Royal infant on the way, but housing unclear

LONDON (AP) - Is it a boy? A girl? As the due date for Prince William and the former Kate Middleton's first child nears, observers are also asking: Where will the royal baby spend its first few months?

The world won't know the gender of the baby until it's born in July, and the answer to the second question isn't as straightforward as one might think.

A major relocation can complicate things for any young parents-to-be; William and Kate are no exception, despite their wealth and prestige.

William's tour of duty as a search-and-rescue pilot in Wales is scheduled to wrap up around September, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as the pair is formally known, are preparing to move from an isolated rented cottage on a Welsh island to Kensington Palace in central London.

But the timing isn't quite right. Major refurbishment works at the palace are not expected to be finished until at least a month or two after the infant is born.

The couple's chosen quarters at the palace have fallen into disrepair since its former occupant, Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth II, died in 2002. Workers are still upgrading it and getting rid of an asbestos problem.

That means that once the infant arrives, William and Kate will most likely have to make do with their current temporary home in London, a smaller two-room property also at Kensington Palace.

They could, in theory, bring the baby back to their farmhouse in Wales, although that seems farfetched, given that it's 450 kilometres from London, where the duchess is expected to give birth.

Palace officials will not comment, saying where the royal couple chooses to stay is a private matter.

Wherever that may be, come autumn the new family will be able to move into their permanent London home, Apartment 1a at Kensington Palace. The name is misleading: The property is actually a four-storey house with a nursery, 20 rooms and a private garden.

So what will the royal nursery look like? While few will ever get a glimpse inside the room where the future monarch will grow up, design experts are offering some suggestions based on experience.

Dragons, a small British family business that was hired by Princess Diana to design a nursery for William and Prince Harry, is showcasing a hotel nursery suite that offers the royal treatment for wealthy commoners - from 2,230 pounds (S$4,239) a night.

Despite the price, the suite is more understated than lavish. There's a cot bed adorned with a coronet and delicate drapes, a luxury miniature play table and a changing unit, all painstakingly painted by artisans in soothing, muted shades of beige and pastels.

"We wanted to create a sanctuary where it feels very safe, very peaceful," said the company's managing director Lucinda Croft.

Her firm also designed nurseries for Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew's two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.

Ms Croft would not say whether she is working with William and Kate on their nursery, citing the royals' privacy concerns. She recalls her mother's shock when, three decades ago, a tabloid reporter found out she was working with Diana to design William's nursery and called to ask about the details.

The late Diana - who Ms Croft says was "very hands-on, very involved" in designing her nursery - lived for many years at Kensington Palace, where both William and Prince Harry spent their early years.

Ms Deborah Saunt, a London-based architect who has worked with many wealthy clients, says the priorities in designing nurseries are the same no matter the child's background: lots of natural light and access to the outdoors. The less elaborate the better, she says - and that goes for a future king or queen as well.

"When you design for very young children it's really about trying to imagine the world through their eyes, creating the kind of stimulation they need," she said.

"Those things don't necessarily cost a lot of money ... (children) don't care if it's cashmere or cotton."

The child will be third in line to the British throne after Prince Charles and William. The royal baby's soon-to-be-great-grandmother, 87-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, is Britain's reigning monarch.

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