How To Decorate Your Dorm Room

Settling into your new life as a live-in student?  Or maybe you’re a parent to one, and you’re looking for ideas to suggest as to how to make the new home away from home more welcoming than the institutional walls of university or college can provide for the student closest to your heart.  Either way, read on.

Decorating your dorm room can be a real challenge, especially if you have to share. Take a look at your new roomie’s color choices before you try to figure out some sort of cohesive style. So before you approach her about décor, sneak a peek at the stuff she has lying around.

Even if you’re into hot Caribbean casual and she’s into vampire black on black, you can find a compromise with a sophisticated geometric black and white motif that features bright splashes of color on your side of the room. Broach the subject, and if she’s not interested, just do your own thing. At least you tried, right?

One good way to pick a complementary color scheme is to find a patterned piece, like a pillow, bedspread, graphic, or even a shirt and select three colors with light, medium, and dark values to use as your primary color palette. You can add other colors later, but base the major components of your design on these three colors.

  • The light color is going to be your background, the walls. Most rental spaces are painted white, but it’s usually ok to spice it up with a pale color. Just check the rental agreement, and when in doubt, ask. If you can’t paint, hang a curtain that covers a whole wall in a dramatic color or pick up some clingy wall decorations, no sticky residue, no problem.
  • The medium color should be primary in your big pieces – the bedspread or comforter, the curtains, maybe an accent rug.
  • The dark, or intense, color is your pop. Use it sparingly in pillows and decorative objects. With intense colors, a little goes a long way.

Making a plan
Decorating your dorm room must include function as well as style, so once you’ve decided on the color scheme, start thinking about what you need from the room. Furniture needs are pretty basic. Bed, desk/table, bookshelves, cooking station (if you’re allowed to have a microwave or toaster oven), a couple of chairs or a small couch if room permits, somewhere to put your electronics, and maybe a chest of drawers for your clothes.

You don’t have much space, so you need to get a lot of bang for your buck with double-duty pieces. Some examples:

  • A low bookshelf the width of the bed can serve as a room divider, support a flat screen TV on a turntable for watching in bed or other seating areas, and provide necessary shelving. Extend the top with a hinged dropdown and gain a table or a desk that can be dropped when not in use.
  • You’re going to need storage…lots and lots of storage. Consider raising the bed. You can buy bed risers that will lift the bed 6 inches higher for about $15, and then slide your choice of boxes or lined baskets underneath for efficient storage. If you’re really handy, consider a loft bed. It’s easy and cheap to build using plywood and 2x4s. Anchor it to the wall or support it on legs like a bunk bed. This gives you a whole range of under-bed options, including a comfy couch big enough for friends to visit.
  • Upholstered cubes are a great option to add storage and seating options. They can be used as seats, ottomans or handy little side tables, and if you need space, they can be stacked out of the way or pushed under a table. If there’s really limited floor space, consider some cute and colorful folding chairs and hang them on the wall when not in use.
  • A multipurpose table that can serve as a desk or workstation, a support for a TV or other entertainment devices, an ironing board or even a place to eat turns your room from bedroom to living space.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before you go shopping, you need to measure. Write down measurements for everything you think you’ll need – length of the walls, length and width of your bed, available floor space, size of the window, and if you have a closet that’s just a cubby with no door, the size of the opening – you can curtain or bead it.

Other things to buy:

  • Comforter – solid colors or color-block design will allow you more design choices, but by all means, pick up some fun throw pillows. Since a lot of the time you spend in your room will be spent in bed, get something you really like that’s…well, comforting. Big and puffy and soft, even if you’re a guy.
  • Bed topper – thick memory foam, the best you can afford. Dorm room beds are notoriously uncomfortable. Naturally, you’ll need sheets that can accommodate the deeper mattress.
  • Throw pillows – they’re great for warmth and pop. Get at least five and make them bold and personable.
  • Curtains, or fabric if you’re into DIY. Curtains hung from ceiling to floor will make the room look taller.
  • A white board with an attached marker for the outside of your door so your friends can leave messages and you can let them know where you are.
  • Full length mirror. They’re cheap and easy to come by.
  • Lighting is really important. The dingier the lighting is, the smaller and more cramped the room will look. Great lighting can make even the smallest room bright and homey.
  • Stock up on different sizes of leak-proof zip-lock bags. There’s nothing worse than finding your cookie stash full of creepy-crawlies.

One of the most fun and cheap decorations you can use to cover your walls is: you! Pictures are fun and cheap to print out in varying sizes to add zing to the walls. Pick your most memorable photos of you and your friends and display them on a ribbon board or a wire frame. Another good wall decoration is paint. It’s cheap and you can paint on graphic designs to your heart’s content, just remember to repaint the walls with standard institutional white when it’s time to leave so you’ll get your deposit back.

However you choose to decorate your dorm room, it should express your personality, meet your needs and above all, feel like home. Be sure to bring some things that remind you of home and family to keep you company in your new place.

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