How to design on a dime for dorm living

Samantha Wright

One of the first things people do after they decide what college they’re going to attend, and sometimes even before, is shop for dorm decorations. Whether it’s a rug, a poster or organizational bins, students plan immediately on how to decorate and utilize the small space they’ll be living in for the next nine months. 

It’s a bit of shock for most people when they see the 14×11 foot room they’ll be staying in. There are several ways, however, that a student can make their room look nice despite the size.

Alina Zahra, resident assistant and interior designer student, suggests putting the beds on top of the other.

“You can increase space in a small dorm room by bunking beds,” she said. “This gives more room for extras, such as a small couch.”

She also suggests using favored color schemes for pillowcases and comforters. A rug with a color or design that stands out adds to a room. A rug also provides a soft spot for students to land on as they roll out of the bed in the morning, instead of cold, hard tile.

Zahra suggested coordinating with the roommate beforehand. Scott County freshman Emilee Benton did just that.

“We went shopping together before we moved in,” she said.

Communicating with a roommate beforehand helps determine who should bring larger items like a refrigerator or a microwave. If both people show up with a fridge, it can take up valuable space that could be used for something else.

Another good idea is to switch how the room is set up regularly to keep it feeling fresh. Benton said she and her roommate have switched their room around three times, trying to find a layout they liked better. 

Emily Creech, another freshman from Scott County, suggests bringing mementos from home to make the room feel more lived-in. Such items can also help prevent homesickness. Even a poster of a favorite movie can make a concrete wall seem more comforting.

“Bring personal things to make it feel homey,” she said. “I brought some pictures from home.”

Creech and Benton advised against bringing too much stuff, which can clutter the room, making it feel messy and taking up valuable space. 

They recommend that students focus on bringing seasonal items that can be swapped out throughout the year. Anything brought in will have to be taken home, however, and wall space is limited, so that large painting from IKEA might not be the best idea.

Some other space-saving ideas include hanging a mirror on the back of the door, or raising the bed as high as possible, so that bins and other items can be stored underneath. Items can also be stacked on top of closets.

Plants can add color and life within those white, drab walls. Succulents are especially nice, since these hardy plants don’t require much water, just sunlight. Electric tea lights in mason jars can add some soft light for when a roommate wants to sleep, but the other isn’t ready. Since these lights don’t have an actual flame, they comply with Housing and Residence Life regulations.

Some retail stores, such as Target, provide lists of the most important items to bring, which can help with deciding what to take and what to leave behind. Other stores might hang pictures with unique ideas of how to decorate dorm rooms.

Several sites, such as Pinterest and Instagram, can help provide inspiration and helpful tips. Some of these suggestions include the use of a shoe organizer on the back of the door to hold snacks, or a shower caddy hung on the wall to hold school supplies. Students should always check with HRL to make sure what’s appropriate to use, but plenty of ideas that comply with regulations can be found online. 

So, when students face their small living quarters, they shouldn’t panic. There are plenty of ways to decorate and furnish their room to make it seem cozy and inviting, while still showcasing their sense of style.