“My job,” says Vanessa Antonelli, premier baby gear expert and nursery designer, “is to design a space beyond [parents’] dreams and to assess how we can make that space as safe as possible for the child.”
With accidental injury the leading cause of death for children in America, Antonelli has made it her life’s mission to instruct parents on creating safe, functional spaces for their babies. She made the transition from the fashion industry in 2010 after opening a baby store.
“I found myself helping [parents] well beyond the selection. I was giving advice on furniture placement, coordinating colors, décor [and] designing the bedding,” says Antonelli. “One day I realized that this is a service that people want and need, and with my expertise, I felt very comfortable entering that world.” Antonelli sits on the board of directors for Brixy, a network of independently owned and operated baby stores, and is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
Keeping it fun, but functional
When advising families, Antonelli begins by assessing. “I always run each item the parents are considering through a check-list for both parental convenience and extreme safety to aid in the parents’ decision.” After that, Antonelli offers personalized suggestions to maintain safety and functionality without sacrificing aesthetics. “All of the decisions I make center around making it safely look great,” she notes.
Heeding the latest regulations is crucial and potentially life saving, warns Antonelli. For example, more than 25,000 children under the age of 18 are injured each year in furniture tip-over incidents that could have been prevented by purchasing the proper safety accessories, and heeding safety tips by the furniture manufacturers themselves.
Taking parents into account is necessary, as they will need to navigate the room and utilize it successfully. “Since I work in this world, I immediately see the things that aren’t conducive to maximum comfort — like changing tables that are extremely low to the ground or too high to see the baby, chairs with nowhere to put the parent’s feet, or small table beside the glider,” says Antonelli. “I always strive to make the nursery the room where the entire family feels happy and comfortable.”
Antonelli, a New Jersey resident, is a wife and mother of two — Nixon, age six, and Everlee, age two. Her kids have even taken an active interest in her work. “Both are very aware of what Mommy does,” Antonelli says, “so much so that more than once I have been in a position of total embarrassment when my son has told complete strangers that their baby is not correctly strapped into the car seat. We’re working on that one.”
Antonelli knows that extended family can make parents-to-be more stressed. “I often have grandparents chime in and tell me that their children don’t need to waste their time securing dressers or learning proper car seat installation ‘because my kids didn’t and they are fine,’” says Antonelli. “I’m a big believer in the saying ‘know better, do better.’”
For current and expecting parents, Antonelli recommends sticking to the experts. “Check out specific websites — [but] not every website. Just because it’s on the Internet does not make it true. If you decide to work with a professional designer or baby proofer, make sure you find out about their expertise, certifications and continuing education practices before committing.”
Danny McCarthy, [email protected]