Interior Decorating by Sonogram

After her first sonogram, Meredith Levine anxiously watched the nurse put the results into an envelope. She didn’t want to know the sex of her baby. But even as her husband restrained her from tearing the envelope from the nurse’s hands, she was comforted by the fact that there was one other person besides her doctor who’d be in on the secret. That envelope was being sent to Stephen Johnson, the designer of her nursery.

In pre-sonogram days, if you wanted an elegant crib-space ready upon your return from the maternity ward, you’d have to go with something beige. Now you can have it both ways: that magic moment when the doctor calls out, “It’s a girl!”—and the ability to decorate in advance with gender-correct wallpaper. Mothers are authorizing obstetricians to send sonogram results directly to baby stores. Then, à la Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, some stores will even put the room together while moms are in the hospital, for a kind of surprise after the surprise.

When Levine stopped by Johnson’s shop, Blue Bench—co-owned by his sister Susan—during her pregnancy, he would taunt, “We know and you don’t!” But Johnson wasn’t always so comfortable with such knowledge. “The first person that asked for this, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I don’t want to know the sex of your baby!’ ” Now “it’s just like everything else.”

Of course, you don’t want your decorator to completely surprise you. Even as they cede this intimate fact about themselves, mothers retain control. Naturally, they choose two sets of patterns, with the store ordering one before the big day. “It’s pretty funny when they call en route to the hospital,” says Johnson. “They’ll say, ‘I’m fine, but I’m in labor, so can you deliver the nursery?’ ” Sara Cooper was surprised to end up with both sets of layettes she’d selected from the Upper East Side’s La Layette. She had twins, a boy and a girl. “I’m a little anal, so I wanted to have the appropriate linens,” she says. “My doctor found it very funny.”

Less amused are the in-laws, says Johnson. “They can’t believe strangers know the sex and they don’t.” Some family members beg stores for the info: “They say, ‘Please, we’ll give you a nice gift!’ ” says Angela Conrow, co-owner of Plain Jane. Others try trickery. “We had a client whose sister called saying it was okay to tell her,” adds Johnson. “We said, ‘Hell no!’ ”

Interior Decorating by Sonogram