At the risk of dating myself, I will say that back when I went to college, you packed up your clothes, a basic comforter for your bed and maybe, if you were lucky, an air popcorn popper which produced saltless, butterless, cardboard-tasting popcorn. You coordinated with your roommate(s) to make sure there would be a stereo system so that you would have music in your room. You prayed the disparity in music taste was not too great. I had two roommates so the three of us lived in a small room with a bunk bed and a single bed. There were two closets to share. We each hung a poster or collage of pictures and “called it a day.”
Things have changed. Now there is “No Nails Wall Décor” and “Super Comfy Seating.” In fact, many of the big chains market directly to college students looking for dorm room design. The good news is that, if you are so inclined, these stores offer anything you could possibly need for the dorm. They also provide inspiring pictures of what your room could look like with these items. The rooms they show in the pictures are a little unrealistic, in my opinion—most dorm rooms, even today, would not transform quite like the show rooms in the pictures, with generous seating areas and every bell and whistle perfectly coordinating. Nonetheless, they are useful images for those budding designers who aspire to have the look of the living space in college improved. I think the most useful thing about these chain stores is that many provide free shipping to college addresses, cutting down on the amount of stuff that needs to travel with you to the dorm.
College roommates today are more likely to know more about each other before school starts. Though social media, email and text, they can more easily get a sense of each other’s preferences and personalities. If roommates are inclined to coordinate how their room looks, they can choose a general color scheme so that the end result looks more put together. I would suggest agreeing on a neutral backdrop-type color and then one or two accent colors. Alternatively, if the roommates have very different styles, it's best to let each person go with his/her choices and encourage the individuality. The students will likely live better together if they enjoy their living space and are surrounded by a few things that inspire each of them.
Though many students will still do as I did and have a minimal approach to decorating their dorm rooms, I offer “Seven Hints for Dorm Design” to consider for those who want to personalize their space a bit more.
1) Invest in a few lamps to allow for softer lighting. Most college dorms will have fluorescent lights that are harsh and institutional. Using colored bulbs (pink bulbs cast a very nice light) or frosted shades can soften the light and have the effect of blurring the edges of the room to make it feel both larger and more cozy.
2) Think about storage. With a shared small space, cutting down on the cluttered look and having a place for everything is especially important. The big chain stores have underbed boxes, shelving and other storage solutions to fit most spaces.
3) Make use of fabric and wallpaper to cover cork boards, an accent wall or the back of a bookcase. Many dorms will have rules about how things need to attach to walls so it is important to stay within their guidelines. If there is a natural place for it, an interesting fabric or wallpaper can add a bit of personality, color or pattern to the space.
4 ) Dress the windows. To bring the eye away from ugly blinds that can be covering many dorm windows, it can be nice to purchase fabric for make-shift window panels that could be tacked on with Velcro on each side of a window or above as a simple valence.
5) Create an optimal furniture configuration. If there is flexibility in how the furniture can be arranged, think about the best layout and using pieces for dual purposes. A desk near the bed could double as a night table. A trunk could be used for storage and a table.
6) Focus on the bedding. Since the beds are often the primary pieces of furniture, the outside comforter or duvet cover can be the most important element. Pick something that expresses the look you want but is also practical and easy to clean. Also, be aware that many college twin beds are extra long, so you need to find this special size of extra-long twin rather than just an old twin set from your linen closet.
7) Display items that mean something to you and plan ahead with relevant accessories. If there is adequate room, use a laundry line with clothes pins for displaying important photos, use magnets, corkboards or picture frames to present your important photos or collectibles.
Taking a small institutional space and making it feel like an inviting room can be challenging. Students can pick and choose which aspects of the room they want to enhance to make it more their own. The idea is not to spend a lot of money but to get a bit creative so that you have a few things with you that make you happy.
Deborah B. Scheck is the founder of Deborah B. Scheck Interiors, LLC. For more information, please visit www.scheckdb.com.