Welcome a Baby to Your Crib

Parents find clever ways to squeeze a new person into a small apartment

July 8, 2012

Sharmili Edwards and her husband, David, turned the den in their Courthouse one-bedroom into a nursery for their daughter, Minakhi, now 8 months old.

Sharmili Edwards knows when to fold ’em. Which is important when inhabiting a small, rented space with a husband, 8-month-old daughter and lots of baby gear.

“We have as much stuff as possible that can fold up,” says Edwards, 31, who rents a one-bedroom condo in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood. “The high chair, swing, stroller — it all gets folded and stored when we don’t need it. You have to do anything you can to save space. Things that do double-duty are key.”

The birth of a baby is, of course, a joyous occasion. But when you’re renting an apartment where the square footage can’t grow along with your family, that new arrival — and all the equipment needed to raise him or her — can make a small space seem even smaller. Luckily, there are steps renters can take to help keep mom, dad and baby from feeling fussy.

First, know what baby gear you absolutely need, and when you need it.

“We suggest that customers think of it in stages” of the baby’s life, says David Goldberg, co-owner of Fairfax boutique Baby Blossom (703-865-4688). “Don’t just buy something because you think you need it.”

The main item a newborn requires: a safe place to sleep. During the first few months, that can be a bassinet, which is compact in size and often available on wheels for portability. Or you could use a crib from the very beginning; they come in many shapes and sizes these days.

“I like to keep cribs nice and small, and modern cribs are really good for that because they’re streamlined,” says Dana Evans, owner of Bethesda boutique Daisy Baby & Kids (301-654-7477). “My favorite crib and the one I have myself for my daughter in my one-bedroom condo is the Stokke Sleepi.” The oval-shaped crib (Stokke.com/en-us) can start out small — about 32 inches wide and 26 inches deep — and grow along with your child (or your home), even converting into a bed down the line.

Look at furniture that you already own and see what can be used in a new way. Placing a changing pad on top turns a dresser into a changing table, for example.

“We just made do with what we had,” says Mary Kathryn Vernon, 29, who rents a two-bedroom apartment in Clarendon with her husband and 14-month-old daughter. “We converted a kitchen cart into a little armoire for the baby. Our media cabinet where we once kept all of our DVDs is now filled with toys. And the changing table is our bed, which has turned out to be so easy.”

As the baby grows and you need such things as a bouncy seat and high chair, look for the most compact versions available. “One of our favorite things is a clip-on high chair that clips to the table or breakfast bar,” Goldberg says. “It’s inexpensive, super compact and doesn’t take up precious space.”

Find places where you can tuck things away. “I love a great storage ottoman,” Evans says. “And under the crib is great storage space; stack some plastic bins as high as the mattress with a really great skirt to cover it.”

In urban areas such as D.C. where apartments run small, many parents have to share tight quarters with their bundle of joy. If you’re in a one-bedroom and sharing sleeping space with baby, you can create a vibe that’s both kid- and parent-friendly. “A lot of baby linens these days coordinate nicely with adult linens,” Evans says. “So you don’t have to have a Winnie the Pooh nursery thing going on in your beautiful bedroom.”

Edwards’ one-bedroom has a den where baby Minakhi sleeps. While that provides everyone with their own space, it still comes with challenges, since the den’s doors have glass panes. As renters, Edwards and her husband aren’t sure how best to install curtains on the doors.

“So we have to be careful in the evenings and play with the placement of the living room light to make sure we’re not throwing a ton of light into the den,” she says.

Flexibility proves vital when renting an apartment with a small child in the house. “When a baby comes along, you have to make a lot of adjustments and move furniture around,” Vernon says. “But in a lot of ways, it’s really nice, because your space is compact and easier to clean. And babies don’t care where they live, as long as they’re in a safe space.”

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