How To Create a Stylish, Baby-Proof Home

By Chanel Dror

The arrival of baby is often associated with the demise of a gorgeous, well-designed living space — first comes the love, then comes the marriage, then come the ugly toys and baby-proof eyesores, right? Wrong! Janette Crawford is the founder of Sun + Dotter (a brand new curation and styling service for design-conscious parents) and a firm believer that baby-proofing your home can be stylish, ethical and easy. We sat down with the young mama to hear her expertise on the subject, and best of all, get an exclusive sneak peak into her gorgeous San Francisco home (with photography by Maria del Rio)

Describe your interior design aesthetic:

My home is a Victorian-Craftsman hybrid, which I’ve updated with midcentury modern furniture and fresh art. I always aim for the right balance — old and new, ugly and pretty, traditional and modern. I think everything is more interesting with some kind of counterpoint.

What advice would you offer someone just beginning to decorate their space?

Copy! Study images of rooms you love and identify what it is that sets them apart, and think about how you could apply those things to your space. I’ve honed my styling skills (and even my personal style) by copying stylists that I love. And don’t be afraid of  trial & error! Even if it means you have to do some re-selling on Craigslist. Decorating is a process.

How do you create a child-friendly environment without compromising style?

First and foremost, by styling with unbreakable pieces that aren’t too precious — Just put the nice things up high, out of reach!

Books are wonderful. Many wooden pieces can stay. Then supplement with affordable, unbreakable pieces… baby proofing your house doesn’t have to mean making it plain. I already had a few picture frames with plexi instead of glass, and I love the texture that plants create, so I added a fake one. I found beautiful paper bowls made by artisans in Africa, and added pillows to a few of my shelves. Oh! And I love toys that double as decor.

Where did you get your unique style?

My German Mennonite families have definitely played a role. They’re thrifty and also very compassionate and world-focused. Ten Thousand Villages is a Mennonite-run shop with a really global aesthetic, full of products made by artisans all over the world. Profits go to individuals who benefit directly, and the products have a really unique aesthetic and story behind them. All values that I’ve really internalized.

Where do you find design inspiration?

In design constraints! It took me a long time to realize this, but having limits has always brought out my creativity. Starting from a blank slate is hard, but working with a super-small budget, or a weird built-in, or baby in the house (!) creates a challenge you can really get creative with.

What was your process when designing Viv’s nursery?

The first thing I bought for Viv’s room was my Themis paper mobile, which I found at Spartan in Austin. With a broad color palette that includes several neons and metallics, it turned out to be an ambitious muse! Not long after, I found my perfect baby bag (a colorful hmong textile tote from Jadetribe) as well as a super limited made-in-India wall hanging of a rabbit from, of all places, Ikea. Those pieces help me set the tone for a bright, fun room full of indigenous textiles and modern art — kind of crazy how seamlessly those two things go together, right? I love the juxtaposition. I found my amazing midcentury dresser on Craigslist, and my midcentury-style rocking chair is from a local antique mall called Stuff.

Where do you shop? 

Most of my decor is vintage, found on eBay, Craigslist, at flea markets, antique shops or estate sales. A few pieces are from World Market. My art is from all over, with several repeats from Little Paper Planes and Society6. Any new furniture and rugs are from West Elm, CB2, Ikea and Room & Board. I’ve also bought from independent designers all over, local boutiques, Renegade Craft Fair, Storenvy and Etsy.

What was important to you when designing Viv’s nursery?

Most everything that I’ve bought for Viv’s nursery had to pass the test of: Would I put this in my living room? This keeps it from being too cutesy. Throughout the rest of my home I don’t have a lot of color, and I don’t have any gallery walls. Those are both things I love but just haven’t been able to fit, so I worked them into Viv’s room.

I also tried to keep it pretty unisex, because I plan to have more kids. And fittingly, my favorite toys in Viv’s room have turned out to be the ones made by organizations supporting local artisans in developing economies, by Twolies (Mexico), Nook Nook (Thailand) and Dsenyo (Malawi). They’re all toys with soul!

Your five favorite items in your home. 

  1. My favorite “design hack” in my house is my Ikea sectional sofa that I added Danish-style tapered wooden legs to. You’d never think it was Ikea, and that each cushion cover is washable!
  2. I love that my living room is full of plants.
  3. My art collection, which includes pieces from multiple artists that I have personal connections with.
  4. Viv’s totally avant-garde crewel rug, which I discovered on Pinterest and bought from Anthopologie.
  5. And I love that my husband and I upgraded to a king-sized bed before Viv was born, complete with a 5-foot-tall plush headboard. It’s luxurious, for everything from lounging away a lazy Sunday to sleeping with a wiggly toddler.

Whose style do you admire?

For a long time I’ve loved Lena Corwin’s down-to-earth style, and Alyson Fox’s fresh take on classics. They both have an aesthetic attitude: Low-key, timeless and effortless-looking (which takes loads of effort, of course). If I’m stuck on whether to buy something or not, I can actually ask myself, “Would Lena Corwin or Alyson Fox buy this?” A bit cheesy, but it can help so much to create a filter, especially for snap decisions like at flea markets.

For more baby-proof design tips & to learn about the styling services Janette offers, join the Sun + Dotter newsletter!