We’re just going to come out and say it: we’ve seen enough dull, drab, and depressing dorm rooms to last us through at least a half-dozen PhD programs. And while it can seem challenging to tackle the decorating of an awkwardly sized space that you can’t paint and where you can’t change out the major furniture—not to mention that you may, in fact, be sharing said space with someone whose taste in M. C. Escher posters doesn’t quite jibe with your own style sense—Annie’s got some terrific tips that will make dorm-room decking a whole lot easier.
Ready to get to it? Start by checking off the items on Annie’s list of dorm room essentials. From mattress protectors to extra seating and bedding and rugs that will give your dorm room an instant personality infusion, this checklist is a must-have for anyone heading to college or prep school this fall. (And if you’re wondering how the heck you’re going to find sheets to fit those twin XL dorm mattresses, read this short, helpful post.)
Now you can get down to the serious business of decorating:
1. Choose a focal point. Dorm rooms are notorious for having lots of rules—like no nailing artwork to the wall—that make them more difficult to decorate. Still, Annie always advocates for finding a focal piece you love, whether it’s a colorful poster, a fun pint-sized sculpture you picked up Target, an eye-catching rug, or a beautiful bedcover. A quilt or duvet with a unique pattern makes the perfect starting point.
2. Build your color palette around your focal point. Look at the colors in your focal piece, and use those to inform your personal palette. Aim for three primary hues max, to keep the palette from going over the top; you can always use secondary colors combined with those primary hues in your accents.
If you haven’t found a focal piece you love, go straight to the palette. To create a more soothing, calming space, think layered neutrals, or easygoing, gender-neutral colors like pale blue and green. For a more energetic, hue-happy space, go for vibrant colors saturated tones—for instance, tangerine or terra-cotta instead of peach; indigo or French blue instead of sky. If you want your space to feel feminine but not little-girly, skip the pink and go for more grown-up variations on the theme. Coral, in particular, is not only sophisticated, but also flatters all skin tones, so you’ll look your best when entertaining friends in your room.
3. Layer liberally. The key to a cozy space is lots of layers, in a variety of weights that work in any season. Coordinate each set of dorm sheets with a blanket or matelassé coverlet, a quilt or duvet, and a throw. This will allow you to pull up or peel back the layers as the temperature fall or rise, and keep you comfy no matter what the weather report throws your way.
4. Warm it up with a rug—literally and figuratively. There’s nothing worse than putting your feet on a cold floor first thing in the morning. And there’s nothing that combats this problem—and the chilly look of most dorms—better than an area rug in a smaller size, like 3’ x 5’, or even a runner. Woven cotton rugs and indoor/outdoor rugs are lightweight, affordable, and easy to clean, and can take a beating from repeat foot traffic. Wool rugs are just as durable and have instant cozy factor, but require a bit more maintenance, so give that some consideration before you buy.
5. Include special details. This will instantly elevate a dorm room from institutional to personal. Look for sheets with embroidered hems; duvets and window panels with fun patterns; blankets and throws with touchable, cuddle-up textures; a pouf in a great graphic print; and decorative pillows with eye-catching embellishments such as embroidery and applique. Also choose a few smaller, inexpensive decorative objects, like vases or bowls, that you can change out with the seasons, or whenever the redecorating bug strikes.
6. Don’t forget about storage. We can’t get enough colorful storage bins and tote bags, which make it easy to keep extra items—from clothes to books, desk accessories, and bath essentials—organized, while adding a bonus bit of color to the room. Roomy totes, in particular, come in handy, because you can use them to transport your textbooks, haul your laundry hands-free, or pack for a quick weekend visit with the folks. If you’re super short on space or don’t like the look of visible storage bins and bags, opt for under-bed storage units, which make the most of an unused space and keep clutter contained and out of eye line.