These Designers Are Toying With Children’s Furniture

As new parents face mounting pressure to share their lifestyles on social media, garish mass-market children’s furniture often doesn’t fit the bill. Fortunately, a fresh crop of designers and brands are introducing sophisticated cribs and haute high chairs that check all the safety boxes.

The Snoo Smart Sleeper

The principles of neuroarchitecture suggest everything a child encounters in their first few years can impact early brain development and how they perceive the world. The architect Peter Zumthor can attest: he recalls childhood memories as “the reservoirs of the architectural atmospheres and images” he explores in his work. Most furniture designed for children, however, is unsightly: bulky plastic objects in offensive shades, often emblazoned with animals and cartoons. 

“Kids’ stuff is always very colorful,” Lora Appleton, the founder of Kinder Modern, a Manhattan gallery and studio specializing in children’s furniture, told the New York Times. “While it seems fun to move that into the main area of the home, you’re like, ‘Do I really want this primary-colored thing next to my gorgeous tufted couch?’” 

Parents often have no choice—a consequence of children’s furniture giants like Fisher Price and Graco capitalizing on creating cheap plastic essentials in the 1950s. Because nursery furniture must abide by the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s rigorous federal guidelines, the number of major players within the $31 billion industry remains relatively small. High guardrails mean new brands often shy away from the market. Mattel, for example, which owns Fisher Price, has a team of 450 employees dedicated to product safety.

The Chair by Lalo

Recently, though, some upstarts have made promising forays into baby furniture that’s not only safe, but that parents can actually bear to look at. When Greg Davidson left Artsy to co-found Lalo, he convened a council of 60 parents to inform the design of new high chairs and bathtubs. He learned that modern parents face immense pressure to document and share their homes on social media, and mass-market nursery essentials often don’t cut it aesthetically. “They don’t want to sacrifice their personal style just because they have a baby,” he told Fast Company. 

Lalo soon devised a sleek, Scandinavian-inspired high chair with muted tones and beechwood legs that can be converted into a play chair when kids grow up. It quickly sold out upon launching in 2019 after earning endorsements from famous moms like Blake Lively and Chrissy Teigen. Davidson plans to bring the winning formula to toddler kitchen play sets and a line of bath products. 

Some argue that parents should forgo aesthetic choices in favor of furniture that stimulates children’s early brain development the most. While experts say infants indeed develop a sophisticated perception of color within six months, evidence suggests babies respond to more colors than hyper-saturated ones. Susie Stubbs kept this in mind for Totter and Tumble, a purveyor of stylish play mats. Her team tracks interior design trends to create mats befitting magazine-ready residences by sourcing patterns from British design house Morris and Co.

IO Crib by Kalon Studios

Visuals were also key for Michaele Simmering and Johann Pauwen, co-founders of the Los Angeles furniture studio Kalon, who were dissatisfied with the nursery furniture market when they were expecting. The couple eventually designed the IO Crib, an artful piece that forgoes humdrum wooden bars for ornate geometric cutouts evocative of Moroccan wood screens and Frank Lloyd Wright’s stained glass panels. When light shines on the crib, a compelling shadow play stimulates the baby’s imagination. 

Other innovators are bringing technology into the fold, most notably the Snoo Smart Sleeper endorsed in Surface’s 2020 gift guide. The brainchild of Dr. Harvey Karp, who collaborated with MIT Media Lab and designer Yves Béhar, the “robotic caregiver” features motorized swaddle settings and calming white noise from built-in speakers to create spa-like womb rhythms. Besides affording temperamental newborns one to two more hours of sleep, the bassinet has made major breakthroughs in reducing sudden infant death syndrome. 

“Babies are most drawn to contrast as they first begin to take in the world around them,” Simmering and Pauwen told Surface. “We very much believe that sustainable design, high design, and kids’ design need not be mutually exclusive.”

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