Childbase Partnership

The Childbase Partnership, rated one of the UK’s most extraordinary companies by Best Companies (2016) and named a ‘Sunday Times Best Company to Work For’ for over a decade is an Employee-owned Partnership. A truly collaborative and innovative company consisting of 44 nurseries and Ofsted-rated ‘Outstanding’ throughout the South of England.

Childbase Partnership approached us to design and create an outstanding concept for their new Cherry Trees Day Nursery in Cranfield. Designed with the wellbeing of the employees and the children in mind, Nadine Dorries MP who launched the day nursery described it as “magical”

The new 579,000 SqM space located on the Cranfield University site was designed by Architects Apt.Design. We were given a totally blank canvas inside with a central light-filled atrium connecting all the playrooms. The client wanted a bespoke design that could be adapted and rolled out to their 44 nurseries around the country. The concept had to be inspiring to give each and every child in nursery the very best start in life. Surrounding the nursery was a generous garden space which encourages children into the fresh air all year round. This sense of outdoors lead the design concept, created by Nikki Rees, to bring the outside in.

From the minute the parents and children step through the doors at the Cherry Tree Nursery they are reassured of the exceptional high standards, warmth and transparent approach from the friendly team and the honest interior design which greets them. A contemporary hand-made light from Tom Raffield in an organic butterfly shape floats above your head like a piece of art. The threshold has a homely feel with a Sisal rug under foot and lounge seating in a rich red to reflect the Childbase brand colours. Parents can peer through the large glazed windows and see their little ones happily playing in the central light filled atrium at the heart of the nursery.

We started by giving each room its own identity based on colour and a graphic mini bug illustration hand drawn by Jo Beresford-Peirse. We chose hues of red, yellow, green and blue, but stayed away from the primary colour palette and turned to more organic shades. The colours were used in fabrics, soft furnishings and durable paint finishes bringing the interiors to life along with an abundance of natural materials.

A home from home look and feel was desired to give a more nurturing and familiar environment for some children as young as 3 months old. We took inspiration from Reggio Emilia, an educational concept that believes all children can best create meaning and make sense of their world through living in complex, rich environments.

“no space is marginal; no corner is unimportant and each space needs to be alive and open to change” – Reggio Emilia

Our design approach creates an environment which embraces a rich pattern, texture, colour and emotion. The centre of the nursery was a light filled atrium designed for children to gather. We brought the outside in with an ombre paint effect using a graduation of greens to blue to reach the sky. Pebbled textural flooring enhanced the outdoor feel and was met with a grey oak flooring, both from Karndean, which leads into each of the play rooms.

Cosy arm chairs in reading nooks were sourced from for their homely and comfortable design but specified in practical and wipable materials. Bespoke open storage in the Bumble-bee room was made in a honeycomb shape with a mirrored back to reflect the interesting seasonal finds the children discover in the imaginative nursery garden. Each room had a unique design to that age group. No text was used to name the rooms but hand drawn illustrations of bugs can be seen on glass doors and playfully crawling across the walls. Beautiful hand-made bunting was screen printed with the same illustrations and hung around the interior. Geometric prints reflecting the natural patterns of the bugs are seen in the fabric window dressing to soften the acoustics and space. Each room had a bespoke rug made to measure to create cosy corners. We loved the vibrant cosy happiness of the Quirky B Honeycomb print from Alternative Flooring that can be found in the caterpillar room for the little ones to crawl all over, or the beautiful duck egg coloured spots in the ladybird room.

When the babies in the caterpillar rooms become fully grown into beautiful butterflies ready to take flight into the world of Primary school we hope that they have explored and enjoyed lots of adventures in the indoor sensory garden as much as we have loved designing this very magical nursery. A true collaboration in design, championing British creatives and skilled craftsmen for a forward-thinking, industry leading nursery.

Design by Nikki Rees