Filed under: baby

diy baby gate

When Avery started crawling, we bought a baby gate for the top of the basement stairs. At the time, I was looking for the least ugly option that would fit the opening. We realized later that not only are compression gates not the best option for top of stairs, but our stair width (36″) was at the upper limit of the gate’s adjustability. This meant there was a large amount of exposed all-thread, enough to make us nervous.

So, when I was at a friend’s house a few months ago I noticed they had a nice plywood custom gate. Fortunately for us, they also had an extra one. Perfect, I thought, we can get a custom gate without spending a crazy amount of time making one!

Of course, nothing is ever that easy.


First of all, the gate we came home with was really just a piece of routered plywood. It was also a smidge too wide for our opening, so Kyle had to trim it down (which also meant re-rounding the corners). Then, Kyle installed 2×2 trim on both ends (screwed into the wall framing and painted white) to mount the hinges and latch to.


The plywood had some blemishes and imperfections so we decided to paint it. Originally I voted for white and Kyle the dark gray of our interior steel, but ultimately we landed somewhere in between. (We were concerned that the white would show too much dirt and handprints but that the dark gray would become too much of a focal point.) The color is “Del Ray Gray” (Benjamin Moore). I like it enough. It looked slightly lavender at first but I think we’ve gotten used to it (or over it? Kyle says he’s still not a fan). At any rate, we’re not repainting now.


The hinges are stainless steel and self-closing, so we don’t have to worry about manually closing it each time.


On the latch side, we used a simple stainless steel gate latch. (We realize there may come a point when she can unlatch it herself and we’ll modify if needed.) The only downside to this latch was that with the self-closing hinges it was pretty noisy as the gate swung back into place. So, latch hack! Kyle had the clever idea to install heat-shrink rubber tubing (commonly used for electrical work) to dampen the noise.


The vertical trim on the latch side also provides enough of an offset for the gate swing to clear the handrail.


During the initial installation, we debated adding another latch on the opposite wall in the event that we wanted to keep the gate open. We didn’t love the idea of our pristine white stair wall having a latch wart on it (or the possibility that someone might accidentally leave it open) so we decided to wait.

But, after a summer of having someone sleeping in the guest room almost every weekend, we realized it was nice to have the option of leaving it open (and since it only happened while Avery was asleep, it wasn’t a safety concern). So we added the other latch.


Yeah, it’s kinda dumb looking, but we’re over it. The important thing is that we now have a nice-looking and safe gate that only took way too many hours to fabricate and install.

We still don’t have a great solution for baby-proofing the loft ladder. We currently don’t have any issues with Avery trying to climb it (she just likes to throw her toys down to the basement), but we know it’s something we’ll have to deal with at some point. If Kyle didn’t go up and down the ladder multiple times a day it would probably be less of a design challenge, but as it stands we need something that restricts her use but not ours. So, we’ll keep brainstorming.

Bonus! Can you spot the two photos with a cone-of-shame photobomb?

boxes + nursery updates

The northwest corner of Avery’s nursery has been sad and lonely for the last twelve months…waiting, patiently, for this:



You see, the trouble with being an architect and being married to an architect is that you set the bar pretty high for even the simplest of projects. For over a year now I’ve had the idea that we would design and build Avery some type of toy and book storage for her room. Originally, we were going to build a bench/cubby that would sit under the window. Well, it didn’t happen before Avery entered the world so we considered just buying the similar (and very pricey) Offi version ($$$) and calling it good. But then I started seeing modular storage boxes well, everywhere and thought this could be a quick and easy project. (Ha!) Thinking I might be able to find some inexpensive pre-made boxes (that we could then finish/paint), I scoured the interwebs but no luck. (Seriously, I’m sure this would be a lucrative business model. Someone should get on that.)

So, DIY it was.


The four boxes are made from a single 4’x 8′ sheet of 3/4″ maple plywood. In lieu of exposed fasteners, we opted for biscuited joints. Our clamp collection came in handy.

We did consider installing backs but the boxes were plenty rigid without them and their omission simplified the construction and overall project costs.


After the boxes were assembled, Kyle applied a coat of benite and a couple of coats of clear polyurethane to the outside faces.


I wanted to do something playful for the inside faces, so we chose four of our house colors (“lakeside cabin”, “thuderbird”, “luminous days” and “birds of paradise”, all Benjamin Moore). Also, this photo was taken the day before her birthday party. If there’s one thing we’ve learned through the whole remodel process it’s this: PARTIES = FINISHED PROJECTS. Seriously, trust us.


Thankfully, the littlest Zerbey approves.

(Side note because I know someone will ask – all of our outlets are tamper-resistant which means they have a plastic “shutter” behind the holes to keep kiddos from sticking objects in them.)


Mid-way through construction we wondered if we should have spent more money on a nicer plywood with more ply’s (since the end grain is so prominent) but now that they’re finished and in the space we’re really pleased with how it all turned out (and realistically, she’s going to eventually give them her own “patina”). The individual box dimensions are as follows (all are 15″ deep): 15″x30″, 15″x15″, 12″x12″ and 15″x9″.


Aside from basic toy and book storage, we like the idea that the boxes could also be used to encourage creative play for years to come. (My sisters and I used to spend hours making “doll houses” from cardboard boxes and I like to think Avery might use these in a similar way someday.)


Of course, safety was a concern so we bought these clips from DWR to attach the boxes to each other. They’re metal with a rubber lining so they fit snugly and can’t be removed by little hands. At first we attached them to the front faces but then decided it looked too busy and instead attached them to the back. We have five clips, which should be plenty for the various configurations we come up with.


(Since Avery’s still in the paperback destruction phase, I love that so many classic children’s books now come in board books.)


Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel was Kyle’s all-time favorite book as a kid. In fact, he checked it out of the library so many times that his teacher had to stage a mini-intervention.


The heights of the boxes are perfect for Avery at this age and encourages more independent standing (she’s not walking yet, but I know it won’t be long!). Although we haven’t reconfigured the boxes yet, we have discovered that by pulling them away from the wall by a few feet we can create a cozy little nook for her.

Aside from the boxes, we’ve made a few other tweaks to the nursery over the last several months:


We bought the IKEA PAX wardrobe with the intention that it could be rearranged and added to as Avery’s needs changed. At first, I just bought four shelves and stacked everything inside. That worked fine for the first 9 months or so but it wasn’t the most efficient set-up. As she started playing with more toys I pulled out all the newborn gear that we no longer needed and packed it away in the crawl space. I then bought three plastic drawers and rearranged the existing shelves. The bottom two drawers are for toys and I use the top one for blankets, sheets and extra diapers. We’ve had this configuration in place for a few months now and it works really well. She can only reach the two bottom drawers, but because they’re so wide she can’t pull them open far enough to create a ladder. Moving the laundry basket up keeps her from constantly emptying her dirty laundry. (Behind the laundry basket and diaper bag is our stash of non-board books.)


Having three areas for toy storage (these drawers, the plywood boxes and the felt bins in the living room) also allows us to rotate through different toys so she doesn’t get bored or overwhelmed with too much to choose from.


Toys, what toys? Actually, we usually have some toys strewn about but since the living area also doubles as a place to meet with clients it was important to have a system in place for quick and easy clean-up.

Also, I’m finally calling this room DONE! So, a few overall shots to commemorate!


Confession, this is the third set of air plants I’ve bought. The first ones got neglected in those first six months and then the second set quickly died when we put up temporary blankets over the windows to make the room darker. (Apparently plants need sunlight?)


Speaking of, I procrastinated so long on curtains because I really did not want to make blackout shades for the windows (those chevron curtains took way too long as it is!). So, imagine my surprise and happiness when I discovered that IKEA sells both blackout curtain liners and roller shades (and in a dark gray color)! At the larger window I used the liner with a pair of IKEA curtains in a dark gray-blue (the curtain rod is from West Elm). We hung them near the ceiling to compose with the wardrobe curtains but stuck with a color similar to the walls so that they wouldn’t compete visually. At the smaller window above the crib we installed a surface-mounted roller shade (we wanted to keep the existing recessed shade for diffuse natural light). The exposed hardware on the roller shades leaves something to be desired but we figured we could build a custom valence of sorts if it bothered us too much (it hasn’t).


The 3 Sprouts canvas bin (which used to hold all of her toys!) now houses our collection of baby quilts (thanks Mom!) plus a few stuffed animals.


Aside from these few modifications and additions, the overall layout hasn’t changed in the past year. It’s simple but continues to work really well for our needs. We still use the dresser to store most of her clothes, diapers, wipes and a few regularly used odds and ends. Bonus, I think it finally lost that Craigslist smell!



The only thing we might swap out in the near future is the rug. I love the design and feel (we bought it from West Elm a few years ago), but it does show dirt and the looped design is not conducive to giant golden retriever paws. It would be nice to replace it with something more easily cleanable too, so we’ll see.


I’d also like to design/incorporate a growth chart into the nursery – maybe something on the backside of the sliding doors? My mom did this on the back of our closet door (my sister and I shared a room) growing up and I want to continue the tradition.



The nursery is starting to feel more and more like a kid’s room and we love it. (In fact, it’s Kyle’s favorite room in the house!) I know there will be more items to accommodate as she expands her interests and abilities (art supplies! a mini kitchen!) but I’ve got some ideas for that.

avery’s first birthday

Our baby is one!


Avery’s birthday was the week before last and we (along with my mom) celebrated by going to Remlinger Farm, blueberry picking and out to dinner that evening (where Avery had her first bites of chocolate cake and ice cream!).



The rest of the week brought the arrival of various family members (including 5 grandparents and 3 of my siblings!). We were thrilled that so many people travelled to share this event with us and it was really special to see the interaction between Avery and our parents (living 2,000 miles away they don’t get to see her nearly as much as they’d like).


Aww, don’t be jealous Bailey.


Avery “opened” gifts from the family later that week (before her party on Saturday) which was definitely a good call and kept her from getting too overwhelmed.


Because y’know, there were gifts like this. Yeah, Kyle’s parents totally got her a Disney Princess car. She loves it.


On Saturday afternoon we had a backyard party with family and friends. We kept it pretty low-key and didn’t go with a particular theme other than a handful of bright and happy colors. The plywood boxes on the table are Avery’s gift from Kyle and me. I plan on doing another post (soon!) that talks about them in more detail (including how they fit in the nursery), but for the party we used them as a display area for gifts.


Another small gift from us were these plastic animals. Avery has some plastic dinosaurs that she loves, so I thought this would be a good addition and something that she can play with for years. The party hat idea was borrowed from Oh Happy Day and kudos to my sister for carefully making each one.


I also made a small “smash cake” for Avery and couldn’t resist these tiny pennants that I found at Target.


We printed each of her monthly photos and displayed them along the top of the fauxdenza…


…but my favorite part was this “installation” that I created from a year’s worth of Instagram photos (printed via Prinstagram).


Although we didn’t get too fancy with the food (small sandwiches, fruit, salads, veggies, beer and sangria) it was a lot of work and I am so, so grateful to all the family that pitched in to make it happen.


Here are few shots during the party. I was rushing around and obviously didn’t have my camera on the right setting so they’re a bit washed out. However, it was a perfectly gorgeous Seattle day and I look forward to all the fun summer birthdays in our future!



Towards the end of the party we brought out the smash cake and sang “Happy Birthday”. Overwhelmed and probably a little unsure why she was only wearing a diaper, Avery burst into tears.


She calmed down a bit when we showed her the cake but wouldn’t go after it till she was safely sitting between her daddy’s legs.


Once she realized that she could actually eat the frosting she became very focused and started using both hands.


Nom! Nom! Nom!

A few minutes later, she looked up to realize everyone was still staring at her and started crying again, this time with an emphatic almost face-plant into her cake. We took this as a cue to move to the bathtub and give her some time to regroup before opening more gifts.

All in all, it was a great party. People say the first birthday is really for the parents and I think that’s true, but it’s also a chance for us to thank everyone for all the help and love we’ve received this past year. (A special thank you to you guys as well, who have offered tons of great ideas and reassurance along the way!)

We made it! Happy birthday Avery – here’s to many, many more!

small space living (with a baby!) // the roundup

Now that we’re approaching Avery’s first birthday (next week!) I thought it might be helpful to do a year-end roundup of baby stuff. Specifically, I wanted to focus on how we live small (and somewhat minimally) while also accommodating a baby. As we’ve remodeled our home over the last 7 years, we’ve carefully selected every product and material and I like to think we apply the same (somewhat OCD) approach to baby gear. Now, this is specific to our situation and everyone is different – I think the best piece advice I could offer would be to evaluate your own needs and don’t just go for what’s trendy. Our general approach has been to limit the amount of stuff while also realizing that some things are either essential or well worth the benefits they afford. Could you get through the first year with less? Probably, but this has been a good balance for us. A few other general notes before we begin:

+ When in doubt, don’t buy it until you really need it (this is what Amazon Prime is for, right?).
+ Better yet, create a well-crafted registry, buy used or take advantage of hand-me-downs. (Almost everything listed below was a gift, bought used or heavily discounted.)
+ Try to find products that do double-duty or that will last for several years.
+ Buy things in neutral colors (an impossible task sometimes!) so that they don’t become an unwanted focal point and so that they can be passed down to future kiddos.
+ Accept that some baby products are ugly but they will work and that (sometimes) that’s ALL THAT MATTERS.
+ You don’t need special baby versions of everything. Be wary of marketing ploys.

Finally, with a small house you can’t always have areas that are completely off limits to kids. Therefore, our goal is to make our house reasonably safe (we’ve had to do very little baby proofing) and accepting of small kiddos.

Everything is designed, but nothing is sacred.

Now, the specifics: [I did a lot of research but obviously didn’t test out every product out there. We also weren’t paid to endorse any of the products listed here.]


Baby gear is some of the most valuable yet bulkiest purchases you’ll make. Fortunately, I think we found a good balance of first year essentials.

Strollers: We own a regular stroller (a BabyJogger City Mini) and carseat stroller frame (Chicco Keyfit Caddy). There are times when I wish I had a more lightweight umbrella stroller, but I haven’t been able to justify the purchase yet (maybe when we retire the stroller frame and I’m not having to store three different strollers!). I chose the regular stroller because it was reasonably priced and well-reviewed. It has lots of bells and whistles but isn’t terribly fancy. I bought it shortly after Avery was born but really, I could have waited till she was 6 months old or so. The stroller frame is more essential during the first six months (though I still use it on a regular basis) and is great for quick trips to the grocery store or shopping. (You can take it on more “rugged” terrain but there’s no suspension system so expect lots of bumpiness.) I considered buying a carseat attachment for City Mini stroller but it didn’t get great reviews and the whole setup seems rather bulky.

Carriers: Initially, we had a Baby K’tan and a BabyBjorn “Comfort” carrier. I loved the K’tan (easier to put on than the Moby) and used it all the time for the first 6 months or so. Once Avery got a little bigger, we transitioned to the BabyBjorn. It was fine and I liked that she could face in our out, but it is a structured carrier and not that easy to pack. Plus, it wasn’t that comfortable. A few months ago I tried a friend’s Ergo and was smitten. Originally I resisted the Ergo because I thought they looked frumpy. Funny how things change after you have a kid. I found a used brown one in good condition (seriously, what’s up with some of the new crazy patterns?). We use it mostly for walking around the neighborhood (Bailey is still not great at walking with a stroller) and travel. During a rough week of teething and separation anxiety, it was the only way to get her to nap.

Carseat: We went with the much-loved Chicco Keyfit 30. No complaints. She still has another inch or so to go before we’ll need to transition to a convertible carseat, but haven’t decided on exactly which one to get yet. I am looking forward to not storing the carseat in her nursery.

Misc. Gear: Most of the other things we purchased were for the newborn stage and were covered in this post and this post. I’m happy to say that the bassinet, swing, bouncer, bumbo and play gym are all packed away now. They were well worth the space and questionable aesthetics, but it feels good to have our space back (except for, y’know…all the toys and books that are now everywhere). We also own a Graco Pack ‘N Play that we use mostly for travel and store in the top of her wardrobe. (Due to our small bedroom, we used the bassinet during the first couple of months.) On a regular basis I don’t use a diaper bag (for short trips I have an emergency diaper and wipes in my purse), but I did finally get this one when she was around 6 months old. It’s sturdy and does the job, but really any medium size tote bag (preferably with a few pockets) would work just as well.

Things we didn’t need: A super fancy stroller system or any of the “accessories” marketed for carseats and strollers. If we didn’t own a car and relied mostly on walking or public transportation, I would have likely put more emphasis on the stroller, but for our needs a middle of the road option has worked out well.


Ahh, sleep. The category you will blindly throw money at. Our essentials:

Crib: IKEA, $129. Done. One year in and I have zero complaints.

Blankets and related items: When Avery was a newborn we swaddled her in Aden and Anais blankets and then discovered the The Miracle Blanket. Once she started rolling over we switched to a Halo sleepsack. Now that she’s older, we use either our Aden and Anais blanket or one of the swaddle blankets (we received two 4-packs and that seems to be plenty).

Monitor: We use this AngelCare monitor that also monitors movement. It’s peace of mind and allowed us to sleep better when Avery was still a newborn.

Soothers: We own two white noise machines and their purpose is two-fold: the soothing sounds help Avery fall asleep and they also mask outside noise that is inevitable in a small house. We have watched movies and hosted dinner parties while Avery slept. We used the Sleep Sheep (we actually have the smaller travel version) more during the first 6 months, then when it went on the fritz we switched to our Munchkin sound machine (it also has a projector, which we seldom use). It has a decent selection of music and nature sounds, but if I were to do it all over again maybe I’d try to set up an ipod docking station (or something similar) so we could create custom playlists. The other major soother for Avery has been her Wubbanub pacifier. Yes, we are a one pacifier family. It’s a miracle that it has not been lost yet.

Things we didn’t need: Lots of sheets (we have two and it’s been fine), a fancy crib, a mobile. We also had way too many lightweight receiving blankets (we liked the Aden & Anais ones so much we rarely used the others).


Mmm, food. This is the category that has evolved the most from birth to 12 months.

Nursing: Since this was Avery’s exclusive food source for the first 6 months, I felt it important to include here. Fortunately, breastfeeding does not require a lot of extras – the most valuable products for me were: our Monte glider, a Boppy nursing pillow and my iPhone. I know gliders aren’t for everyone, but I use ours multiple times, every single day. (Some quick math tells me that in the past year I’ve sat down to nurse somewhere close to 2,000 times!) And that’s where the iPhone comes into play…I didn’t use any formal apps, but it was a great tool for keeping track of feeding times and catching up on my social media. We didn’t rely heavily on bottles, but I used a Dr. Brown one during the first few months and then a couple of Lifefactory bottles after that. (I never needed anything more than the 4 oz. version but I bought some of the sippy cup tops and will try those with Avery once she’s a bit older and doesn’t rely on cups with handles.)

Solids: At six months we introduced solids and acquired more kitchen stuff. Because our house is small and we didn’t really have space for a stand alone high chair, we opted for a space-saving Inglesina table chair (installed on the island) as well as the Stokke Tripp Trapp. We use both, although I prefer the table chair most days because I like having Avery there while I’m prepping food or doing dishes (and I like to think she feels more included). It also stores compactly and is great for travel. We also took it to restaurants before she was big enough for the standard restaurant highchairs. As for accessories, I carved out half of a drawer for cups and utensils. (We don’t really use plates or bowls yet.) I try to stick with gender-neutral colors (which apparently means green!) and am still experimenting with different products. The infant spoons and bottle brush are OXO, the cups are IKEA and Lollacup and the drying rack is from Boon. (I bought 4 other types of cups, but those two are my favorites.)

Things we didn’t need: A fancy highchair with tray, a dishwasher basket (for small items it was just easier to wash by hand), a bottle warmer, 9 oz. bottles.


I’m lumping bath and safety together because I’ve found you really need very little (yay!) to get the job done.

Bath: As a newborn, we used an inexpensive bath sponge in our kitchen sink. As she got bigger and could sit up, we transitioned to the regular tub, using a non-slip mat from IKEA. (I did receive a Puj tub that I was really excited about, but then realized that our bathroom sink is too small and our kitchen sink too big for it to work properly.) Avery didn’t require many bath toys and was happy with these Skip Hop ducks (which worked well for rinsing) and some simple stacking cups. We received three hooded towels (I like this Aden & Anais one best because it’s a bit larger) but really a regular towel would work fine too for the 10 seconds it takes to get from the tub to the changing table.

Safety: I reluctantly registered for one of those cheesy baby kits and it has mostly been a waste (the only thing I use are the nail clippers, but they seem cheap). My advice would be to get a quality pair of clippers (I don’t actually own these but maybe I should just go ahead and get them), a good rectal thermometer (which I have fortunately not had to use yet) and a nasal aspirator. Now, these are the items that you want on hand before you actually need them – but other items could be acquired as needed (like a comb or brush if, ahem, you baby happens to have hair).

Things we didn’t need: A baby bath tub, special towels and wash cloths (although we do have them and yeah, the hooded ducky towel is pretty darn cute), lots of bath toys. We also have the Skip Hop whale spout cover, but it doesn’t fit on our modern spout. Because we have a relatively deep tub, the spout has actually not been an issue (yet).

+Finally, a few thoughts on clothes, toys and books. I know these categories will affect us most in the coming year and we’re already making a few tweaks to her nursery (post to come!) to accommodate these changes.


I don’t feel like this category needs much explanation – we’ve received a lot of clothes as gifts and bought most everything else at consignment stores or babyGap (so far this has been my best source for quality, well-designed clothes that frequently go on sale). My advice would be to take advantage of used clothes in the first year – it’s easy to find great 0-12 months options but as babies start eating solids and becoming more active, used clothes in good shape are harder to come by. I’m actually finding now that Avery is in this weird in between phase where she’s “too old” for cutesy newborn style clothes but also not ready for jean skirts and t-shirts with bedazzled kitties on them. Any advice, parents?

Toys and Books:

Although it’s so tempting to buy cute baby toys, you don’t need much during the first year and babies are easily fascinated by common household items. Right now, all of Avery’s toys fit in one of the felt bins under the media bench or in her wardrobe. So far I’ve resisted buying anything large and obnoxious. I know it will happen, but not yet. Many of the things she has were gifts, but in general we try to buy things that are well made and will be enjoyed for several years. This is relatively new territory, so I’d appreciate any suggestions you guys might have on the subject, especially as it pertains to books. Part of me wants to buy her all of my favorite children’s books, but she’s still in the destruction-of-pages phase (pop-up books are the worst, which resulted in the recent beheading of several Big Birds in a friend’s Sesame Street book) so perhaps we should stick with board books from the library? At any rate, toys and books are going to inevitably impact how we live in our small house and we’ll continue to share our tips and tricks as we go along.

PHEW! Did you make it? I know this has been incredibly wordy, but I relied heavily on blogs and Amazon reviews when preparing for parenthood so I hope this at least helps a few more people out. I’d also love it if you guys chimed in with your own suggestions and recommendations. More questions? Ask away! It takes a village, right?

eleven months!

Avery is 11 months-old today!


This past month (and especially the last week or so) has been filled with spurts of physical and cognitive developments.


Avery now has two teeth (with a third barely popping through) and is a girl on the move (no walking yet, but keen on every other mode of transportation). Just yesterday I went to plug my phone in in the bedroom and when I came out she was on all fours on top of the side table (I’m assuming she climbed on top of a pillow to the couch and then to the table)! I quickly came to her rescue, but I was also really proud!


She’s much more attentive these days too, noticing birds and the neighborhood cats that like to hang out in our side yard.


We also think she has a word for Bailey but aren’t quite sure what it is yet.


Sleep has been MUCH better this month (phew!) and she’s trying all sorts of new foods. In fact, last night we went to Ballard Pizza Co. and I have never seen an infant devour arugula and prosciutto with such enthusiasm!


“Eating the Alphabet? That sounds like a challenge I’d like to accept…”

One month left till she’s officially a toddler? It doesn’t seem possible. Happy 11 months, baby girl. We love you.

P.S. – Guys, the back yard is 99% done and it looks gooooood – can’t wait to take photos and share!