Thursday 20 June 2019

Sleep like a baby...

From gender neutral colours to convertible nursery furniture, it pays to box clever

Wallsauce wallpaper mural
Wallsauce wallpaper mural
Furniture from Cuckooland
Joanne O’Grady and Karl Millergill of Gaia Baby
Wallsauce dawn mural
Gaia chair
Baby Ventura cot and daybed

Eleanor Flegg

Forget about fancy nursery furniture. How about a nice cardboard box to sleep in? Every baby born in Finland has one. It's part of the famous Finnish baby box - a starter kit for parents. The box is a gift from the state to all expectant mothers and arrives packed with clothes, bedding, and other useful things including (hilariously) condoms. The Finns are so practical! It also includes a safety-approved mattress that fits into the cardboard box so that it becomes a baby bed.

The tradition was established in 1938, to help low-income parents. In 1949, the scheme was extended to all expectant mothers, provided they went for prenatal health checks. The contents of the boxes have changed over the years, but the scheme is still going strong. In 2017, baby boxes were introduced in Scotland. Like the Finnish version, the box itself is promoted as a safe and comfortable place for a baby to sleep. A similar scheme is currently being piloted in Ireland.

Nowadays, most of the recipients of a baby box also have a cot. Many also invest in a changing table (skip this piece of furniture at the expense of your back) and possibly a feeding chair. It all adds up. A recent survey by the Irish nursery furniture company, Gaia Baby, found that almost a third (32pc) of expectant parents are spending more than €1,000 on their children's nursery. Furniture is the biggest purchase. Unsurprisingly, three-quarters (74pc) of first-time parents buy new furniture for their nursery, but so do one-in-five (19pc) of parents with more than one child.

"Often, it's the grandparents that make the purchase," says Joanne O'Grady, co-founder of Gaia Baby. "One set of grandparents might buy the nursery furniture and the other set buys the buggy. The trouble is that there are all these bits and pieces that you buy because you need them, but you only need them for six months... I wanted to create a baby bed that was a bit clever - so that you're only buying one thing."

Furniture from Cuckooland
Furniture from Cuckooland

That's how Gaia Baby, a company that specialises in multi-functional nursery furniture, was born. O'Grady worked with her business partner, Karl Millergill, to design the Gaia Serena Complete Sleep system (€699.90). It's a cot that converts to a toddler bed and then to a bed that would suit a child up to the age of five. It's not the first convertible cot to come on the market. Other options include the Danish-designed Leander cot-bed (€799 from Little Dreamers) and the Austin 2-in-1 cot (€299 from Harvey Norman), both of which transform from a cot into a child's bed. Where the Gaia system differs is that you can also buy a version (€849.90) that includes a co-sleeper.

Co-sleepers are a wonderful invention. They're a piece of furniture that fastens on to the parental bed, providing a safe sleeping space for a baby. Taking the baby into the bed and using them as a hot water bottle is not best practice (thankfully mine lived to tell the tale).

But sitting up in a chair for night time feeds is exhausting. A co-sleeper allows you to feed the baby in the bed and then move them into their own space before falling back to sleep. The range also includes a rocking/feeding chair (€459.90) and footstool/blanket box (€114.90). The chair is designed with more elbow room than a normal rocking chair and an anti-tipping device so you can stand up without using your arms.

"The other thing that we've noticed is that parents are tight on space," O'Grady explains. "Especially if they live in Dublin." The received wisdom is that it's safest to sleep in the same room as a new baby, at least for the first six months. "People are worrying where they're going to put the cot when they barely have room for their own bed."

For this reason, the Gaia Serena Complete Sleep system includes a mini-cot setting. Alternatively, you could wait until the Irish baby box system comes online. Also, according to the Gaia Baby survey, almost half (45pc) of respondents admitted that they found out the sex of their baby in advance so that they could plan the nursery colour scheme.

But Lisa Marconi, interior designer, who styled the new collection for the launch, feels that Ireland needs to get over gendered nursery décor. "Stay neutral!" she says. "The days of exclusively baby pink and baby blue nurseries are behind us. Yellows, greys and greens are all brilliant colours to use for painting your nursery walls."

Joanne O’Grady and Karl Millergill of Gaia Baby
Joanne O’Grady and Karl Millergill of Gaia Baby

"I'm all for gender neutral design, even from a practical point of view, but we have a lot of customers who are all about the pink nursery or all about the blue," says Arlene McIntyre, interior designer. She's just launched a new nursery range, Baby Ventura, in collaboration with the Irish model, Vogue Williams. The collection was designed for Williams' baby son, Theodore, but it's a gender-neutral ensemble, safari-themed and accessorised in green.

The Vogue crib is handmade in Ireland with clear Lucite rods so that you can see your baby, wooden panels that can be painted any colour you like, and three adjustable mattress levels, which can be changed as your baby grows. It comes with an optional table top that converts the crib into a changing table. Bespoke design, of course, doesn't come cheap. The cribs are individually priced; the daybed in the same range costs €1,400. But imagine the luxury of having an interior designer take over the job of decorating the nursery. Not everyone is energetic and empowered during pregnancy.

"We design from conception to completion," McIntyre says. "It's a big plus for someone who is expecting a baby."

See gaia-baby.com, babyventura.ie, littledreamers.ie, harveynorman.ie, dust.ie.

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