Boutiquing: Tiny Giraffe...

In my never ending quest to keep you (and I) far away from the nearest baby emporium, I present to you these incredible wooden alphabet and number blocks. This hand-sanded, illustrated set of 12 wooden blocks makes for a terrific gift. Although I can see it as a conversation piece for a baby shower (everyone will fawn over these!), I can assure you that even three and four year olds will enjoy finding ways to use these for play.

Where are they from, you ask? Etsy. That's right. I found them a little boutique called tiny giraffe™. They were designed in collaboration with fellow etsy vendor Drawn to Letters. The resulting product is a gorgeous set of educational cubes featuring bright watercolor drawings by Drawn to Letters' Joanne Gilbert. Letters A-Z are paired with corresponding drawings, perfect for teaching baby letters and sounds. Numbers 0-9 are paired with corresponding vivid 'candy' dots, making them a great tool for learning to count and recognize both colors and numbers.

The only potential problem I see with these is their beauty. A mom like me may be tempted to keep them artfully arranged on a shelf or bookcase rather then pulling them down for play. But don't fall victim to that. These smooth cubes have been lovingly sanded by hand and are perfectly safe for use. The wood is untreated and chemical-free, and the blocks are finished with non-toxic, water-based sealant for durability. So... let the toys be toys!

See the rest of the boutique's beautiful creations here.

All artwork ©Joanne Gilbert 2009-2012 All photos and text ©tiny giraffe, LLC 2009-2012. tiny giraffe™ All Rights Reserved

The Art of Play: Open-Ended Toys...

A few years ago we noticed that Target (yes, Tar-zhay) carries a line of toys that aren't your run of the mill crayon-colored plastic toys found in the other aisles. Instead, these seemed to offer discovery and an opportunity to (dare I say it) actually learn something. As important, they looked cool, were well made and had somewhat of an eco-friendly vibe to them. The brand? B. Toys.

I have to say, I love this brand. We have slowly added more of their items to our toy cabinet. My little one is really into solving problems and building structures. She loves items like their A-Maze Loopty Loo and the Stackadoos.

While they do use plastic, there is an earth-loving angle to the packaging. You should take a look at the company's story and of course... their toys. Once you see how much your child's imagination lights up, you won't regret it.

Tot Fashion: Young Versace...

Just in time for the holidays Vesace has just opened their first Young Versace boutique in Milan. Now the smallest of us can showcase the Medusa-head medallion that is the company's logo. As if in homage to the late Gianni's fascination with classical architecture, the design of this first-of-its-kind children's atelier is a wonder of beautiful interior design.

Located on the ground floor of the Versace Milan headquarters, the boutique borrows from the building's already incredible structural framework. Peering through the arched exterior windows, shoppers are given a taste of the sugary sweet wonderland that awaits within. Once inside, customers are enveloped within a decadent lavender-hued environment that doesn't disappoint. Look down and they will notice lavender carpets bordered in a grand ivory Greek key motif. The walls feature beautiful built-in displays that tease with limited samples of the available goods. These beautifully illuminated alcoves are outfitted with contrasting mill work in brilliant glossy white trim and topped with the iconic brand logo above.

Everything about the space is decadent and wondrous, as if the entire goal is to lull you into a hypnotic state of shopping bliss. I for one can't wait for one to open in the States. I absolutely love the jewel box effect of beautifully designed retail interiors such as this

Fingers crossed that those Milanos (and online shoppers across the globe) will support the launch and encourage Donatella to bring her newest little line to the US. Donna... Dallas would love you and Young Versace. I promise you.

Tot Decor: Designing the Perfect Nursery...

Over the years I’ve tailored my design business to focus on the one room which often poses the greatest design challenges to families: the nursery. Unlike any other space in the home, this particular area often leaves otherwise opinionated mothers and fathers directionless. The root cause, I believe, is that they are designing for an infant. 

While it is true that this space will be the child’s bedroom, it’s important for new parents to realize that the nursery is the workspace of the caretaker. That darling little bundle won’t even be exploring the room soon, so it’s important to design with the mother or chief caretaker’s comfort and needs in mind. 

The floorplan
Let’s start with the floorplan. Ideally, the crib is on the far wall, the one you see as you walk into the room. As a design element, I love using the crib and a stunning wallpaper to make that room the focal point. Any art or shelving hung over crib must be very securely attached to wall. Be sure it is placed high enough to avoid curious fingers or prying hands. Safety first. Design second. 

Place seating by the window to allow natural light while reading and cuddling. I also love adding a bookcase to either a corner or a wall large enough to accommodate large furniture. Placing this near the seating area makes logical sense if the room allows for it. 

Ground the room with a large area rug. Not only is this perfect for cushioning the knees of young crawlers, its texture also offers something of sensory interest for growing minds. Remember, you and your little one will spend considerable time on the floor during tummy time and impromptu play sessions, so invest in a quality rug that feels good to the touch. 

The chaise longue
Second only in importance to the all-important crib is the chaise. That’s right, the chaise. I don’t ever suggest rockers or swivel chairs to families with young children. In addition to posing risks to curious little fingers, their movement often irritates sensitive tummies. As important? For late nights, early mornings and long afternoons nothing beats a tufted chaise for a cuddle session or a much needed nap for mum and baby. 

I logged many an hour in my daughter’s nursery. I was so terrifically grateful that I opted for a comfortable chaise that allowed me to stretch out. It became my secondary bed and the place where many special bonding moments occurred. Comfort, style and versatility are key, and a quality chaise offers endless uses. Add a throw blanket and toss pillows and you’ve created a little slice of heaven. 

Now, colour. There’s a strong tendency to be bold with colour in nurseries. I strongly disagree with this approach. While it is true that colour plays a vital role in learning and development, this is not a space for visual stimulation. What occurs in a nursery? Sleep. Hopefully lots of it. This room should be designed to soothe, comfort and delight. Playtime occurs everywhere and toys, daylight and books are always brightly coloured. Life itself offers all the visual stimulation a child needs. 

Knowing this, you must realize that the walls and fabrics of the nursery do not need to look like a box of Crayola crayons. Instead, opt for soothing, subdued colours that make you happy. This is not a space you’ll be able to paint again soon, so choose your colours wisely. Think soft whispers rather than loud shouts. Colour, after all, has the power to influence mood greatly. And your ultimate goal is to encourage sleep, tender moments and happiness for all who spend time in the room. 

Next: storage. Don’t limit yourself to nursery furnishings when outfitting a room. I tend to lean towards classic chests of drawers in lieu of changing tables. A design secret? There’s no difference in the height of a standard dresser versus a changing table. You can then top it with a changing cushion resting on a non-skid pad. No one will be the wiser and you’ll never be boxed in by single-purpose furnishings. It’s key to realize that your child won’t be in nappies forever. Investing in a quality dresser or commode offers long-term flexibility and a myriad of uses as your child grows. For glamour, I’m particularly fond of mirrored chests. When your little bundle begins to crawl she’ll love peeking at herself in a mirrored surface, looking down at her height. 

Bookcases and armoires
Bookcases or armoires are another must. An armoire can quietly house a television and double as storage for toys and keepsakes. I’m also fond of bookcases as they offer ideal spaces to display family photos and favorite toys or books. Remember here to design for yourself. So long as you keep breakables out of reach you can decorate shelves as you wish; after all, it’s the adults in the space who will appreciate them. Add meaningful photographs and mementos that bring joy to your life. 

Lighting – chandeliers
Lighting. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. My suggestion? Rock it out with a gorgeous chandelier overhead. Why? Because you can. There’s no better space for such a fanciful object than hung from above. The rainbows of colour that are cast from sunlight hitting the crystals will delight babies, toddlers and grown-ups alike. My now three year-old daughter still asks me to ‘turn the rainbows on’ anytime we are in her room. Who needs a mobile over a crib when you can have Swarovski crystals instead? 

Lighting – task lights
Next, task lighting. Remember the all-important chaise? Rest a round table beside it and place a lamp on top. Be sure to install a low-wattage bulb with just enough light for comfortable reading and quiet moments. Another favourite location for lighting is above the changing station. I love topping the chest of drawers with a mirror and flanking it with a pair of sconces. Again, low-wattage bulbs are key. No point waking yourself up any more than you need to for those late night changes. 

By following these suggestions you’ll create a functional and stylish nursery for the entire family to enjoy. This isn’t about ignoring the child’s needs. It’s about honouring the comfort and demands of the caretaker. You can indeed balance chic and function. 

Interestingly, by designing what seems like a caretaker-centric space you’ll be creating a safer, better place for a young child. Delicate objects are up high for curious eyes to admire. Soft bedding and comfortable places to rest are available to all. Plush surfaces and light reflecting mirrors offer sensory stimulation of the best kind. Most importantly, you’ll have created an inviting place for all who enter. Rather than an oddly decorated space, you’ll design a room that you and your family will love and enjoy for many years to come.

{{this post is featured on much love to them for seeking out my design tips and suggestions!}}