Nothing makes my heart sing quite as much as getting the opportunity to design a nursery. The joy, the expectation; the start of a new chapter in someone’s story.

But if you’re designing your own nursery space, where do you start? Pinterest is full of gorgeous nursery images. Baby online boutiques style their products in beautiful nursery sets. But how do you create that perfect aesthetic whilst making it practical, safe and future-proof?

The reality is, a baby doesn’t stay a baby for long. But, that doesn’t mean you have to design for their teen years straight-away. If you want to indulge those baby months, then indulge away. But, having an eye to those short term future changes might help you design something with a little more longevity.

I start how I start any other room design. How do you want the room to feel? Do you want it to feel bold and bright? Do you want it to be a relaxing, calming space? If have a clear idea about the feeling you want to create, rather than using an image as a design-hook, then you’re more likely to end up with a room you love.  Each time you make a design decision you can check back and ask, does that help create a room with the “feel” that I want?

Undeniably, designing a nursery should be fun. It should be full of excitement, optimism and anticipation. You absolutely should not feel constrained by a “baby theme”. This is the one space you can create for your child that reflects totally what you want, so do feel free to indulge yourself. That said, there are also a number of practicalities which I do think it is important to address to ensure that the room functions properly and safely.

So here are a few tips for creating that swoon-worthy nursery….

1/ What do you actually need?

First write a list of what YOU actually need. Of course, read all the lists of things that online forums (and retailers) tell you you need, but think about what you will actually need to use. This is especially hard if you’re a first time parent. So, my advice would be keep it simple; you usually need far less than you think you do! A cot, clothes storage, a change mat (although, I would suggest, not necessarily a changing table), somewhere to keep nappies, blankets etc and a few small toys. A chair is also a good investment if you have space – you spend a lot of time feeding in those early months. And when it comes to clothes storage, don’t just rush out and buy the nursery furniture set. Think about what you need. Do you need a wardrobe or would drawers work (especially if you have a small space); they also have the advantage of providing an extra surface, which is always useful (and perfect for styling-up).

And finally, on furniture, look beyond nursery retailer’s nursery sets. You don’t have to have something sold specifically for a baby’s room. Instead of a specific nursing chair, you may be able to find a super-comfy chair you’ll use somewhere else in the house later on. Perhaps a vintage chest of drawers could be painted to create a lovely, unique piece. Be creative, as you would in any room.

2/ Look at layout

Often the nursery is the smallest room in the house so you may be restricted with layout options, but it’s worth taking a moment at the start to figure out where things are going to do. Try and keep a little bit of floor space for tummy and play-time. Think about the positioning of windows and radiators for both safety and temperature. You don’t want a cot against either a window or a radiator.

Also have a think about where your electric sockets are positioned. You’re likely to have a baby-monitor, and room thermometer that need plugging in and positioning, so just make sure your layout works. It’s much easier to get additional sockets in at the start before you’ve decorated.

3/ Consider light

No one wants a baby waking as soon as the sun rises, or when you trip over the nappy basket as you creep in to check on them in the middle of the night! Decent window dressing is essential. You don’t need to buy special products, just make sure that your whole window is covered and get any blinds or curtains made with a blackout lining. If you’re using a roman blind check whether it lets light in around the sides. If so, consider adding a pair of curtains too (you don’t need to spend a fortune – a pair of ready-made linen curtains is probably enough to diffuse any surrounding light).

And make sure you add a dimmer switch. It allows you to have very soft lighting at bedtime, and also if you need a little light to change nappies the middle of the night. Night lights are also useful to have, and fairy lights (hung safely away from the cot or where baby can reach them) can create a really beautiful atmosphere.

4/ Have fun

A nursery doesn’t have to be light and neutral. It can be, of course, and it can look beautiful in being so. But don’t be afraid of using colour and pattern. Colourful eye-catching designs can be great for when your little one starts to look around and respond to things. Adding pattern can really help develop a sense of personality in the space. Find a balance that works for you. Perhaps it’s a subtle wallpaper that adds a hint of colour, or perhaps you want to add some vibrant accessories. Don’t play it down just because you think it needs to be pale. You can still create a peaceful space with some colour and pattern.

When you’re choosing paints, it’s worth looking for a really durable finish. Really flat, chalky finishes look fabulous but the walls of this room have to work hard. Help it out a little and choose something more durable. Most paint companies now have a more durable finish which doesn’t compromise completely on the matt finish.

5/ Keep it personal

A nursery is a really special space, so make it as personal as you can. Don’t just look for generic nursery-style prints, mix in artwork which means something to you, or reflects your family life. Make it quirky – make a little gallery wall that you can add to over the months and years as your baby grows. Look for interesting prints and combine them with felt animal heads and little mirrors. Have fun!

And remember, you don’t have to have everything finished before the baby arrives. Maybe leave some space to put up some photos. Spend the money on a newborn photo shoot and use the images on the wall. Or get footprints done and add them to a shelf.

Undoubtedly a nursery has to work hard. You need to address the practical elements otherwise it just won’t work. But ultimately it’s a space you want to enjoy being in. Your baby won’t remember what it looks like, but as a family you’ll remember how it made you feel.