An eco-friendly room for baby

Correction: An earlier version of a caption with this article misspelled the name of a company that designs and sells cribs. The company is Oeuf and its Web site is www.oeufnyc.com. This version has been corrected.

August 31, 2011

Preparing for a baby’s arrival can be exciting and overwhelming all at once, especially when it comes to designing the nursery.

“New parents want a beautiful, safe and healthy space, but don’t always know where to begin,” said Caroline McCandlish, 29, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified residential designer based in Reston.

Decorating the baby’s room with organic and sustainable materials and products is a growing trend. New parents, including those who haven’t always been keen on green living, want the healthiest options for their new baby.

But for consumers new to the eco-friendly marketplace, going organic can be a daunting task. “There’s a lot out there,” she said. “You just have to know what to look for.”

As a start, she recommends seeking out low-emission paints, LED light bulbs, organic cotton changing pads and solid wood furniture.


Low:A simple yet cozy piece, this Harper Crib was made from solid birch and finished with a non-toxic, water-based stain. Its rounded corners are a nice break from the traditional boxy look, and prevent children and parents from getting poked at bedtime. Better Basics Harper Crib in natural ($500). (Giggle)

We spoke to McCandlish by phone and got the lowdown on creating a sustainable space for baby. Here is an edited excerpt.

What sparked your interest in eco-friendly nurseries?

I want to start a family soon, so I began thinking about how I’d design my nursery. As a LEED-certified designer, I’m educated in how chemicals in building products can negatively affect indoor air quality. And this impact is even greater on an infant or child. Designing a healthy nursery and making sustainable purchases is not only healthy for our children but ensures the future health of our children’s planet.

What are the health benefits to buying sustainable nursery products?

Buying eco-friendly products minimizes exposure to volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. These are toxic chemicals often introduced through new furniture. Particleboard is one of the primary sources of formaldehyde (a highly toxic compound) in the home.

Also, because infants are in the primary development stages, they are considerably more vulnerable to the adverse health affects of VOCs than older children and adults.

What should you look for on labels of green products?

Labels like “eco-friendly” and “green” are vague. Look for “low-VOC” or “zero-VOC” labels in furniture and finishes. One hundred percent solid wood furniture and all-natural finishes will have the lowest emissions. Engineered wood, such as particleboard and plywood that is also labeled low- or zero-VOC, is the next best thing. Products labeled “Greenguard Certified” have met strict chemical emissions standards, and wood that is FSC [Forest Stewardship Council]-certified has been responsibly harvested. Products labeled “Made in the U.S.A.” are guaranteed to have no lead paint to meet our country’s product safety standards.

With bedding and floor coverings, look for tags that denote all-natural fibers like cotton, wool, bamboo and linen. Organic fibers are even better because they’ve never been treated with harsh pesticides or herbicides.

Does it cost more to use organic and sustainable materials in a nursery?

Nurseries can be inexpensive if you prioritize. Try focusing your green investments on the more frequently used items, like the crib and changing pads, rather than toys and clothes they’ll soon grow out of. In fact, for some, the crib might be the only item they splurge on. I think organic products have become significantly less expensive in recent years because they’ve become so widely available.

What is the least expensive way to make a nursery more sustainable?

Put a gallon of zero-VOC paint on the walls and you’ll instantly transform the room. Also, used furniture over two years old has emitted the majority of any harmful chemicals and can be spruced up with a new water-based finish or zero-VOC paint. And of course, the easiest and no-cost way to ensure the best indoor air quality is to open the windows often to let in fresh air.

What is the most important nursery item to invest in?

The crib, hands down, because babies spend so much time in them. There can’t be any chemicals or toxic paint that the child might chew on, pick at or ingest. Invest in a solid wood crib with a non-toxic finish that can convert into a toddler bed or a headboard. This way, your money goes a long way. For a list of new crib safety regulations, c heck out the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Web site: www.cpsc.gov.

How do we know if eco-friendly nursery design is more than just a trend?

Companies have been making sustainable furniture for years, but I think the recent push to go green largely stems from health concerns. People are aware of — and afraid of — the consequences of VOCs, especially when it comes to their children.

I think it’s a positive thing. We’re asking the right questions now: Where was this product made? Is it healthy? What is the finish? What chemicals, exactly, are involved? We’re becoming smarter consumers

More: Chat with designer Caroline McCandlish

Graphic: A shopping list for your eco-friendly nursery

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