How to transform a dorm room into something special
A few weekends ago, I spoke with a lovely mother-daughter duo who were in shopping for some new bedding. The daughter was headed to Kentucky for her freshman year and they were searching for the perfect shade of blue to show off her new school pride. It got me thinking about how bedding can transform a cold, impersonal room and how fun it could be to showcase collegiate looks and dorm room design tips.
There is so much to get ready when you are moving out on your own for the first time. I remember being so excited to start my journey at the University of Missouri-Columbia (don’t hold that against me, Kansas fans) as an “official adult” (in my head at least), and the first thing on my journey to adulthood was creating my living space. I was ready to leave behind my boy band posters and childhood bedroom for a life of style and sophistication — then I saw what a dorm room actually looked like. As you know, dorm rooms can be very impersonal and intimidating at first, but even the most beautiful art starts with a blank canvas.
How does one turn a new home-away-from-home into a space that is uniquely hers? Besides the obvious (although often limited) floor and wall space, most dorms are equipped with a basic bed, desk and chest of drawers. While there is not much you can do about the generic, standard-issue furniture, there are touches you can add that will make a big impact on those pieces. Even though we’re designing a space that will last for a semester or a year, many of the pieces we talk about below will live far beyond the dorm days.
Let’s start with bedding. To match or not to match? You can make either option work beautifully. I can’t resist a set of matching twin beds; I love using symmetry in design and in small spaces to help keep visual clutter to a minimum. Matching beds are easy to put together if you and your roommate have similar tastes. If you don’t, consider sticking with neutrals and just trying to land on an accent fabric that speaks to you both. Add a personal finishing touch with monogrammed pillows.
If you want to coordinate but not match, consider again sticking with a neutral base for both beds and playing up your favorite patterns in the same color palette in accent pillows and throws. One fun idea: Get two duvets with the same fabric on one side and different but coordinating fabrics on the other. Place them on each bed neutral side up and turn them down for a fun pop of pattern and color. Finish each bed with pillows and throws that coordinate with each duvet.
Perhaps a roommate isn’t part of the equation for you (or you’re not sure who you’re rooming with yet). You can still have a gorgeous bed. Dress up your basic dorm bed with textiles you love. If a DIY headboard isn’t for you, but you still want to cover up the one you’ve been assigned, just add some large pillows — one euro or two king pillows go a long way in helping to hide what you might not want to see. Add a Wilton bedspread — it’s long ruffled drop are great for hiding all of those under-bed storage containers. Finish off your look with a school spirit pillow or two or, of course, a monogrammed lumbar.
With bedding covered, it’s time for some vignettes. We love vignettes styled on trays for any space, but they are fabulous and especially functional in a dorm room where you may need to move things from bed top to dresser top to desktop quickly and often. In these spaces especially, don’t shy away from using every day and often-used items in your groupings. Maybe those biochem textbooks will be far more appealing tucked under a trinket tray full of baubles. Add cute containers for your student ID, phone charger and other essentials for student life for a vignette that is practical and pretty.
Let’s shift our focus to the desktop. I spent a lot of time at my desk in school (and I mean a LOT), so this might just be my favorite dorm room element. Desks can be the real “workhorse” of the room; they are where you put in all those study hours, of course, but they also act as a vanity, a “meal prep” station (cheese and crackers counts as a meal, right?), a dinner table and more.
Because you need empty space on a desk to actually do all of the above, don’t pack it full of tiny accessories that will clutter it up. Instead, leave room for all of your essentials and add one or two impactful pieces like a statement lamp and a family photo dressed up in a fancy frame. Both items will look great when it’s time to move into that first apartment, too.
We can’t forget the aforementioned walls and floors. While nails are a no-go, there are plenty of practical items you can “command strip” to blank walls (my dorm room was practically held together with 3M strips). For instance, instead of a basic mirror and hook, add a fanciful detail like these antiqued mirrored hooks for jewelry and your room key. Pull the whole space together with an indoor/outdoor rug to soften up the space and add an inviting layer that’s easier to clean (at least between semesters).
By Katie Laughridge