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REAL ESTATE

10 Rules for a Super Functional Nursery in a Small Space

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    toddler sleeping in small nursery (Alija)

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    Nursery with curtains instead of a closet door.

Let's cut to the chase: Kids -- even tiny, nonverbal ones (aka "babies") -- have a lot of stuff. Too much stuff! And when space is at a premium, every spare inch matters.

But don't despair, parents-to-be! With a little planning, you can design a small-space nursery that's both functional and flattering. Here are 10 rules to keep in mind.

1. Head to Ikea

Guys, seriously. The Swedish superstore is a promised land for functional, cute kids' furniture that can take a beating and generally serves multiple purposes -- no small advantage if you're working with small spaces.

Check out the Kallax (formerly Expedit) shelving system for storing everything from baby-care items to toys to books. (Yeah, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is pretty much the last thing on Earth you want to look at once the blessed event actually arrives, but you may want to stash it for potential future use.)

We used the 2-by-2 version inside an alcove in our kids' closet for extra book-storing space, and turned the 4-by-2 version on its long side to create a kid-height toy storage bench. And thanks to Ikea's durable -- and cheap -- fabric storage boxes, toys can be organized and kept out of sight when they're not being used.

Or try this picture ledge for everything from displaying framed photos and kids' artwork to hanging clothes. Just screw a rail to the bottom of the ledge for instant "closet" space.

2. Skip the changing table

… and use the top of a dresser instead. (Just be sure to anchor the changing pad to the dresser with the attached strap for security.) And keep plenty of baby wipes and disinfectant nearby.

3. Or skip the dresser

Dressers tend to make small spaces feel even smaller, and when your kids are tiny, it's relatively easy to organize their clothes in hanging shelves like these, which fit nicely inside small closets and take good advantage of vertical space.

Can't living without a dresser? Consider tucking it inside your closet, using the top as a changing table, and stashing baby-care items in hanging shelves or bins.

4. Get organized

Consider investing in a professional closet system to really maximize your storage space. For a cheaper alternative, DIY shelving units with decorative bins are both attractive and functional. And don't forget -- tight spaces, walk-in closets or other oddly sized spaces can make a great place to stash a bassinet.

5. Remove the doors from your closet

Parents in the know love this tip. They understand that closet doors can often take up valuable real estate in a nursery, especially if they swing into the room. Remove them and hang pretty curtains instead. It can make a huge difference.

For extra credit, Whitney Parrott, an interior designer with Everything Creative Designs, recommends getting a professional's help to maximize storage space.

"Make use of the closet," she says. "Have it fitted by some place like The Container Store to maximize space for all those cute baby clothes!"

6. Look for double-duty pieces that grow with your child

In small spaces, every piece of furniture you choose should serve a purpose. Look for cribs with built-in drawers underneath -- they're a great alternative to bulky dressers or armoires.

What's even better? Finding a piece of furniture that "grows" with your kid. Oeuf's Fawn Crib starts out as a bassinet and easily converts to a crib as your baby grows. Similarly, the company's XL Station moonlights as both a changing surface and shelving unit and attaches easily to a dresser or the wall.

7. Get vertical

Use shelves above your crib or dresser to take advantage of storage space that's typically overlooked in most bedrooms, and splash walls with wide vertical stripes of bright, bold color to make a small room look larger.

Get creative and mount toys on walls in the dead space under windows. Or mount steel rods or rails on the walls and hang small buckets storing crayons, colored pencils, or chalk. This tip also works well for the space above a changing table, where you can use the pails to store diaper-changing essentials.

8. Rethink the crib

Most pediatricians recommend "rooming-in" for the first two to four months at a minimum, meaning your infant sleeps in your bedroom (but in a bassinet). For a space-conscious option that can attach to your bed or stand on its own, check out the Arms Reach Cosleeper. The Fisher-Price Rock 'N Play is a crowd favorite and adheres nicely to rule No. 6. When your child outgrows it for naps, it makes a nice place for her to chill out while you do, you know, adult things (like laundry or a few sips of delicious pinot noir).

9. Ditch the rocking or upholstered chair

Seriously, it's just a waste of space. I nursed both of my children in bed, on the couch, at the dining room table -- basically everywhere but their nursery.

If you must have a glider or rocker, consider putting it in your bedroom, where you're more likely to use it during middle-of-the-night feedings (particularly if you're rooming in with your newborn for the first few months).

10. Adopt the toy rotation method

In addition to being a great way to cut clutter, this tip encourages older kids to thoughtfully consider which toys they enjoy the most. Invest in some latching plastic tubs and squirrel away any toys your child won't immediately use. Limit the number of toys older kids can play with to a set amount, and when they tire of the current lineup, swap a few out to keep things fresh, interesting, and -- best of all -- organized.