06/09/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
It was two months before her baby was due, and Brooke Shields
still hadn't confronted the spare room that would become daughter Rowan's nursery. "I couldn't get around to even cleaning it out," Shields says. "I couldn't wrap my mind around it." So she followed the lead of other celeb moms-to-be and called Wendy Bellissimo, the preeminent decorator to Hollywood's newborns. "Wendy turned it into a celebration," says Shields of the pale-green-and-yellow room the two completed together, "rather than a pressure." Says Bellissimo: "Brooke told me the nursery made the idea of being a mom real to her. Those are the moments that make me say, 'I love my job.'"
There's no shortage of such moments these days. In six years Bellissimo's two lines of chic infant bedding and accessories—the high-end Wendy Bellissimo ($120-$900) and the more affordable Wendy Bee ($99-$219)—have sprung up in 400 stores across the country, bringing in $6 million last year. And although she charges up to $20,000 for a custom nursery, she is so in demand that she must limit herself to a handful of clients. The tots of Kelly Ripa
and Teri Polo are among the lucky few. So are Bellissimo's older daughters Gracie, 3, and Cecilia, 1. Willow, born in March, has to make do with a corner in her parents' room. Says Mom: "We've outgrown our house."
More expansion is on the way. This summer Bellissimo, 36, hopes to bring her style to the masses with the publication of Nesting: Lifestyle Inspirations for Your Growing Family
. "When a woman gets pregnant, she buys the book where you learn the crazy things that happen to your body," she says. "[My book] is all the fun stuff."
Which doesn't mean purple dinosaurs. "You can still live in a beautiful environment, even if you have a baby," says Bellissimo, who favors calming colors and personal touches. JAG
star Catherine Bell loves Italian Ducati motorbikes, so for her baby's room Bellissimo commissioned a mural with a racer on a Ducati in the Tuscan countryside. "She has an amazing eye for what works," says Polo.
Trained in interior design at the small Teikyo Post University, not far from her hometown of Kensington, Conn., Bellissimo first entered the L.A. design scene in 1994 with 30 pillows made from scraps discarded by a home store where she worked. Then-boyfriend Joe Bellissimo, who now handles marketing for his wife's company, suggested taking the pillows to the posh boutiques that line Montana Avenue. "The first store bought 29," she says. "I was in shock."
Not Joe, whom she wed in 1995. "I call her the kamikaze designer. She walks into a room and instantly has a vision," say Joe, 32. "When we moved in, there was a yard sale and all my stuff went. Gone."
On a whim in 1997, Bellissimo experimented with kid's bedding. "The baby stuff," she says, "took over." At home too. After she became pregnant in 1999, everyone wanted to know how she would do her child's room. "The pressure was on," she says, laughing. With artist Penny Erlich she created a mural with the couple's Labradors Gatsby and Griswald, depicted in a hot-air balloon. Actress Ripa saw the room in a magazine, got in touch and, says Bellissimo, "it just took off."
The only child of Lonnie, 60, a furniture-store owner, and Jay Jarmolinski, 63, a tool designer, Wendy demonstrated her passion early, commandeering a closet as a home for her Barbie dolls. "I cut out rugs and made rooms for them," she recalls.
Now she gets to play house on a grand scale. She and Joe, who haven't ruled out more children, are building a six-bedroom, two-story home in the mountains near L.A. Willow will get her own room, and "everything," promises Bellissimo, "will be kid-friendly."
Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles