New gen­er­a­tion takes dorm decor se­ri­ously

Ex­perts pro­vide some ad­vice to meet higher ex­pec­ta­tions for out­fit­ting col­lege stu­dent rooms


When Young Huh left for col­lege in the 1980s, she brought “one giant poster of The Cure, bed­ding from the lo­cal bed-and-bath store and maybe some desk ac­ces­sories.” Like so many Gen-Xers, her one cre­ative touch was ask­ing a su­per­mar­ket for left­over milk crates to use as book­shelves.

Now an in­te­rior de­signer, she has helped her own chil­dren dec­o­rate their dorm rooms, and she’s amazed at the de­sign ex­pec­ta­tions among col­lege stu­dents.

“It’s a level of dec­o­rat­ing that did not even ex­ist in my world view when I was in school,” Huh says.

To­day, there are lots of prod­ucts “that cater en­tirely to the col­lege crowd,” she says.

In­te­rior de­signer Jon Call sees the same phe­nom­e­non: While his main busi­ness is de­sign­ing lux­ury homes in New York City, he also gets asked to de­sign col­lege liv­ing spa­ces.

“This new gen­er­a­tion has grown up un­der the in­flu­ence of home mag­a­zines, HGTV and the virtues of ‘demo­cratic de­sign.’ They un­der­stand the value of cre­at­ing unique spa­ces for them­selves,” he says. They want their dorm rooms “not only to func­tion, but also to re­flect who they are.”

We’ve asked Huh, Call and small­space de­sign ex­pert Theodore Leaf for ad­vice on in­fus­ing a col­lege dorm room with style and per­son­al­ity, while keep­ing bud­get and func­tion in mind.

Choose your vi­sion

As with any de­sign project, Huh rec­om­mends be­gin­ning with an over­all vi­sion for the space. Then, choose a fo­cal point for the room, some­thing you would like to see ev­ery day. “It could be your bed with an over­sized art work or a fun suzani wall-hang­ing over it,” Huh says. “Hav­ing some­thing over-scaled or very in­ter­est­ing to look at dis­tracts the eye and makes you for­get the size of the space.”

If your fo­cal point in­cludes sat­u­rated, dra­matic colour, it will also help dis­guise the fact that a room is small. “This could be a red bed in an oth­er­wise neu­tral room,” Call ex­plains.

Call also sug­gests adding a head­board to the ex­ist­ing bed­frame, el­e­vat­ing the look of ba­sic dorm fur­ni­ture. An­other trick: Keep your colour scheme to just three colours to help make a small space feel big­ger.

Small-space spe­cial­ties

Leaf says the few fur­ni­ture pieces you bring should do dou­ble-duty, such as a stor­age ot­toman large enough to func­tion as a mini cof­fee ta­ble or as seat­ing.

Call agrees: “Your end ta­ble may have a drawer that is out­fit­ted with charg­ers and cords to make it an elec­tron­ics sta­tion. Your bed could have bol­sters on it to con­vert it into a daybed for ad­di­tional seat­ing.”

Huh sug­gests adding a loft to lift the bed, or at least adding ris­ers to cre­ate un­der-bed stor­age space.

You can also use win­dow draperies to make the room seem larger. Dorm rooms of­ten come with ver­ti­cal blinds, Leaf says, and you can trans­form the look by adding in­ex­pen­sive sheer cur­tains hung high on a ten­sion rod over the blinds. To make it even more dra­matic, use a larger rod (even a ten­sion rod made for a shower cur­tain) and run the sheers across an en­tire wall.

Per­sonal touches

A colour­ful rug is an easy way to add style and warmth. Tem­po­rary wall­pa­per also can make a dorm feel less in­sti­tu­tional. Can­dles (or ar­ti­fi­cial can­dles, for safety) can make a room feel “a lit­tle bit more tucked in,” Leaf says. And an oil dif­fuser is great for scent­ing the space.

Light­ing is an­other pow­er­ful room-changer: In­stead of liv­ing with harsh flu­o­res­cent lights, Leaf sug­gests gath­er­ing a few hand-me-down lamps from par­ents or grand­par­ents, and chang­ing the lamp shades if you don’t like them. Dim­mers make a dif­fer­ence, too: You can use tech­nol­ogy like Philips’ Hue bulbs, which are con­trolled via an app, or sim­ply bring plug-in dim­mers.

Lastly, says Huh: “Fairy lights are de rigueur dorm decor.”

And don’t for­get per­sonal items from home.


To cre­ate an invit­ing and func­tional liv­ing space in a col­lege dorm, add some ex­tra seat­ing for friends who may visit, says in­te­rior de­signer Jon Call.

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