Interior designer Willa Ford admits that even though she has helped bring tons of home visions to fruition, when it came time to design a nursery for her own child, she needed a good place to begin.
“When you do so many different aesthetics for so many different people, you go, ‘I love this trend and that trend’ and get it out of your system. When it comes to yours, you freeze for a minute,” the former singer, who gained fame for her 2001 hit “I Wanna Be Bad,” tells PEOPLE of the gender-neutral room she designed for her first child, a delivery surprise due at the end of August.
“It was honestly about the wallpaper [being] the starting point,” adds the mom-to-be, who married former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Ryan Nece in October.
“With my personality, I just knew it had to look nature-y. It’s so funny — we focus so much on the baby and what the baby’s gonna love. They’re never gonna know what it looks like! I’ll pay money if you can remember what your nursery looked like,” Ford, 35, jokes. “It’s really about the mom!”
The nursery that resulted from Ford’s creative taste features a mix of florals, bamboo, industrial touches, wild animals and a variety of both modern and vintage-inspired elements.
But Ford’s favorite part of the space is actually one of its staples: the crib, which is complete with a white canopy and is part of the Campaign collection by Pottery Barn Kids, along with the dresser.
“I’m hoping the baby is a good sleeper but that’s laughable, let’s be honest,” she says. “I needed a lot of storage, so the furniture I chose had it.”
Another aspect of the room she really digs “function-wise” is the Serena & Lily hanging rattan chair.
“I’ll spend a lot of time rocking in this chair,” she says. “I decided, instead of a glider, to do a hanging chair. People don’t realize how comfortable they are.”
Ford also touches on the importance of the floral wallpaper she is “obsessed” with (“I told him guys like pink too,” she jokes of convincing Nece to get on board with her choice — even if they end up with a son).
“Babies love tummy time and staring at the print, so I wanted to incorporate some patterns so the baby has something to fixate on,” she shares, noting that the idea of considering a simpler color palette just “[isn’t] my personality at all.”
Aside from the floral touches and pops of color throughout the room, Ford admits she wanted to incorporate a bit of wildlife (“I’m obsessed with monkeys,” she says, citing the fact that her baby will be born in the Chinese Year of the Monkey) and culture — for a very important reason.
“There’s this really big piece of art from an African tribe. It’s this beautiful picture of someone in full regalia at sunset,” she says, explaining, “I bought it as a gift for my husband for his African-American culture.”
The expectant mom, who competed on Dancing with the Stars in the show’s third season, also made sure to work in pieces that hold sentimental value to both herself and her husband.
“My husband’s mom kept his receiving blanket all these years, and that’s actually on the crib. It’s so sweet!” she says. “There’s a wall of bookshelves — my mother-in-law saved some of Ryan’s books and wrote notes in the favorites.”
“It’ll be so neat to read these to my kid, eventually write a note myself and pass it on,” she continues. “It’s such a cool idea.”
As far as names are concerned, the couple have a few favorites for both sexes, but are keeping their options open.
“We don’t have one, we have a couple. I’ve been having a hard time … I need to look in this baby’s eyes before I can name it,” Ford explains. “We have favorites, but I’ve gotta meet this baby first. I hope in that moment we know, because there are people who leave the hospital and still don’t know!”
“We have some traditional family names, some biblical names, too,” she continues. “I’m also really inspired by nature, so it’s quite possible it’ll be something a little more off the average — but nothing crazy. We’re not trying to do over-the-top celebrity names.”
The 38-weeks-pregnant Ford also recently took part in a stunning maternity shoot, where she donned a Native American-inspired ensemble for a very meaningful reason.
“In Native culture, you earn a feather for acts of bravery — usually in battle. I thought it would be symbolic of carrying and birthing a child,” she explains. “The red paint across [the] eyes was used by shamans or healers”.
“I should include that I am part Native American and wanted to celebrate that in my photos,” she continues. “I know cultural appropriation is a huge topic these days, but our baby should celebrate that he/she will be part Native/African American and [part] Caucasian.”
Ford shares that while she’s planning on going the “regular” route in childbirth, she doesn’t expect it to be perfect.
“They tell women, ‘Have a birth plan.’ And then they’ll tell women [to] just throw it all out the window, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen when you get in there,” she says. “I trust the doctor has my best interests [at heart].”
About her instinct on her baby’s sex, Ford says, “I think I’m having a girl! I have felt like that since three and a half months into pregnancy. My husband also thinks it’s a girl, but my mom thought I was a boy. In some weird psyche way, I’m prepared for a girl, so if it’s a boy, it’s going to be really funny. I’m excited either way, but it’ll be entertaining.”
Ford confesses that even though she and Nece both think they’re having a little girl, the temptation to discover the baby’s sex was never present.
“Before we got married — even before we got pregnant — we never talked about the fact that both of us always wanted this to be a surprise,” she explains. “I always knew I would hold out and wait to find out what the baby was. And he was the same way. Not for one minute have I wished I knew.”
“I think it’s a really great light at the end of the tunnel when you’re in labor,” she continues. “You’re going to find out what this baby is, [and it] just gives you a little extra motivation.”
Like most women about to go through childbirth for the first time, Ford isn’t exempt from jitters.
“I’m so nervous. There’s this thing that happens during pregnancy: Your body starts to get so over it that when it’s time, your body’s like, ‘This is so horrible, but let’s get this thing out,’” she says. “You’re just so tired and you can’t sleep, your ribs hurt — it’s the silly stuff you hear, but it’s true.”
And although Nece and Ford might share the same opinion about the sex of their baby, they differ vastly in terms of how they’re handling the upcoming stress associated with childbirth.
“I’m nervous, but my husband used to play in the NFL, [so he has a] coaching mentality. I’m like, ‘Do I need to buy you a whistle for this?’” she jokes. “He’s so cool, calm and collected about it. It’s almost creepy how calm he is. He runs the play in his head. He’s just not worried at all.”
— Jen Juneau with reporting by Melody Chiu