How we’re turning a walk-in closet into a nursery

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Turning a walk-in closet into a semi-nursery

Two years ago, Andreas and I traded our 3 bedroom house in Seattle’s southend for a 1 bedroom condo in the heart of the beloved gayborhood where we’ve lived off and on since the late ’90s.

It was a weird decision: we were thinking about starting a family, which for many people means getting rid of the backyard and all those bedrooms would be the LAST thing they’d want to do. But after trying a “housey” neighborhood for a few years, we realized that a high density walking lifestyle and neighborhood feel is simply more important for our quality of life — especially in the context of starting a family. Like Deonn, I just don’t think you need a yard to raise a child.

…Then again, you miiiiight need more than one bedroom…

“No matter,” I’d to say to friends who’d ask if we had space concerns. “We have this enormous walk-in closet when we need a room for a baby.” HA HA, they’d all say. One friend laughed and then looked at me with a sidelong glance and said, “…Wait, I don’t think you’re kidding.”

You know what? I wasn’t.

Now that a strange little man is moving into our home in a few weeks, Andreas and I have kicked into high gear with transforming our 6’x5′ walk-in closet into a small but sweet little baby room.

First, I did a bunch of research and was very much inspired by Apartment Therapy’s Smaller Cooler contest, especially Jonas’ walk-in closet nursery and Lyla’s custom mini-nursery. Armed with the knowledge a small place COULD be a great space for baby, we dove in…

Turning a walk-in closet into a semi-nurseryStep 1: Clear space
We went and got one of those enormous Closet System Thingers from Ikea, and managed to drain the walk-in closet of all clothing, camping supplies, dog crates, and other stuff. Luckily, our bedroom is large enough to accommodate a large Closet System Thinger along one wall. We also ripped out the closet rods and most of the shelves from the closet to open up the vertical space.

Step 2: Bring in light
Since we live in a condo, we can’t just go cutting holes in external walls. The solution? Install a window that faces our enormous stairwell, which gets tons of westerly light. My mom’s partner, Tere, is a contractor and she even had a reclaimed craftsman-style window in her collection of construction cast-offs. She gifted us the window and a couple days of her manual labor time and VOILA! The closet has natural lighting! Granted, it’s a window that faces a stairwell so it’s not direct light, but it makes a big difference.

PaintingStep 3: Paint
This makes me sort of sad, because I love old wood. The closet was lined with 100-year old raw fir, and my original plan was to keep the wood raw because ZOMG NEVER PAINT OVER WOOD! I envisioned a kitschy lodge-style room with feltidermy decor.

But after 100 years of lining a closet, the wood was weathered and ugly, and several smart people suggested that really? If you’re trying to make a small space feel less dark and claustrophobic, decrepit raw wood paneling isn’t really the way to do it. Finally, at the recommendation of an interior decorator friend from LA, we decided to do it, painting with Natura no-voc paint.

This weekend's progressStep 4: Organizing Part 1
Within a month of finding out we were pregnant, we started receiving baby stuff that we had NOWHERE to put. Dre’s sister runs the family toy store and immediately started sending amazing goodies, and our friends with the three year old brought over boxes of hand-me-downs.

I had a borderline anxiety attack over WHERE TO PUT ALL THIS STUFF. I quickly realized that since we’re co-sleeping for a while, initially the baby’s nursery is more about the baby’s stuff having a space than the baby himself.

Once the space was cleared out, we got to organizing all the stuff, sorting clothes and toys by age and sticking it all in those lovely bins that seem to have taken over interior design these days. We still have a lot of storage space figuring to do, but we’re getting there!

Step 5: Furnishing & decorating Part 1
This weekend's progressSince we’re co-sleeping and using an Amby bed for the first while, we don’t need a crib but I’ve been surprised by how much I feel like I really SHOULD have one (I think some of this is drooling over cute baby bedding). But for now we’re keeping furniture stripped down to a changing/dressing table and mostly storage.

We’re not going super theme-y with the space, but we are going for the general color scheme of red and black, in keeping with newborn vision.

This weekend's progressReally, we’re just getting started with thinking about decor. I sort of want this mobile (come on: if your babydaddy was a yoga teacher, wouldn’t you?) and this poster to go near the changing table … but for now we’ve just got this little scroll.

I’ll have Part 2 of this series once we’re done decorating the tiny room … hopefully within a few weeks.

And now, the million dollar question: how long do we think this cockamamie scheme will work? How long can you keep baby in the corner closet? We’re hoping it lasts until our son is pre-school aged, envisioning that eventually the changing table will be replaced by a crib, and then a little club-house bunk bed. Keep in mind my perspective here: until I was 14, my bedroom was a 5’5″ x 8′ room the same dimensions as the bathroom immediately below it. Then I moved into a refurbished school bus with a bed so short that I had to sleep diagonal if I wanted to stretch out. I grew up cozy, and loved it.

As a pressure release valve, we’ve also go the luxury of having my parents who live in the country 40 minutes away, so weekends and summers can be spent with lots of run-around time at grandma and grandpa’s houses. Dre’s mom spends the summer at her rustic lake cabin in Montana, and we’re already scheming, “How early is too early for our son to spend his summers with Nana?”

Ultimately how long this little room will work depends on our son’s needs and personality … but I’ve already got schemes for how we can convert our one bedroom into two.

Always with the schemes!


Comments on How we’re turning a walk-in closet into a nursery

  1. the baby's closet looks like a cute cosy space! i've been thinking about having families in small spaces recently. we live in a two bed flat in london. we do have a tiny yard & even more miraculously some green space out front. but now winter is settling in, our daughter is 16 months old, & i can see that there is a limit to how long we're going to be able to make this space work. particularly when one of us wants to get away from the other &/or the baby, there just isn't the space for it, & it ups our general frustration/stress levels – at times. when we think of adding another baby in – well, we are pretty sure we're going to have to up our square feet to people ratio quite considerably to cope. but more & more i think that our ability to live in this small space with a rampaging infant is more about the sort of people we are, the way we function with each other, with our belongings, rather than the space itself. it's the people, not the place, i suppose.

    • Yeah, I remember when Andreas and I first downsized, we had to re-learn/remind ourselves that when you live in a small space, your neighborhood becomes an extension of your home … getting away from each other often involved taking a laptop to the local tea shop or going for a long walk. I'm anticipating doing a lot of both after baby comes. 🙂

  2. I think it's cute and great! Our (now 2 year old) baby slept in a pack & play in our bedroom until it was moved into the other kids' bedroom. Now he has a toddler bed although he always climbs into bed with his big sister. We have 3 kids (2 boys, 1 girl) in 1 bedroom and it's fine. We've been creative with storage and having them in one room means less rent and less room for things they REALLY don't need, like endless toys they don't ever play with. Not that I need to tell YOU this, but don't be afraid to re-consider our culture's standards regarding what your kid *needs*. Most people I know think we're crazy to have all 3 kids in one room! My daughter (the oldest, now 10) had a room to herself and she never spent any time there & was always "sleeping over" with the boys, so she moved back in with them. She'll likely be back in her own room sometime this school year as she's reaching a turning point in her adolescence. I never thought our kids could be happy this long in 1 room but they have been!

  3. My only suggestion…DEMAND NO TOYS…or maybe we could start a sort of membership thing where you can have a membership and rent toys stick it back in a mailer and so on you could do it in conjunction w/ a tatoo parlor and run them thru a serilizing process

    • HA! Mike, have you seen the note on our registry? (I'm assuming you and Suz got your invite in the mail last week?) It reads:

      !!!PLEASE NO TOYS!!!
      You'll notice a lack of toys on this registry. Since Dre's sister runs the family toy store … we absolutely do NOT need any toys! 🙂

  4. I love it!! It looks so cozy in there! My daughter is our room mate right now, just like her brother was when he was a baby. It just seems natural to me to keep a baby close by. It's comforting to be able to look over and see her sleeping soundly in her bed (which is a pack 'n play at this point.) And, although we're moving to a bigger place next week where she'll have her own room, I plan on her staying with us until she shows ques of needing her own space (which is exactly what her brother did.)

  5. What about the noise? One reason I want to move to a detached home before kids is because I couldn’t bear to wake my neighbors up with a wailing baby at 2 in the morning. Of course, if your building is 100 years old it’s probably sturdier more soundproof than our apartment.

    • Our walls are pretty thin actually, which is part of why we're not having a homebirth. 🙂 That said, we live in a dense urban area (under a flight path, near 2 bus stops, not far from fire and police stations, around the corner from a bunch of bars, etc) so noise is a fact of life.

      Luckily, our bedroom is under our neighbor's attic, so hopefully the crying won't be toooo bad for them.

          • Can you blog more about your birthing plans? I'm fascinated by natural childbirth, homebirth, waterbabies etc. but HOLY WOW am I scared of the pain! How do you deal? Are you scared? Do you ever feel like you won't be able to do it? Give us wimps a pep talk!

  6. This sounds like a great idea! We haven't even thought about a room for Jasper yet…he's sleeping with us in the bed (it's king sized, so plenty of room!), and we'll probably do that until around 18 months or so.

  7. I love this! My daughter is going to be 7 months old on Sunday and honestly the ONLY time she is ever in her room is if she is sleeping. All of her stuff is in the family room where we spend all of our time anyway. Are you concerned at all about "privacy" when your little one gets older? I walked in on a private moment between my parents when I was younger and I'm still a little weirded out by the memory.

    • Ah, but that's why the door will lock from the OUTSIDE!

      (…kidding, kidding!)

      This is likely one of the issues that will factor into the getting the then-not-a-baby his own room, via the more extensive remodel I mention at the end of the post.

  8. thank you! i'm showing this to my husband when he gets home. maybe now he'll be able to see that living in that small one bedroom + a den apartment can and WILL work even though we're living in a 4bedroom house currently. this gives me hope that the 6X9 (if that) can work as the boys (16mo old and still being incubated) room…at least for a little while.

  9. my step-grandmother put her first baby in the bottom dresser drawer and raised 3 boys and 2 girls in a SMALL 3 bedroom 1 bath farmhouse.

    i think your scheme will work out just fine.

  10. I remember stories of my great auntie Della 'living in the hallway'. There were so many kids that after 3 in each room the baby Della's bed was placed in a nook in the hall. She lived there until she got her own room after several sibs grew up and out. That was life back in the day 🙂

    I love your nursery! I'm glad you were able to use built in's to make the storage issue work for your family. We're remodeling as we speak so that our almost adolescent girl won't have to share a room with her 'icky' little brother much longer. Same square footage, just better organization of space. Thinking outside the usual box just makes sense, doesn't it?

  11. Oh the room looks great! I'm especially envious of your "cast off" window into the stairwell…how magical. My own wee lad had a full sized nursery that he never slept in, not once. We were accidental co-sleepers (maybe more like desperate for sleep-ers) and are unintentional offbeat parents. His room is still decorated for him, but we gave away the crib and moved in my sewing supplies. He is 17 months now and always wants to be with us. I don't see that changing anytime soon!

    ALSO, try to stand firm on your less stuff policy. Everyone will love the baby and want to show the love with stuff. It is insidious and seems to reproduce itself overnight. There is a garage-sale in my future…sigh…

    @heidi wright – my grandma had my oldest aunt sleep in a dresser drawer too! Imagine the heart attacks all the "parenting experts" would have today!!

  12. Just chiming in here to say that we live in a tiny one-bedroom with our daughter and another baby coming in April. Because of the market, we're planning to stay put for awhile. We put our bed out into the living room, and are in the process of turning the actual bedroom into a nursery for our daughter, and eventually the new baby (we co-sleep, too but with a co-sleeper, not a family bed). I just keep thinking about my ancestors who probably lived in crowded tenements in New York City with a whole extended family in one apartment. If they can do it, we can do it!

    • Nancy – although it's not the same as the NYC tenements, I think about that all the time. With my first on the way we are not leaving our apartment and will have to do some creative re-arranging to make it work. I am constantly reminded that IN THE VERY SAME APARTMENT that I am currently in (2BR), in the 1970s it housed my then-infant boyfriend, his parents, as well as a set of grandparents! If 4 adults and a baby can do it, I should be fine 🙂

  13. We're doing something similar.. I'm a little over 8 weeks myself, and we're planning on staying in our little one-bedroom townhouse that we're renting. Since the bedroom is about the size of the entire downstairs, we'll be getting some folding screens to put up and probably sleeping with the baby too.

    I'm really interested in the Amby bed. Could you tell me where you got yours and where I could get one. the website you linked to said that they weren't shipping any and I couldn't get onto the page to buy them..

    Also, thank you so much for all the linking that you do the! I'm addicted to that website and love knowing that the money that I'd otherwise be giving to a company is going to a real person who takes time and care in what they make. I'm especially interested in the slings they have there, it would be an awesome topic for a post (slings vs. backpacks vs. strollers).

  14. I'm an Offbeat Bride reader/Offbeat Mama lurker who is moving to Seattle after the big day. All these months of reading you I've been thinking, "She so has to live in Capitol Hill" and I was happy to read it today, and also about all the reasons you are making the smaller space work. We're opting to stay in his little noisy First Hill apartment with the Virginia Mason ER sirens raging all night because it's close to the places we want/need to be. I'm anxious to read your impending baby posts. Thanks for doing what you do.

  15. Benjamin Moore paint is awesome. My dad has painted for years and this is the only paint he will buy anymore. I am super sensitive to smells and Benjamin Moore paint was easy on my nose. As far as I know all their regular indoor paint has low VOCs. When we were fixing up our house, we mostly used contractor's grade Super Spec from Benjamin Moore and the paint smell was gone after 1 day. In general primer, ceiling paint, high gloss trim paint, and colors with more pigment (darker colors) emit the most VOCs. We ended up doing one room in a darker color with paint from Lowe's and the room smelled like paint for weeks.

    Also, anyone needing to refinish their hardwood floors in an eco-friendly, low VOC way, I would highly recommend using a contractor who uses the Bona system It's a dust-free system – the sander used has a vacuum hose that sucks the wood dust into a container in the contractor's truck. They seal the floor with a oil sealant and the final coatings are water-based (but still very hardy for daily use). Best of all, it smells great – sort of a medicinal/mint smell that faded in about 3-4 days.

  16. when you are pregnant with your first you feel like you need all this "stuff" but once you have the baby you realize none of that "stuff" really matters. I had a crib for my first that was never used (except as storage) I didn't even bother with my second. Both of my girls have their own rooms now although they are tiny (maybe 7' x 10' or so) They work just fine. I'm definately not opposed to room sharing I always shared with my sisters even when we did have our own rooms we would end up sleeping in the same room. My daughters are 7 yrs apart so it would have been hard to ask my 8 yr old to share a room with her 1 yr old sister. My older one has a loft bed so there is still a play area underneath and my little ones room only houses her clothes and toys at the moment but is also used as a guest bedroom. We will probably end up getting her a loft bed also when she is big enough. Gotta love IKEA and there space saving furniture!

  17. This post is great to see. You don't need a huge place to be able to have children. When my little munchkin was born, her room was actually a small office space connected to a closet in a downstairs apartment. And, it was the perfect size! For the first few months, she slept in our bed with us, so we pretty much just used her room for storage. Once she started sleeping in her own crib, my little one got used to the noise of the people upstairs. And… when she played, it was in the living room or other places. So a big room for a little person is not necessary.

  18. Remember, you don't need space for the child, it's the space for all their toys and clothes…. mostly the toys. For the clothes, I've needed more space because I've been trying to get the boys as independant as possible. For toys, it will never stay clean. I think lasting until preschool wout work fine. For the toys, I would integrate some baskets of stuff into other areas, such as the living room, which it were the kid will be playing alot anyway. And if you can get your family on board with not buying so much stuff, congrats!!! My family seems to have no concept of "buy less". I clean the boys' room twice a year, once before the winter holidays and once during the summer when their on vacation.

  19. As for spending the summer with grandparents, I think the only issue is waiting until the child is old enough to understand that you are coming back. I started my boys with overnights at gramma or aunt's houses and now they are well behaved enough to spend 8 wks gone from us during the summer visiting 2 sets of grandparents (through luck, they have 3 sets- all young enough to spend lots of time and money on them!). I think that it is great for them to be able to experience the rules of other homes and to listen to other adults. Plus, I read a bunch of books while they were gone!! it was amazing!

  20. Thank you for posting! I'm 18 weeks pregnant and my partner and I just moved into a townhouse with a HUGE walk-in closet off the bedroom and my first thought upon seeing it was, "wow. this would make a great nursery!" I excitedly told several people including my partner's father and the response was overwhelmingly… negative, so I've been keeping the idea quiet lately. But seriously, back when I was a single mom with my first child (now almost 13!) I lived in an efficiency studio downtown that didn't even have a real kitchen and we did fine. Some people just can't look beyond the original use of the space I guess and think it's wrong to put a baby in a closet, but it's not like we were planning on locking him/her in there with the winter coats and the shoes! There's quite a bit of light and space, enough for a crib AND a changing table. I'm glad to see someone else making use of an unconventional space for the same purpose.

  21. My 3yo daughter has a room with her very own two story pink castle that daddy built her and she STILL sleeps with us. We sneak away or have parent date night when we need to, but we love having our cuddlebug with us.
    My experience has been that you need the playpen/crib for day naps and unruly or colicy moments when no good can be done to stop the screaming. Other than that, baby goes where Mom and Dad go.

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