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. Sounds like a great project, and I’m sorry to leave a critical comment…I haven’t read all of the posts here, and perhaps someone mentions this, but a bedroom needs two forms of egress–for emergency escape. I doubt the window into the stairwell will count; it’s up to the local building department. Most building codes require one form of egress to lead directly outdoors. If there’s a fire preventing use of the room’s door, anyone inside will be trapped without an outdoor egress.

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