Interior Designer may be Carrie Riley’s official job title,  but a more cherished job title recently came with the adoption of her son Cadyn. “Adoption is a rollercoaster ride of an emotional journey,” Riley says. “You cannot anticipate winning; you cannot control anything.” For a self-described control freak, the situation was more than a little stressful. “I’ve controlled things my whole life,” she says, “and this was the one thing that was completely out of my hands, which was very hard for me to swallow.” Not knowing which direction things were going to go for her and husband Jason, the nursery was literally the only thing that Riley had control over in the unpredictable process—a life-size blank canvas in the upstairs of her house, where she could find solace and regain control. “Designing is what I love and what I do for a living, so the design really derived from a passionate point of perfection,” she says. “Jason thinks I’m OCD crazy, but he let me have this passion project.” 

PHOTOS BY RYAN GAMMA.

Four white dressers later (they weren’t the right white), four mattresses shipped and returned (they weren’t good enough), all new upholstery re-covered a footstool to perfectly match the armchair glider, custom black-out window treatments and multiple coats of soft gray wall paint. Later, Riley was finally ready to become a mom, on her own accord. Embracing an arbitrary theme and neutral color scheme—not yet knowing whether they’d be adopting a boy or a girl—she blended her unorthodox introduction to motherhood with an unorthodox, modern nursery nook. With a cool, calming sea of pearly greys, Riley shied away from traditional colored affairs of gender-dominated hues. “I don’t need it to scream super blue for me to know what or who it is, dominated by a color,” she says. “I wanted the absence of it.” The powdery shades of soothing gray tones are accentuated even more as Riley layered the monochromatic color scheme with a darker, grounding pewter for the flooring, different patterned pillows and the undulating 3D texture of the back wall, imbedded with cantilevered shelves to hold the floating lanterns. And there’s a story behind those Pottery Barn lanterns. “It was a very long and dark and deep process to go through.” Riley says of the adoption process. “But the soft lights created an ambiance that gave us that glimmer of hope.” Inside each lantern is a candle on a timer—a timer set to the moment Riley got the call and Cadyn was matched—igniting every day, like hope, as she waited. “They would kick on when I got home from work,” she says, “and symbolized a light at the end of a tunnel.” 

While a toddler now, Cadyn’s tranquil alcove captures a timeless and mature aesthetic to last a handful of birthdays. When the day comes to exchange sleepful naps in his crib for a big boy bed, Riley’s prepared to evolve with the times and relinquish control (sort of). “I want him to have a little bit of design directive, you know, guided by Mommy of course,” she quips. “He could be five and into action heroes and want to put those on the shelves instead. And when he gets even older, maybe he’ll have sports trophies or academic awards he wants to highlight on the wall—that’ll be for him to decide.” But for now, she’s enjoying bedtime stories of Dr. Seuss on the plush polar rug. Even when Cadyn’s waking at 1:30am crying because his teeth hurt and Carrie drags her feet to the room. “Even though you’re like, ‘for the love of God’,” she says, “You go in and he just wants to hold you. I look at him, and the lanterns, and just melt. You think, ‘This is where I asked to be, and I’m finally here’. So I take it all in.”  

PHOTOS BY RYAN GAMMA.