Making Room For Baby

Baltimore designers of high-end children's furniture have different takes on your child's lifestyle

July 09, 2006|By STEPHEN G. HENDERSON | STEPHEN G. HENDERSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When decorating a nursery, do you style the child, or does the child style you? At first glance, this may seem a silly question. To be sure, your infant will have opinions of his or her own very soon. Right now, though, you call the shots and your sense of taste prevails. Doesn't it?

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on how you view a newborn's role in the family. Is the baby an accessory to the parents' existing lifestyle, and so the nursery blends seamlessly into their home's overall decor? Or is parenthood a total upheaval of the status quo and so the infant should be celebrated with its own decor? Parents, interior decorators, retailers and furniture manufacturers line up on different sides of this debate, but all agree there's more at stake here than just pink, blue and Winnie the Pooh.

Rosemary Schneider, who with her mother, Kathryn DeVincentis, runs The Pied Piper, a Baltimore children's store, has seen various trends come and go, but now sees a movement toward babies "going with the flow," as she termed it.

"We've had parents stop here on the way home from the hospital. They have the latest fashions and, almost from birth, they want their kids to have them, too. They buy Ralph Lauren and at 3 months, have their boys dressed like little men in tiny polo shirts, jeans and sweaters. The girls are in little bikinis from Burberrys. It's unbelievable."

When it comes to furnishings, too, such parents tend to make children's rooms fit in with their home's overall ambience. "They're not buying items for the nursery that are decorated with duckies or lambs, but classic and traditional things like needlepoint pillows and hand-hooked rugs."

Kristen Hughes, owner of Lullaby Baby, a children's furnishings store in Columbia, sees the other approach.

"Some parents are really attracted to specialty items like cradles and cribs that are very baby-focused, that have no other purpose than for the nursery and can't be converted into anything else. It's expensive, but some parents want to invest in that," said Hughes. "I'm not a psychologist, but it seems the personality of the mom and dad really plays out in this sort of selection. It's a question of, are we going to adopt a look that says 'we have a baby!' or does the child just blend in?"

Intriguingly, two of Baltimore's leading makers of furnishings for youngsters represent opposite ends of this stylistic spectrum. Stephen Bauer, of Bratt Decor, a children's furniture company he runs with his wife, Mary, is in the "it's an adult's world, deal with it" camp. Alicia Bambara, who with her sister Nan, owns Prince & Co., a manufacturer of deluxe wicker bassinets, insists a baby needs a decor all its own.

"I have this aversion to babies being treated as accessories, as little grown-ups. I don't think babies should wear sequins or overalls with motorcycle logos on them," she said. "What they need is special care and quiet. They need a cocoon."

Bambara, 42, runs Prince & Company from a sunny office in a rambling home on Roland Avenue where she lives with her husband, Andrew, and their children: twins Maxwell and Georgia, 5, and Paul, 2.

Bambara became zealous to "bring grace and elegance back to the nursery" in 2000 when she was living in Washington, pregnant with the twins, and under doctor's orders to stop working. "Being a neurotic, Type-A personality with lots of time on my hands, I started doing research on baby stuff," she said. She didn't like what she saw.

Claiming it was nearly impossible to find plain, one-piece infant undershirts without garish embellishment or even a simple white christening dress, Bambara resorted to laundering and ironing some of her own layette that her mother had stored for more than three decades. Bambara's hope to purchase a woven wicker bassinet like one from her childhood was also dashed. She reluctantly settled for one made from plastic and cardboard which, costing nearly $2,000, was hardly a bargain.

After voicing these frustrations to her sister, the women sensed there might be a niche. Initially, they hoped to import bassinets from China, the Philippines, or another place where weaving is a well-established handicraft. When they found nothing that met their specifications, Nan enrolled in an art course, through which she met a master weaver who made bassinets in Orlando, Fla. "All those horrible jokes about women in college who major in basket weaving!" Bambara sighed. "It's funny how things come around."

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