“I grew up with a mum who was constantly rearranging rooms and that obsession seems to have rubbed off on me,” says Sydney-based Eliza Ashe, with a laugh...
As a child, Ashe was forever collecting knick-knacks and loved redecorating and painting her bedroom. It’s no wonder that she’s forged a hugely successful career as an interior stylist and writer. A mother of two young boys – Atti, three, and Iggy, three months – Ashe knows a thing or two about decorating nurseries. She describes Iggy’s room as “fresh and calming with a hint of vintage charm.” She adds: “It’s not overly decorated or busy and I’ve made an effort to pick pieces that are in it for the long haul. I love the bookshelf and the display shelves. The bookshelf is wall-mounted so it’s nice and compact but can hold an impressive amount of books in a way that makes them look like art.” Ashe also added a sweet bistro chair and a table, both from Pottery Barn Kids, to make her three-year-old son Atti feel included in the nursery. “He’ll sit and play with his trucks and flick through books while I’m changing or feeding Iggy,” she says.
Dying to know what her tips and tricks for decorating a nursery are? We visited Ashe at home to talk about everything from decorating unisex children’s rooms to how she manages to balance motherhood with her career (and also how she keeps her house so tidy)…
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Can I have four? Calm, creative and quietly driven.
What has motherhood taught you?
It has taught me to slow down and that nothing is really that urgent. It has also taught me to go easy on others and myself; to love like silly; incredible time management; to look at the women in my life in a whole new light. Finally, it has taught me to never underestimate my capabilities because if I can do all this on four hours sleep imagine what I could achieve after eight!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
You’re on track, so don’t stress! I’ve always been very goal-orientated but looking back I wish I’d gone with the flow a little more because what’s meant for you doesn’t go by you.
So far, what has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
Learning to let go. Some days I feel so organised and in control, I’m confident I could run for president. I will have cleared my inbox, sourced product for a shoot, arranged a play date for Atti and prepped dinner all before midday. Other days, we’re winning if we make it to the park. And I’m (sort of) okay with that.
SHOP: Pottery Barn Kids Delaney Rug, $199 – $549. Pottery Barn Kids Taylor Organic Cot Fitted Sheet $39. Pottery Barn Kids Grey Mouse Knit Plush $34 (available in store)
SHOP: Pottery Barn Kids Emery Cot, $699. Pottery Barn Kids Organic Sleepy Sheep Nursery Quilt, $199 (in store only). Pottery Barn Kids Spindle Play Table, $269. Pottery Barn Kids Bistro Play Chair, $119. Pottery Barn Kids Delaney Rug, $199 – $549. Pottery Barn Kids PBK Blocks, $69. Pottery Barn Kids Wooden Egg Set, $29
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
So much. My mum is one of six girls and has raised five daughters (I’m the youngest) and we all seem to have inherited her strong sense of independence and level-headedness. She’s always encouraged us to keep it simple and follow our instincts. If it feels right, you do it, whether it’s a career change, marriage, travel, or buying a new sofa. When I was pregnant the first time, she told me to stop over thinking things. And she’s right. There’s a beauty in being naïve, especially when it comes to childbirth and managing your expectations of motherhood.
How would you describe your interior style?
I’m fortunate I get to play with the latest ‘looks’ at work so when it comes to my own interiors I try to avoid buying anything that’s too on-trend or modern. Rather than subscribe to a particular style, our home is filled with a mix of old and new pieces that we’ve collected over time. My only rule is that I like bedrooms to be as simple as possible with lots of white to encourage rest.
How do you keep your house tidy with children?
I can’t function if the house is messy so I try to tidy as we go. Before bed I do a quick 15 minute clean up to avoid being greeted with chaos the next morning. I’m also hardcore about toy inventory. My son has a few small baskets of toys on the go and I keep the rest in a box above the wardrobe and we rotate them every few weeks. He thinks it’s Christmas getting to play with something ‘new’ and I’m happy as it stops my house from being consumed with kid’s stuff.
SHOP: Pottery Barn Kids Reese Dresser and Changing Table Topper, $998. Pottery Barn Kids Collector’s Shelves, $89. Items on display include The Elsa Beskow Baby Book: Memories of Baby’s First Years, $36.95, from Pure Baby. Sophie La Giraffe, $37.50. Maroon and white stripe Rosette, $130, from Skinny Wolf. Black love heart print, $40, Two And Jax. Pottery Barn Kids PBK Blocks, $69. Pottery Barn Kids Wooden Egg Set, $29. Pottery Barn Kids Blue Abaca Hamper, $134.95
SHOP: Pottery Barn Kids Reese Dresser and Changing Table Topper, $998. Pottery Barn Kids Spindle Play Table, $269. Pottery Barn Kids Bistro Play Chair, $119. Pottery Barn Kids Delaney Rug, $199 – $549. Pottery Barn Madison 4-Shelf Bookrack, $199
Do you often move things around in your children’s rooms?
Yes. I’m forever swapping furniture and rugs around. My eldest son is well and truly out of the nursery stage and his bedroom is an extension of the rest of the house in terms of the furniture style. It’s an easy way to give bedside tables, lamps and older furniture pieces a new lease of life.
Where do you source interior items?
All over the place but I do have a few staple go-tos: I love Pottery Barn Kids for everything from changing tables to cots to toys, Thonet for chairs, MCM House for lounges, Weylandts, Coco Republic, Koskela, Mark Tuckey, Lunatiques, West Elm and The Bronte Tram. I’m always collecting pieces on our travels like textiles and tablewares and little mementos like a snow dome or vintage toys for the boys’ rooms.
What are your top five tips for decorating children’s unisex interiors?
1. Spend your money where it matters: On pieces that will grow with them. Look for items that work double duty, such as a change table that converts into a dresser and a cot that switches into a toddler bed.
2. Soft landings: Adding a plush rug is the easiest way to introduce some personality into a room without committing to an all-out theme.
3. Stay neutral: When purchasing the hero pieces such as the cot, bookshelves and dresser, stick with neutral finishes like white, grey or birch. Neutrals never date so the collection will look as classic in five years’ time as it does now.
4. Something old, something new: You want the space to feel personal so find ways to work some sentimental pieces into the mix. Try combining keepsake items, like the baby’s first shoes with a few treasured items from your own childhood such as your favourite book or toy.
5. Storage is everything: For tiny people, babies accumulate a serious amount of goods in a small amount of time so you can never have enough storage. Think baskets, open shelving, wall hooks and vintage trunks for stowing their growing collection of books and toys.
SHOP: Pottery Barn Madison 4-Shelf Bookrack, $199. Pottery Barn Kids Spindle Play Table, $269. Pottery Barn Kids Bistro Play Chair, $119. Pottery Barn Kids Wooden Egg Set, $29. Pottery Barn Kids PBK Blocks, $69
How do you juggle motherhood with work?
At the moment my eldest son is in school two days a week and I try to get the bulk of my work completed on those days. Iggy is only three months old so I’ve really tried to scale back the volume of work I take on over the next few months, especially while he’s still feeding through the night. I check my emails quickly in the morning and if there’s nothing urgent, I’ll respond to them at night when both the boys are asleep and I can really focus. I also try to have everything prepped the night before. Atti’s school bag is packed, outfits are out and lunches are made so we can have a stress-free start in the morning. I’m also lucky that my parents and mother-in-law will help out even if it’s just for a few hours so I can catch-up on work in-between feeding the baby.
What are some of your favourite objects in the nursery?
I’ve got a soft spot for the rosette. It’s a visual reminder to my boys that we’re all winners no matter what. Oh and I love the vintage blue phone and collection of classic books which my parents kept from my childhood. The rest of the décor items are little treasures I’ve picked up on my travels or fun things I bought when I was pregnant and didn’t know we were having another boy.
How do you update a unisex nursery once bub has arrived?
I’m not a huge fan of boy and girl themed nurseries. Instead I prefer to pick one or two hero accessories, like a lamp, rug or wall art that will anchor the room. Then it’s simply a matter of allowing the rest of the décor to evolve over time so that it reflects your little one and their greatest loves. And don’t be limited by the traditional blue or pink colour palette. It’s more about finding the right mix of textures, patterns and prints.