Author Archives: Jessica Provenz

Jessica Provenz

About Jessica Provenz

Jessica Provenz is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, currently writing the book for the musical "Matchbook" for The Araca Group. A Juilliard fellow and Northwestern graduate, Jessica's latest and greatest DIY project, Maximus Rhys Claburn, was born on May 9, 2011.

The Final Word: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

JProvenz-Maximus Bob Vila My Green Nursery Challenge

I had 8 weeks and $2,000 to transform our storage room into a green nursery. After sanding, painting, drilling, and otherwise making a 9-month pregnant spectacle of myself, I finished 2 days ahead of schedule and $94 over budget. I remember that, when I finished, I looked around the nursery and told the baby that I was finally ready, he could come now. Maximus Rhys Claburn arrived the next morning.

Pregnancy made me more cautious and more crazy.  I used to hold my breath when I passed a smoker on the street or the exhaust from a truck. Extreme, I know, but I didn’t want the baby exposed to anything impure. I realized I couldn’t protect him forever, but this green nursery was my effort at giving him a safe and healthy start.

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Infant Sleeper: The Final Challenge

Tay River Builders handmade wood cradle

Rafi and Malek: the first users of the cradle.

Fine woodworker Abel Smith, of Tay River Builders, crafted a cradle for his best friend’s baby. He spent months executing a safe, eco-friendly cradle with the dream that it would be passed among friends for generations. He got the idea from a cradle from his own childhood; each parent who used that cradle would sign their newborn’s name on the bottom before passing it on to the next newborn. Since his best friend is Algerian, Abel used African hardwood accents and to represent the American mother, he used locally forested maple, walnut, and cherry. The completed cradle, pictured above, was finished with a clear top-coat from BioShield.

If I was in Abel’s cradle circle, I would have counted myself lucky to share in this wonderful tradition—even luckier to have saved myself the hours of research I ended up doing to find a suitable alternative. Cost was a factor—since infant sleepers are swiftly outgrown—and mine also had to be eco-friendly, safe, and portable. I was game for waking in the wee hours, so long as the wee baby was within arm’s reach.

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Furniture: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

JProvenz Chair Before Bob Vila Green Nursery

The Pennsylvania House chair before

When I was just 11 days from giving birth, I still had 11th hour projects to complete for my “Green” Nursery Challenge—like furnishing the room. With $228 left in my budget, the key word that week was “reuse.”

I scanned my extra furniture for anything useful. I say “extra” because my house is where my family discards useful—but no longer wanted—furniture. When the Provenz parents buy a new couch or table, I inherit the old one. Since my husband is an only child, he’s the rightful heir to his parents’ castoffs too. When we first met, he had an entire room of mismatched chairs placed in a circle, as if they were waiting for a self-help group to occupy them.

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Flooring: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

Green Nursery - Flooring

Mirage Natural Exclusive Maple Hardwood Floor

I expect there’s a time for compromise with any home improvement project. If you’ve been tracking my “Green” Nursery Challenge’s ambitions and dwindling budget since the beginning, you might anticipate that the time for compromise is nearing.  With a $288 balance and the floors to redo, that time is now.

Wall-to-wall carpeting in a nursery is not recommended since the chemical adhesives that bind carpets often contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  The carpet fibers themselves can also trap lead, pesticides, and other toxins that you bring in on your shoes. And when wet, carpet can also become a breeding ground for mold, dust mites, and other allergens.

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Wallpaper and Paint: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

The nursery was 10’ X 11’ with builder-white walls. It was time for it to reflect our baby boy’s personality. Since his scheduled arrival was five weeks away, I’d have to guess on his favorite things (though I was confident he’d have an ingrained love of Ghirardelli dark chocolate).

Isak Penquin Turquoise Wallpaper Green Nursery

ISAK Penguin Turquoise Wallpaper

I settled on a penguin theme because “cars” and “teddy bears” seemed easy, and when you’re nine months pregnant and working full-time, why make anything easy? Penguins are cute, playful, and mate for life (which I hoped would teach our baby commitment). [Full disclosure: in college, I studied and impersonated a penguin for two months in acting class, which resulted in great affection for the feathery friends and, later, proved a fun party trick.]

I Googled “baby + penguin” and stumbled on the Holy Grail: A turquoise, penguin-patterned wallpaper from ISAK, a U.K. manufacturer of design gifts and coordinated home accessories.

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Blinds: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

Green Nursery

Photo: Jessica Provenz

In week three of My “Green” Nursery Challenge, I saw the light… but wished I hadn’t!

My father-in-law pointed out that the crib would be showered by morning rays. I hadn’t noticed since the new nursery was our former storage room. Only the cat spent time there, and now I got it—Menelaus loves to bathe in sunlight. Our nursery wasn’t just bright, it was bright and bright early!  Giving the baby an east-facing room was a major oversight by this over-planner.

My solution: black-out blinds! Sure, they might mess with our baby’s circadian rhythm, but at least he’d err on the side of night. Everything else would wait—sleeping, eating, Kegels—until I made the nursery fit for an airline pilot.

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The Crib and Bedding: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

In week two of my “green” nursery challenge, I purchased the “Rolls Royce” of organic mattresses.  Now I needed a crib and bedding worthy of it. The crib needed to be baby-safe, eco-friendly, and fit for the prince of the nursery.  Plus, it must meet Federal Safety regulations, be free of lead and phthalates (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity), have a non-toxic finish, and be made of sustainable or recyclable materials.

As if that wasn’t a tall enough order, a crib designed to “grow” with the stages of the baby’s development made the best fiscal and environmental sense.  I wanted a design where the mattress could be raised for easy access to my baby (Stage 1); lowered when he was able to sit unassisted  (Stage 2); and, eventually, converted into a toddler bed (Stage 3)—with guardrails.

Since I robbed the piggy bank purchasing an organic mattress, I needed to be fiscally responsible this week.  But first, I got mired in crib envy:Vetro baby crib

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The Organic Mattress: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

jprovenz organic baby mattress green nursery challenge“You will never sleep again!” is something that people love to say to expecting parents.  But, I decided my baby (and therefore my husband and I) would sleep happily, comfortably, and safely.  On what, was the question.

My first nursery purchase was the ever-practical crib mattress.  After reading a mattress article in The New York Times about harmful flame-retardant chemicals like PBDE’s (which have been found in breast milk), I knew that I wanted an organic mattress; one that was VOC-free and used natural flame retardants like cotton, wool, and natural latex.

At one national mattress retailer, their “organic” crib mattress had only 20% organic material—soy—the rest was memory foam with potentially toxic VOCs!  Perhaps the way to go was the smaller, mom-and-pop shops.  Of the indie sellers I located, none were within driving distance from our Jersey digs.  I certainly wanted to test the mattresses in person (isn’t that half the fun?).  And, if I didn’t pick a comfy mattress, I felt certain that our future soccer player would complain about it…at 4 a.m.!

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My “Green” Nursery Challenge

With a budget of $2,000, determination and a dream, I took the first steps to creating the ultimate 'green' nursery!


Green Nursery

Photo: Jessica Provenz

In the third trimester of my pregnancy, I never ate pickles or missed sushi. Sure, my stomach honked the horn by itself, and my toes were a vague memory, but this was not my primary concern.  I was fixated on one thing: the nursery! I could no longer focus on world events, books, or even mindless television. In those final weeks of pregnancy, preparations for our baby boy’s arrival became urgent and all consuming. The nursery would be safe, healthy and, of course, adorable. It would be bright, airy and unique for our little boy.

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