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.

Of course, traditional wallpaper is a no-no. Michael C. Lu’s “Get Ready to Get Pregnant” says vinyl wallpaper should not be used as it may contain phthalates.  Today, there are many safe and healthy wallpaper options on the market. Luck was on my side, because my penguin wallpaper was made on recycled and recyclable paper with vegetable based inks, and sourced from sustainable forestry. I ordered enough for an accent wall ($142).

As for the paint, I read “if you can smell it, it’s probably bad for you” in “The Complete Organic Pregnancy.”  The authors advise latex rather than alkyd- or oil-based paints, and suggest looking for paints labeled zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds), no-VOC, or VOC-free, as they are “almost completely free of carcinogens.”

JProvenz Color Crew Wallpaper Hanging My Green Nursery

Photo: Maria Ivarsson

Next task was to find a qualified painter/wallpaper hanger.  I interviewed two men who shrugged when I said the words: “non-toxic.” Then I met Zachary Smith of Color Crew, who could write a dissertation on healthy paint.  He endorsed Benjamin Moore Eco Spec paint (low odor with zero-VOCs) for our walls and a low-VOC paint on doors and window trim, because no-VOC paint would require extra coats and wouldn’t last as long. Before I could sputter about my “green” nursery, Zachary counseled that “It is impossible to live a VOC-free life—even plants emit VOC’s.”

While we awaited the wallpaper’s arrival, Color Crew spent hours—okay, days—consulting on color selection before I selected the aptly named “Sweet Dreams” over “Baltimore Sky” (in my next life, I want to be the person who dreams up these names). Zachary’s team accommodated my please-do-it-now-I’m-very-pregnant-time line, and painted and hung wallpaper like artisans (even when my order fell several yards short!).

This week took a big bite out of my nursery budget:
Wallpaper: $142
Wallpaper hang: $180
Paint: $485
Weekly Total: $807

$288 remained of my $2,000 budget.

The fresh coat of paint and the penguin accent wall gave the nursery real personality—now I could only hope it would mesh with our baby’s.

For more on paint and painting, consider:

How To: Paint a Room
Painting with Low-VOC Paint
Quick Tip: Use Low-VOC Paints