There are few things that excite me more than an empty dorm room. After three years at boarding school and four years of college, transforming these small spaces in residence halls was something I looked forward to every summer.
Here are some of my best tips (and secrets…) to making your college dorm room look more like a home and less like a prison cell.
As you and mom begin to make a college packing list and BEFORE you do ANY dorm shopping for freshman year, find the residence life section on the college website. Look for the dorm rules, items that are prohibited, find out any information about the dimensions of the room, and see what furniture may be provided by campus housing.
You should also touch base with your roommate to see if you want to coordinate dorm decor and determine who might be bringing any large furnishings that can be shared like a rug, curtains, or a mini-fridge, coffee maker, etc.
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Best dorm room ideas
Light is hands-down the most important part of the room. Most dorms have minimal natural light and cringe-worthy fluorescent bulbs in the overhead lighting that immediately make a room less inviting.
If your college allows them, string lights are a popular source of lighting. I stay away from the wire lights because I have trouble finding places to wrap them around, but a lot of my friends find ways to make it work. A fun use for the wire lights is layering them in an extra-large mason jar for a DIY lamp.
My favorite ones are globe string slights. Two sets will likely be enough to fully line the perimeter of your room. This creates the appearance of natural, warm light that comes from all directions.
A light box is also fun, and you can change the letters that are part of the set to display motivational or just fun phrases.
Dorm room decorating: decor ideas
My first year in a dorm I decorated with posters from AllPosters.com which is what many students do. While displaying great movie and TV shows, I think they darkened the color scheme and the vibe of the room.
Now, I try to decorate with artwork, prints and photographs from small businesses that I find on websites like Etsy and Society6 that have thousands of unique art prints by artists from around the world.
20×200 is a company that seeks to make art affordable and I’ve found a few great prints from their site in the past. You can also find unique posters and maps at art stores like A.I. Friedman and Michael’s.
Steer clear from the glossy photos you print at the drugstore photo counter and look around on websites like Social Print Studio and Artifact Uprising (a little pricier). Both websites offer square (and large-format) matte prints that you can pull from Facebook, Instagram, or your photo library. These squares look great as a grid, fastened with clothespins on a piece of string, or in the frames that both websites offer.
I often pull photos from websites like Tumblr and even just Google Images of artists’ works that I like and print them on Social Print Studio, which allows me to mix personal photos with more artistic images. You can use the larger options on these websites to create your own posters or prints.
If you have small photos or post cards, use a pinboard or a lightweight photo hanger like this one to create a collage wall display that you can easily change.
Also, another option that I have only learned after living through (and decorating) several undergraduates’ college rooms is that less is more. It’s fun to have wall-to-wall coverings with photos, prints, tapestries, and so on, but sometimes a more minimal approach gives the room a more mature, sophisticated look that one might have later on in college.
I use pareos (sarongs), turkish towels, beach blankets, and tablecloths for my wall hangings because I think that they look less typical “dorm room” than the busy-looking tapestries that most companies sell. But, I also think that a statement tapestry can look great on a wall, and should be the standout piece in the room. If you go with a statement tapestry, I’d suggest taking it easy with the remaining decor, and go with neutral bedding.
Pottery Barn Teen tapestries are some of the prettiest I’ve seen. Remember, check to see if your college has rules about hanging tapestries, first. Command Strips are what people typically use for wall hangings so pick up those and Command hooks (if they are allowed.)
Finally, there are options options for removable wallpaper that might look great as an accent wall. Check out the extensive wallpaper selection at Dormify. https://www.dormify.com/collections/removable-wallpaper-decals
Dorm room essentials
I purchased a desk bookshelf (which some dorm rooms come with — check before ordering) my junior year of high school and have used it every year since.
It’s an investment that will last, and aids not only in organization/storage but also in decor. I pile my favorite books atop of the hutch and use the inner shelves for my textbooks, notebooks, and binders. On my actual desk, I try to have as few items as possible.
A good desk lamp is important as well as somewhere that holds pencils and other office supplies that you’ll use everyday. This one has a high-speed charger for my phone on the base of the lamp and it has loads of different illumination settings.
For desk accessories and supplies that you won’t use as often, store them in the desk drawer using an organizer tray Iike this one on Amazon. I also love the organization options offered at The Container Store.
I like Miquelrius notebooks (even though they don’t look as cool as Moleskins) because they hold up well and the pages don’t feel cramped.
This year, I pinned some of my favorite personal items, poems, photos, and postcards to a bulletin board and leaned it against the wall behind my desk. It was nice to look at while doing work and something I continued to add to throughout the year.
While you’re planning your desk area, remember to get a surge protector with numerous plugs and USB ports. There are usually not enough outlets in dorm rooms and having a long cord will come in very handy.
Even if carpets are provided in the dorm room, area rugs make a huge difference, warming up the space and providing another source of light, brightening colors. I would go with a neutral color that isn’t pure white, because, knowing dorm life, there are going to be a few spills.
In the past years, I’ve either purchased one large area rug that spans most of the room or used two smaller rugs. It’s up to you. Try to find one that doesn’t curl up at the edges, which tends to get annoying. This blue rug with an ombre effect is a great contemporary look.
This really depends on the room, because some have much more space than others. Typically, students will have a bed with an twin XL mattress, a desk and either a built-in closet or armoire.
If your student wants to add a headboard, nightstand, or any other furnishings to the “living space,” there are many cute and practical options at Dormify and Pottery Barn Teen Dorm.
A dish chair fits in most dorm rooms and can be changed with each school year if covered with a different tapestry or comforter. I used a rainbow beach blanket because I didn’t like the original color of the chair, but you can really use anything. Even an old bed sheet would work.
Other seating ideas include using floor pillows, bean bags, or other similar pieces.
One year I even flipped over a dresser that I wasn’t using, layered it with a pool chair cushion and throw pillows and blankets, and transformed it into a makeshift daybed.
Another great option, if you have the space, is a small couch with the option of storage cubes. A lounger that doubles as somewhere to put your shoes, food, or clothes is always a plus.
I used my brother’s old couch from Pottery Barn Teen, covered it with a tablecloth, and purchased the storage cubes from their website. Futons can also be very comfortable and are great for extra seating if you have the space.
Consider storage ottomans which offer both seating as well as extra storage space. They can be compact and will provide a place for “stuff” that would otherwise contribute to the clutter.
Make sure you find out what appliances are allowed in your dorm before you start thinking about your college kitchen. Having a mini-fridge, microwave, and electric kettle are wonderful but each dorm and college have different rules.
A fridge cart is great for additional storage in narrow spaces. This one by The Container Store is very durable and comes with drawers for storage or snacks.
In my experience, you either get really lucky with closet space or you don’t. In the case that you don’t, a double rod extender makes one into two rows on the closet bar so you can hang things like skirts and pants. Make sure you bring thin hangers to maximize space.
Raising the bed with risers provides for under-the-bed storage, which is where I typically keep everything besides shoes and hanging items.
If you can’t fit a shoe rack in the closet area, you can use bins or a cube. I like clear drawers from The Container Store that are stackable and, because of the transparency, perfect for easy access. They offer both pull-out drawers and open-faced ones.
This originally appeared on Daytripper University.
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