minds laser-cut wood frames from Michael’s. They’re sold unfinished; I painted them with Krylon spray paint in Gloss Sun Yellow, Gloss White and Gloss Classic Gray. The photos are glued to the frames (which are just flat pieces of wood), but if you didn’t want to make them permanent you could probably use photo corners on the backs of the frames. To get the frames to sit perfectly flat against the wall, I used E6000 glue to secure thumb tacks to the backs of the frames; then I simply positioned them where I wanted them and pushed them into the wall. Easy peasy. When we moved out, we simply pulled them out of the wall.

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The lanterns were another bargain find. The only one that’s actually lit is the large white one, which I’d had for a few years. (You can recreate it with a lantern like this one and a basic cord kit like this one.) The patterned paper lanterns came from the impulse buy bins at Michael’s. They’re hung from the ceiling simply with clear push pins and varying lengths of thread.

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The goose print is by an Alaska artist named Marianne Wieland. My husband picked it out at 2 Friends Gallery, our favorite local fine art consignment store.

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The lamp was another hand-me-down from my father-in-law’s house. It took a few coats of my beloved Krylon spray paint to cover up the original Japanese-inspired design, but the finished product is gorgeous. The lampshade came from Target.

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I am absurdly proud of the alphabet on the wall.

I saw a million examples of alphabet wall art on Pinterest, including some links to Etsy shops that do custom sets. I didn’t do the wall in the original nursery (I feel like refinishing an entire room of furniture is DIY accomplishment enough for a woman who is nine months pregnant…), but I knew it had to be part of the updated design when we moved R into her new room. My assortment of letters came from Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts, and I spray-painted them in my garage, starting with the R and the P (her initials) and laying the alphabet out on the floor as I went to make sure I was going to end up with a mostly even distribution of colors.

The large yellow R had been part of the decor in the original room, and I’d decorated the sides with gold microfine glitter. Jo-Ann’s had some gold glitter letters, so I included some of them (bonus: They didn’t need to be painted!) and glittered the sides of the P as well.

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To get my letters flat against the wall while keeping them easily repositionable, I used the same technique as I did with the picture frames, gluing thumb tacks to the back and then simply pressing them into the wall. They didn’t budge until I removed them to hand off to a friend when we moved (the entire room, in fact, survived a number of actual earthquakes unscathed in addition to the human earthquake that comes with having a toddler on the premises).

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The curtains were custom-made by my mom using indoor-outdoor fabric we ordered from Jo-Ann’s.

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The quilt was custom made for R as a gift from a good friend of my father-in-law’s. The baskets came from the home section at Target; they’re hung from the Command hooks with the highest weight limit I could find.

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I ordered the crib duvet and star print duvet cover from The Land of Nod when R was still sleeping in the crib. When we knew Baby Brother would be coming along, we moved our big girl to a twin bed and looked for a similar bedding set since she loved her star blanket so much. The twin comforter and gold sheets came from The Company Store — not cheap (with shipping, the bedding came close to $200), but I don’t regret the investment, as it’s all still in good shape after more than a year of heavy use and many, many launderings.

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Check out more toddler bedroom ideas on Pinterest!

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