Sure, that $200 antique wooden rocking horse and $400 adorably tiny table-and-chair set are cool, but a well-placed teddy bear or one beautifully painted wall may be all you need for a nursery that's chic and cheap. Debbie Travis, host of the shows Debbie Travis' Painted House on Oxygen and Debbie Travis' Facelift on HGTV, and author of a how-to book called Kids' Rooms (not to mention a mother of two), gave us a few exclusive beauty-on-a-budget nursery decorating ideas. Here, her no-nonsense advice:
Don't go crazy
"Try not to put too much time or money into a baby nursery," says Travis. Once you've got the necessary basics, think about yourself before your baby. After all, Travis says, you're the one who'll be sitting in there for hours on end at 3:00 in the morning. Invest in a really comfortable rocking chair instead and wait until your child is a year old -- or, better yet, 2 years old -- before you start any major decorating. By then, you'll have a greater sense of what your baby likes and needs. Some infants enjoy lots of patterns and objects, while other babies prefer the serene atmosphere of an uncluttered room painted in soft colors.
Focus on one fun detail
Sometimes a single accent is all you need for a perfectly charming room, says Travis. She suggests taking a toy truck (with wheels that have treads) and dipping the wheels in paint. Then "drive" the truck in a whimsical pattern over the wall(s), leaving playful tire tracks. In just a few minutes, and for just the cost of a can of paint, you've pulled the room together.
"You can stencil a whole room for under $50, and it looks fantastic," says Travis. Buy premade stencils or make your own by drawing a simple design (moon, star, paw print, and so on), photocopying it onto a sheet of Mylar ($1), and cutting it out. With a pencil and a ruler, mark out a pattern on the wall where you want to place the stencil. Tape the stencil to the wall and paint over it with acrylic paint.
Chalk it up
A simple, inexpensive way to decorate a nursery is to turn one wall or part of a wall into a chalkboard. How? With chalkboard paint, of course. This inexpensive paint comes in different colors -- not only the classic green and black but also red and blue -- and actually forms an erasable writing surface when it dries. You can paint a square or another shape on the wall and then draw a different design on it every day with chalk, says Travis. (Make sure to keep chalk out of your baby's reach at all times; broken pieces are a choking hazard.)
Grab a pail (or four)
Utilitarian metal pails can become objets d'art in a nursery, says Travis. Buy a bunch of medium-size colored metal buckets from a dollar store and nail the bottoms of them to the wall for instant storage space. Nail a few right next to each other to create a cubby effect; fill them with diapers, baby wipes, and diaper-rash ointment.
Or take a larger metal garbage pail, paint the outside with whatever design you'd like, and pop in a fabric liner to create a fun, functional toy bin or hamper.