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Baby Boomers' New Breed of Crib

June 27, 1992|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Babies were once lulled to sleep in cribs adorned with pink bunnies, yellow lambs and pastel blue teddy bears.

Peek into a nursery today, however, and one can find baby surrounded by polka-dotted dinosaurs running rampant beneath purple-and-hot-pink palm trees, howling coyotes and cacti and schools of rainbow-colored tropical fish.

Infant bedding often has a decidedly grown-up look, with Monet-inspired floral prints, bright geometric patterns and expensive Battenburg lace. Black--yes, black--is a popular color in many of the new bold prints.

The cribs themselves have become like fine furniture. Parents invest hundreds of dollars in them, as if the cribs will be used for generations, not discarded after the child learns to crawl.

Who's responsible for these upscale baby beds?

The baby boomers.

Many have put off having children until they're financially comfortable. When at last a baby comes, they can invest heavily in a crib, the bedding and all of the trimmings.

"It's an emotional buy," said Barry Amster of Bellini in Costa Mesa. "A lot of people go all out, especially on their first child. They want their baby to have the best."

Bellini caters to parents who want fine cribs, custom bedding, matching furniture, the works. One customer, Nina Link of Anaheim Hills, had all of her newborn daughter's bedding custom-made out of a pink floral fabric, then ordered matching hand-painted baby furniture and every conceivable accessory--including a coordinating light switch.

"I did it from the hospital bed," she said proudly. "My husband brought the fabrics back and forth."

Many parents begin furnishing the nursery by picking out top-of-the-line cribs. At Bellini, fine Italian-made cribs hand-carved from beechwood range from $500 to $750. Most feature thick wooden arches, concealed hardware and a pull-out drawer.

Bedding can cost more than the crib by the time parents are finished buying every last ruffled pillow. A custom-made five-piece set--including comforter, bumper, sheet, dust ruffle and pillow--costs $500 to $700 at Bellini.

Bergstrom in Anaheim has a showroom filled with more than 100 cribs in all materials and finishes, ranging from $150 for metal cribs painted in primary colors to about $480 for a crib carved of golden ash, with high, thick arches.

There's an equally impressive selection of bedding. The "Yippie Coyote" bedding set has baby coyotes printed in Southwest colors of peach and mint. To complete the look, there's a mobile of coyotes and rabbits and a full-size stuffed cactus, without the needles.

Appliqued animals are especially hot. "Bubba," a football-playing bear, adorns a bedding set that has a coordinating football pillow and a mobile of tiny footballs.

"The whole baby's bedding category has grown," said Pierre Bergstrom, general manager of Bergstrom. "Four years ago, there were 50 companies making bedding. Now there are 250. It's so fashionable. People are spending more money on bumpers and quilts and pillows."

One person credited with taking baby's bedding out of the pink is Shirley Pepys, founding president of Noel Joanna Inc. (NoJo) in Rancho Santa Margarita.

"The prettier, the more expensive, the more demand there is," Pepys said.

Her 21-year-old company has introduced colorful, sophisticated prints into the nursery.

"Before then, there was no fashion. Nothing coordinated. You had to run around to six different stores to find things that matched. There was no such thing as a baby's dust ruffle," she says. "The last six years have seen explosive growth" in infant bedding.

The inspiration for NoJo's designs often comes from unlikely sources. Pepys was staying at the Mirage in Las Vegas when she spotted a hotel logo emblazoned with colorful palm trees. Before she left, she bought a T-shirt with the logo. She decided the hot pink, purple and jade palms belonged on a NoJo print that had baby dinosaurs and black and white polka dots.

"Whoever thought you'd have palm trees in a baby's room?" she asked. The palm trees worked. "Tiny Dino" is her top seller.

"We've broken all the trends in decorating the nursery," Pepys said. "We were the first company to come out with black and white" for baby's bedding.

"Puppy Love" features two tail-wagging, black-and-white Scottish terriers with red bows. Fathers have become more involved in choosing baby's bedding; they like the bolder graphics and colors, Pepys said.

Even she is sometimes surprised at how wild the nursery can get. On a whim, she decided to show NoJo's new "Fiesta Fish" collection to buyers at a trade show, not expecting people to snap up baby's bedding festooned with tropical fish.

"First of all, fish in a baby's nursery?" Pepys said. NoJo had so many interested buyers, the company immediately added the fish to its line.

"There's still no indication that the nursery is going back to baby blue and baby pink," she said.

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