Mary Tsao: Show & Tell Nursery Tour

Mary Tsao

Mary Tsao

Waiting for baby is fun, especially when you're not the pregnant one! :)

Today, we get a sweet Show & Tell Nursery Tour with writer, former blogger, and frugal DIY mama Mary Tsao.

Come on inside...


You may remember Mary Tsao from her wonderful blog Mom Writes, where she chronicled the daily joys (and sometimes struggles) of parenting and being a writer and SAHM. I know I loved her blog (and still miss it), but I totally understood when she decided to take this aspect of her family life offline. That said, when I heard about Mary's pregnancy, I leaped at the chance to go knocking. Maybe there was a way to get a peek back into Mary's lovely life (sorry, who can help but wonder?). Mary agreed to give us a tour of the new nursery she just finished for Baby #3, who will be arriving very soon. This is probably the most organized baby's room I have ever seen. Take note, new mamas: You don't need all that baby junk they say you need; take advice from this wise and frugal veteran mama. Mary's really got nursery organization down to a science, not to mention DIY decorating and bargain shopping. I am proud to show off this creative, mostly reused and recycled, full-of-mama-love modern nursery. Let's go...

1. Tell us a little about your growing family, your home, and its location.

We currently are a family of four living in San Mateo, California, a suburban town about 20 miles south of San Francisco. Our daughter Emily is 5 and in kindergarten, our son Thomas is 4 and in preschool, and baby #3 is due this May. We live in the San Mateo Highlands, which is a subdivision of Eichler homes. Eichler homes feature glass walls and open floorplans, and represent an architecture commonly known as "California Modern."

pregnant belly

Mary and Baby #3 in the new nursery

2. How did you approach decorating your new nursery? What was the most important thing?

Several  factors contributed to my thought process while I planned and decorated this nursery. One was the modern architecture and sensibility of our home; although I don't decorate mid-century modern, I can't get too fancy when decorating any room.

Another factor was the idea that every child is special, whether she is your first or your fifth. I wanted to put as much effort into decorating this nursery, my third nursery for my third child, as I put into decorating my first. I wanted it to be pretty, peaceful, and functional.


Soft textures and pink and lilac accents against pretty gray walls

The third factor was money. I didn't have a lot to spend, but I knew that with a little effort and creativity, I could take our used items and design a new nursery that was special and unique for this baby.

baby blankets

Lilac baby blankets draped over the crib

The fourth and most important factor was my older children. They are excited about having a baby sister and very much wanted to help decorate the nursery. While I wouldn't let them paint, I did encourage them to contribute artwork, photos of themselves, and stuffed toys from their personal collections. I also brought my daughter shopping for baby stuff with me. The kids both loved being a part of the process and I hope it helps them in welcoming the new baby.

girl, nursery

Big sister Emily thinks about the new baby on the way

3. How did the eco-friendly concepts of reduce/reuse/recycle play out in your choices for the nursery?

I love decorating on a budget and think paying full price or top dollar for anything is ridiculous and a waste of money. Therefore, I tend to decorate any room—including this nursery—using a combination of techniques: buying used from thrift stores, estate sales, consignment stores, and rummage sales; repurposing items from other rooms in the house; looking for "deep discounts" at chains like IKEA, Target, HomeGoods, Tuesday Morning, and Ross; using eBay to buy new or used items; and perusing magazines and catalogs for ideas, then duplicating them at home for less using DIY methods.

4. Great design can be expensive. How did you get the most bang for your buck?

I thought about the design of this nursery for months before I moved a piece of furniture or picked up a paint brush. I had an idea for a color scheme (gray, lilac, and peach/pink for accent) and whenever I saw it used in a design magazine, I would rip out the picture. I added swatches from the paint store to the pile of pictures. I sketched out furniture placement on a piece of paper and thought about furniture items that I still needed to get. Then I spent quite a while doing nothing but contemplating whether or not I was brave enough to paint the walls of the nursery gray.


A touch of gray and black modernize the nursery's soft pastel color palette

After I ignored the skeptics and decided that I was brave enough, I wrote a list of all of the items I needed to make the room a reality. The list included paint and supplies; bedding and linen requirements; furniture, shelving, and organizational needs, and ideas for decorative items. Using the techniques I mentioned above, I went out and bought everything for the room before I started the process of painting/decorating. I spent a couple of weeks shopping for what I needed, but careful planning meant that I didn't buy anything I didn't need.

5. How have you prepared the nursery for all the influx of baby STUFF?

Because this is our third baby, we know exactly what we need and don't need, as well as what works and what doesn't work. I also live by the adage, "a place for everything and everything in its place." I am particularly careful with organizing the space around the changing table.

I put the things I need most—clothing, diapers, and wipes—within easy reach for when I'm changing baby. Our changing table has two open shelves, and I use large baskets to organize clothing by size and type. Because people tend to buy new parents clothing in larger sizes, I find it helpful to have baskets on lower shelves already allotted to those sizes. When a gift comes in, I can put it in its place immediately after writing the thank you note. A shelf above the changing table is great for creams and things I want out of baby's reach. Extra crib sheets and changing table covers are kept in a small dresser. Under the crib are two large plastic bins with lids for bulk diaper and wipes purchases.

6. Do you have a favorite piece of furniture or decorative item in the nursery? Tell us about this item.

The crib is special because it was used by our two older children and has the bite marks to prove it! I'm so thankful we were too lazy to give this crib away when our son outgrew it and are now able to use it with our new child.


The Tsao family crib and its keepsake "bite marks" is recycled with love

A more recently acquired special piece is the signed and numbered black and white print that I have on the dresser. My mom found this piece of 70s artwork at a local estate sale for $5, and I found the frame on an "as is" table at IKEA for another $5. So for $10, my mom and I are giving new life to a piece of art that's really quite unique.

black and white print, lamp

A unique black and white art print


A dresser right sized for baby

baby dresses

New baby dresses await and serve as adorable decor

7. While decorating the nursery, was there one indulgence you gave into?

Yes! I indulged (and it definitely felt like an indulgence) in all new bedding for this little one. Our previous crib skirt, sheets, and bumper had been with us through two babies, and frankly, I was a little sick of looking at them. They were still in decent shape so I donated them to our local Goodwill and bought all new for this little one (and me!). But I did shop around to make sure I was getting good deals on the things I bought. I ended up buying the sheets at one store and the bumper and skirt at another store. In this case, the prices at my local baby stores were comparable to online.

8. What's the one thing you look forward to most with baby's arrival home?

I take comfort in knowing that we'll be able to relax and enjoy the new baby when she comes home because we're prepared for her arrival. Who better to welcome a new one than calm and peaceful parents and excited siblings? That's the plan, at least!

9. What are your favorite stores to shop for baby and kids rooms?

Most baby stuff including cribs, changing tables, swings, strollers, etc., you can easily find used through Craigslist or email lists sponsored by local moms or parent groups. I love the fabrics and designs found at Pottery Barn Kids although I would never pay those prices; I look for PBK stuff on eBay or knock-offs at Target. IKEA is especially awesome as you transition from a baby room to a kid room.

10. What Home & Garden blogs or websites inspire you most?

Thank you for showing us the baby's room, Mary. You've proven it's possible to put together a pretty, inexpensive, and stylish baby's room that's full of love.

Mary Tsao formerly blogged at Mom Writes and but now spends her days saying thousands of words with the pictures she posts to her Flickr account. She also compulsively checks the Facebook status of friends she hasn't seen in twenty years, a habit she's hoping to break once the baby is born.

Don't miss our previous Show & Tell Home Tours:

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