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Kid’s Room Contest: Nursery design and safety go hand-in-hand

The safety of young children should be accounted for when starting any home decorating project. But nowhere do design and safety go hand in hand more than in the nursery, says Bethesda-based interior designer Carol Freedman.

“You want to make sure there are no flimsy rugs, no tripping hazards, no choking hazards,” Freedman says. “You want to make sure things you select are secure and also super durable.”

But first you need to do your homework.

First step: Research

Because federal and state safety regulations change frequently — some of the biggest revisions occurred in 2008 with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act — it can be daunting for parents to try to keep up. But Julie Vallese, spokeswoman for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, said there are plenty of online resources for parents-to-be. Her organization, which certifies child products based on state, federal and manufacturers’ guidelines, has up-to-date safety information for parents. Other good resources include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Women’s Health Web site,, which has tips for home safety and health, as well as the Consumer Product Safety Commission site,, for product recall information and guides.

“I like to say a new parent is born every day,” Vallese said. “When you find out you’re going to have a baby, that is when you focus in on research. I know that you can have a very appealing and fun and fresh new nursery and have it still be safe, by keeping it simple and knowing where the greatest risks are.”

Where to focus

Cribs: A major safety regulation change in recent years has been a ban on drop-side cribs, Vallese said. These kinds of cribs have been outlawed because the drop sides can malfunction. New parents should be wary of hand-me-down cribs, she said, and opt for a new one if possible. Older cribs can be less structurally sound and are less likely to conform to the most up-to-date safety standards.

Cribs should have a snug-fitting mattress and bedding and should never be placed near a window. Bumper pads, if used, should be removed when the baby is old enough to stand up on his own, so he cannot use them to climb out. (Opinions vary widely on the safety of these pads regardless of the infant’s size; they’re even banned from Maryland stores.) Pillows, blankets and toys should be kept out of the crib in order to prevent suffocation.

Other large furniture: Vallese and Freedman suggested anchoring pieces to the wall to prevent tipping or a child getting caught behind them.

“In many houses I’ve worked on that focus on childproofing, it’s becoming vogue to attach things to the wall,” Freedman said. “ If you have a climber, it won’t fall. Sometimes people use inexpensive and less-than-sturdy pieces, and it’s important to keep them secure.”

And when it comes to any kind of furniture, Vallese stressed the importance of following manufacturer’s instructions.

“When you’re putting together any sleep environment, make sure all the furniture parts are in place and tight. Nothing broken should be addressed with anything other than the manufacturer-included parts. There should be no jury-rigging or homemade solutions. It’s essential to follow manufacturer’s recommendations for size, weight and usability.”

Cords: No window treatments should have cords, which pose a strangulation risk, and items that must be plugged in — baby monitors or lamps — should have their cords securely hidden and out of grasp. Unused electrical sockets can also pose an electrocution risk and should be covered.

Wallpaper and paint: Vapors from paint or glue can be toxic if inhaled, so any painting should be finished eight weeks before the baby is brought home, Freedman said.

Crib safety tips from the JPMA

●Follow the manufacturer’s weight and size restrictions for bassinets and cradles.

●Make sure there are no missing, loose, broken or improperly installed screws, brackets or other hardware on the crib or the mattress support.

●The crib mattress should fit snugly with no more than two fingers’ width between the edge of the mattress and the crib side. Otherwise, the baby can get trapped.

●Use a crib sheet that fits properly, wrapping around the mattress corners and staying securely in place.

●Decorative bows and ribbons should be trimmed short and stitched securely to prevent strangulation.

Design tips from Carol Freedman

One of the keys to decorating a nursery or child’s bedroom, says designer Carol Freedman, is to use colors, furniture and accessories that will adapt and grow with the child.

Because an infant can’t really express his or her design preferences, nurseries usually follow the parents’ tastes. But “you want something that is readily changeable,” Freedman says, “so as they grow you can modify it without having to go through whole design overhaul.”

Some of Freedman’s favorite items? Flor modular carpet tiles, which come in dozens of patterns and colors, and are easy to clean and replace. She also likes wall decals, such as polka dots or clouds, which can be taken down or replaced as the child grows: “They’re a big, huge bang for your buck.”

Chalk paint and magnetic paint are also perfect for child’s spaces, she said, and easily painted over if need be.

For furniture, Freedman says she loves colorful storage pieces, such as a bench that holds toys and other items, and convertible cribs that infants can use well into their toddler years.

8 Submit your Kid’s Room Contest photos. We’re accepting contest submissions until Sept. 16. Visit, where you can read the rules, submit photos, take a look at submissions so far and get decorating advice.

See more design items for nurseries on Carol Freedman’s Pinterest.

Find Washington Post Home on Pinterest here.

Margaret Ely is a digital editor for Lifestyle. Previously, she was an intern for the Post’s Metro section.



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