Choosing nursery themes is just so exciting. Along with picking out all the adorably, almost unbelievably tiny clothes for your little one, deciding on the design of their room is undoubtedly one of the best parts of preparing to have a baby right?
What we love about decorating children's rooms is you can get more playful and more creative than you would in any other room of your home. Where else would it be acceptable to paint a jungle canopy on the ceiling or turn a wall into a sea scheme complete with mermaids and octopuses?
But where do you start with choosing a theme? The options seem endless and you want to ensure your nursery ideas have longevity too as whatever theme you go with will need to last at least a couple of years. We asked some of our favorite designers, all with varying styles, for their advice on choosing the best nursery theme that both you and your baby will love.
1. Go for a twist on a classic nursery theme
As you'll notice with all our favorite nursery themes, they are all on the more subtle side. Now from purely an aesthetic approach, subtle themes that are just nod to say the sea, or a castle, or in this case, a jungle, always look chicer and more adult-approved. But choosing not to go really hard on a theme also gives a nursery longevity. As your baby grows you can switch how the room feels, choosing to enhance the theme or tone it down.
This playful, but equally neutral nursery is the perfect example. 'I really wanted to bring the outdoors in given we live in the concrete jungle that is New York City.' explains Sterling McDavid (opens in new tab). 'We used wallpaper from Rebel Walls. The art piece pictured is by Shantell Martin who is a close friend of mine - I love the juxtaposition of modern art with the whimsical jungle mural. The sheep is from Interlude Home and the light fixture is Arteriors. The overall idea was to create an uplifting, happy space.'
'I think the best way to choose a nursery theme is to put yourself in a child's shoes and imagine what would inspire and excite you. I often wonder why we don't have more fun with themes in adult spaces!'
2. Choose a subtle woodland theme
A whimsical woodland vibe is an ideal gender-neutral theme for a nursery. And you can lean into as much as you like, going all out with cute animal-inspired decor or just sticking with a lovely wallpaper and calming color palette. We love the soft pastels used in this space – those pale greens and light pinks are a great choice if you are after the best paint colors for a girl's bedroom, but want to avoid the all-pink everything look.
'The palette for this nursery consists of calming green and neutrals, inspired by the woodland wallpaper. A simple, plain cot bed and vintage wardrobe mix the old with the new. The rest of the tiny room is left for reading and play, with velvet floor cushions on a contemporary animal rug.' explains Ursula Wesselingh founder of Room to Bloom (opens in new tab).
'I prefer “color themes” for nurseries as these generally have more longevity, and sometimes introduce a light theme through accessories such as wall decor, prints, night lights, cushions, etc., which are easily swapped out when needs and preferences change. Occasionally I use themed wallpaper such as the woodland wallpaper as in this project and then just a few similarly themed accessories so as not to overdo it.'
3. Keep it cool with a monochrome theme
Sticking with the idea of color themes, a classic (and incredibly chic) black and white scheme gives a very cool Scandinavian style that you know isn't going to date. It's also a simple gender-neutral option that you can build on as your baby grows.
'Black and white nurseries are great for someone who doesn’t love the idea of neutrals like ivory and cream, but who still wants a gender-neutral space. Black and white also adds some contrast, and it’s super easy to layer in color along the way.' says Naomi Alon Coe founder of Little Crown Interiors (opens in new tab).
And you can still have fun with the space too, despite the color palette is so simple. Lack of color gives opportunity for more pattern, as can be seen with this fun dalmatian print rug, which clashes wonderfully with the naughts and crosses throw and bold geometric design of the pouf.
You do want to ensure a monochrome nursery doesn't feel too stark, so make sure to bring in plenty of different tactile materials and layer them up where you can.
4. Make your nursery theme removable
Wall stickers and decals have a bit of a bad rap, and while you probably wouldn't choose to decorate your own bedroom with them, a nursery is the perfect place. There are loads of fun (and surprisingly stylish) designs available, and it means you don't have to spend hours DIYing spots or stars or animals onto the walls of your baby's room.
'Elevate your nursery with stickers.' designer and founder of Gunter & Co (opens in new tab), Irene Gunter. 'We achieved this in our Wimbledon Village penthouse project with large, matt gold polka dot wall stickers set against an off-white background. The gold dots inject a pop of personality without dominating the space.'
Plus, it means you can easily change the theme of the room as you can just remove the stickers and start from scratch.
5. Be inspired by nature
Nature is a lovely theme for a nursery. The color palette is soft and the prints are gentle and soothing. Think palest greens, sunny yellows, and pale blues, patterns of tree canopy, or fields full of wildflowers. It's a genderless theme that you can adapt to suit any style.
An easy place to start with any theme is a mural or a feature wall of wallpaper. We love the subtle forest mural with the rippling water used in this boho nursery. It helps make the theme clear but doesn't dominate and would be easy to switch up as the room changes.
'This nursery was for a client who was born and raised in the South and wanted a nursery to reflect her roots.' explains Naomi Alon Coe, founder of Little Crown Interiors (opens in new tab). 'She wanted a soft blue and green color palette for a serene feel, and a daybed for an adult to sleep. The floor plan was a challenge because it was a small space, but we made it work!'
'We chose a stunning Southern-inspired wall mural and paired that with a mint green crib the client loved. Because the room was small, we didn’t want to overwhelm it with color, so we keep things soft and added in plenty of neutral elements as well. This room did have lots of natural light which certainly helped as well!'
6. Go with under the sea meets rustic beach house
Under the sea is a classic nursery theme, and it works really well if you like a modern rustic, beachy vibe. It's a theme that's often associated with baby boy nursery ideas, but you can adapt it to suit any gender, and soften the cool blue-dominated look with warmer hues like the cute rustic rug used here.
Bring in some natural textures like rattan storage boxes and wicker furniture to give even more of a beachy feel that will still work if the room were ever to change. Make the theme even clearer with cute sea-inspired prints and toys.
7. Keep the furniture classic and let the decor make the theme
Now we get that it's so easy to get carried away with a nursery theme. There are so many fabulous princess-esque wardrobes and treehouse-inspired sleep spaces, but when you are buying those big (usually expensive) pieces of nursery furniture consider how long they are going to last and how long they are going to be loved.
'We always advise clients to select a theme that the child can adapt to and grow with the child. Something that works well with the current decor and tastes that they will love in 5 years time as much as they do today!' says Laura Williams founder of The Modern Nursery (opens in new tab). 'And select good quality timeless, sustainable items. We love working with wooden toys and accessories in tonal pallets and classic designs that won't look dated in years to come.'
Opt for classic pieces that will last years and let the decor set the theme. This cute nursery with its desert theme feels so fun and playful, and yet the furniture is all very classic and timeless. And that wallpapered ceiling? Fabulous idea, as it keeps the room feeling neutral, and then you have that pop of pattern above eye level. Plus, it's what baby is going to be staring at most for the first few months.
8. Choose dinosaurs but make it chic
Dinos are such a popular nursery theme, but there's a way to do it that actually looks quite chic. Case in point; this once nursery has now become a boy's bedroom, and the theme will still work for years to come. The wallpaper is cute and childish (obviously it's covered in dinosaurs) but the slightly vintage vibe and muted colors keep it feel chic and versatile.
'This project in NW London was for a small tot who was about to be a big brother. The parents were keen on it not being twee (hence why they called us). As fans of vintage, the House of Hackney Dinosaur Paper was perfect. Super cool and with the pops of bright blue on the woodwork and curtains really fun.' says Lisa Mettis
Founder of Born & Bred Studio (opens in new tab).
9. Make playtime the theme
You may not know the gender of your baby, or what their likes and dislikes are going to be, but one thing you can pretty much guarantee is they will love playtime. So let that dictate your theme. Bring in fun pieces like rocking horses, tipis, playmats and larger toys that you know are going to plenty of use while your child grows. As you get more of the idea of what your kid loves you can lean more towards that, like this nursery which has a playful, travel, and adventure theme.
'The family owned a kid's online store and wanted to make their own children's rooms special. With the advantage of using some of their stock! The kids loved exploring and the parents wanted to reflect this in the room. Whilst potentially future proofing for the younger sibling to move into the room. This room is gender neutral and the emphasis is on the original features and the kid's belongings and personalties.' says Lisa.
10. Let a feature wall set the theme
Want to create an instant theme in a nursery? Wallpaper is the simplest way to make a theme really clear without having to invest in any larger pieces or overly commit to a theme before you know what your child's personal tastes are.
'The woodland nursery was a commission for Binky Felstead and her son Wolfie. Binky adores countryside and wildlife and wanting to recreate that environment in her son's nursery we chose a deep brown statement wallpaper to anchor the whole design.' explains Joanna Landais, founder of Eklektik Studios (opens in new tab).
'Wolfie's nursery was a mirror design of one of our previous installations for Binky's daughter, India, and her country-inspired bedroom finalized a year prior to Wolfie's arrival. In both designs, we incorporated natural fabrics and textures such as rattan, bamboo, and cane accessories.'
What is the most popular nursery theme?
The most popular nursery themes have reigned for many years and it's more about how they adapt with today's interior design trends. Jungle, forest, rainbows, outer space, under the sea, dinosaurs, and princesses are all really popular themes but choose something that is going to reflect you, your house, your style, and of course your baby.
How do you choose a theme for a nursery?
'First and foremost look for inspiration. Whether that's an old book you loved as a child, an outdoor setting, park or seaside, take photos and make memories and you love certain scenery for a good reason.' suggests Joanna Landais.
'Children can outgrow themes very quickly and whereas it's easy to repaint the walls, choosing a flexible theme will ensure the longevity of your idea and you can easily change accessories with time. Avoid cartoon characters as these will need to be changed fairly quickly. Think sea, jungle, woodland themes, and accessories with age-appropriate decor.'
Does a nursery need a theme?
A nursery doesn't always need a theme, but having an overall vibe that brings together the scheme of the room works well in a nursery and gives it that playful feel. If you aren't keen on a big overarching theme where everything is involved, just choose a few key pieces that are going to nod to a theme.
Naomi from Little Crown Interiors suggests, 'instead create a nursery where the main pieces don’t have much of a theme, and then layering in a few smaller items that are thematic if you’d like. That way, you don’t end up with a nursery that goes out of style quickly, or that you get sick of after a short time. That said, if there are thematic items involved, I personally love more wide-ranging themes like “nature” or “animals” instead of very specific themes.'
Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.