Living in a Rental Didn’t Stop This New Mom From Designing Her Dream Nursery

Psst: The daybed looks just like a built-in.

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When Connecticut-based Christie Tonnessen discovered she was pregnant with her daughter, Parker, at the start of the year, she didn’t want the fact that she was renting to thwart plans for setting up her dream nursery. As the founder of Tonnessen Studio—a creative marketing agency for interior designers and design brands—and a former brand director at Schumacher, Tonnessen had plenty of mood boards at the ready. 

“I focused on features that would make the space feel purposeful,” she explains, “and on items we could take with us when we move.” While a fun printed wallpaper would have completely transformed the unremarkable guest room, for example, it didn’t make sense budget-wise. Instead, Tonnessen curated a color palette inspired by a sage green floral fabric from Chelsea Textiles that she loved. The painted ceiling trim, baseboards, and closet doors were other cost-efficient details that added instant character and charm to the former white box. 

Read on to learn more tricks on how Tonnessen was able to create a sweet nest for her new addition. 

Make the Baby’s Room a Family Room

White room with bed and window with turquoise shade.
The guest room, before. Photography by Melanie Acevado
Sage green room with day bed and curtains.
Custom Curtains and Roman Shade by Everhem using Chelsea Textiles Fabric; Bed Blanket, L.L.Bean; Sheets, Garnet Hill; Custom Bed Pillow using Chelsea Textiles Fabric; Vintage Stool. Photography by Melanie Acevado

Even though it will be a few years before Parker graduates from a crib, Tonnessen knew she wanted a nook with a daybed: “I felt it would be a lot cozier for nursing, and if I need to stay in her room, then I can comfortably.” With permission to build a small wall granted by the house’s owners (“I think they were just so excited about the baby,” she says, laughing), Tonnessen designed the daybed to look like a built-in—but actually the twin bed frame and paneled section below can slide out (which means making the bed is that much easier). To tie it all together, she matched the window blind to the drapes to frame the cocooning structure. “Now it feels like its own little destination,” she says.

Decorate With Plenty of Personal Touches

Antique wood dresser in nursery.
Vintage Mirror, Litt Concept House; Lamp, Serena & Lily with Custom Shade using Samuel & Sons trims. Photography by Melanie Acevado
White crib with turtle figurines on wall.
Crib, Restoration Hardware; Custom Crib Skirt and Matching Pillows using Schumacher Fabric; Throw, Mushie; Paint, Louisburg Green and Lime White by Benjamin Moore. Photography by Melanie Acevado

Everyone from strangers on the street to classmates at Tonnessen’s Barre class were convinced she was having a boy (imagine her surprise when Parker arrived five weeks early). For universally appealing decor, Tonnessen leaned into an animal theme, with the wicker elephant side table recalling the sanctuary she and her husband, Bobby, visited on their honeymoon in Thailand, while the framed photographs of baby zebras in the wild were taken by Tonnessen on safari. Bobby found the wall turtles at a flea market. “I loved that it came as a set with the baby,” she notes. The furniture has more stories to tell: The dresser belonged to Tonnessen’s late maternal grandmother, and the mirror is a French antique.

Get in the Zone(s)

All-white room with two doors bookending a window.
The window seat, before. Photography by Melanie Acevado
Green and cream room with window seat and baby toys on floor.
Blinds and Bamboo Shade, Everhem; Sconces, Hudson Valley Lighting x Mark D. Sikes with Custom Cruel Mountain Shades; Custom Window Seat using Lisa Fine Textiles. Photography by Melanie Acevado

While Parker’s room isn’t tiny, the fact that it has three windows, two doors (one for a jack-and-jill bathroom), and two sets of closet doors made it tricky to find enough wall space to work with. It quickly became obvious that the crib would live along the most open stretch, while building the daybed created a corner perfect for feeding and reading. Meanwhile, the window seat—which was refreshed with new wall lights and cushion upholstery—has become a favorite spot for Bobby to hang out in. Once Parker gets more mobile, all that floor space opens up, too: “We’ve got pillows, so as she’s sitting up and playing, we can lean against the daybed or the window seat,” explains Tonnessen.

Allow for the Room to Evolve

Nursery painted sage green with day bed, cream chair, and wood stool.
Vintage Elephant Side Table. Photography by Melanie Acevado

Tonnessen initially wanted to wrap the daybed’s walls in fabric, but that wasn’t a rental-savvy move, so she brought pattern in through the drapery: “If we replicate this feature in our next home, the curtain rod will be the same measurements, and if the ceilings are lower, we can re-hem [the fabric]—which is a lot easier than adding length,” she explains. The same thinking applied to the generously proportioned wool rug, a custom piece from Bellbridge: “I wanted to be able to move the rug with us, so in future spaces we can cut it down if needed and have the perimeter re-bound.” Turns out, staying flexible and being resourceful come in handy as a new parent, too.

Olivia Lidbury is a freelance writer based in the U.K. She has been regularly contributing to Domino since 2021, pitching charming British houses, whimsical apartments and must-see vacation stays. Olivia also regularly writes for a number of national U.K. titles such as The Times and The Sunday Times Style magazine. She lives just outside of London in Kent.