Dorm Room Decorating: Must-Know Tips From College Students

You may think a bland dorm room holds no decorating potential, but just wait. We have savvy design and storage tips to turn your new college digs into home sweet home.


Photo by: Courtesy of

Courtesy of

By: India Autry

It's not easy to look at typically bland dorm rooms and see the design potential; all you may see at first are cold cinderblock walls and concrete floors. But with some creativity and know-how, you can turn your college home into a cozy retreat.

Seek Storage in Unlikely Spots

"You have to be creative with your space," says Malik Walker of Raleigh, N.C., a fourth-year psychology major at Virginia's Hampton University.

Malik says freshmen should remember two words: storage and stacking.

Malik turns every hidden space into a storage area. He's managed to be compact and neat by putting his computer keyboard in a desk drawer, sliding emptied suitcases and roll-out storage bins under his bed and filling the floor of his closet.

Concealed Workplace Storage

Concealed Workplace Storage

As an alternative to a basic desk for her personal workspace, Briana had a local contractor build a floating, three-sided box with a hinged door front. The piece works perfectly as a desk, gives the illusion of more space and also allows the area beneath the desk to remain unobstructed for chairs or stools. When her work is done, Briana can easily conceal her laptop and books behind her desk's hinged door.

North Carolina State University senior Katie Hendrix also didn't let cramped quarters cramp her style. "Anything that will go in a corner or a hole, stick it in there and push it to the back," says the Rose Hill, N.C., native.

In her dorm room, when horizontal wasn't enough, she looked up, stacking a microwave and television on colorful plastic milk crates and turning her bed into a loft so she could put a futon under it.


Photo by: Courtesy of PBdorm

Courtesy of PBdorm

Sharing Your Space? Coordinate!

Katie, who now lives in an apartment, says during her two years on campus she bought utilitarian items such as curtains, comforters and carpets with a Hawaiian beach theme.

Themed rooms are a popular approach to making tiny dorm rooms lively. If you're going that route, seniors say it's a good idea to get your roommate involved.

Aria Coley of Raleigh, N.C., a senior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said her room's celestial scenery — created during her sophomore year — shone because she and her roommate planned ahead. They decided to wait and buy their bedspreads together, each selecting a comforter with a moon-and-stars design. They bought other furniture items, including a decorated lamp, post-arrival so they could have an equal hand in picking them.

"The advice I would give is to make some calls now," she says. "Get on one accord and talk about things that would work for both of you."

But think things through before splitting the cost of an item with your roommate. Only one person can take it when it's time to leave.

Traditional Girls' Room With Twin Beds and Large Window

Traditional Girls' Room With Twin Beds

This girls' bedroom has a pink and brown color scheme with twin beds, perfect for any girl.

Photo by: Courtesy of PBteen

Courtesy of PBteen

Plan Ahead When Packing Up

Try to find out how much furnishing your assigned dorm room already has, so you'll know what you need to take. Some rooms have less shelving and built-in storage space than others.

If you haven't teamed up with your roommate and you're big on matching, buy things in simple solid colors to lessen the chance of clashing.

Students also suggest taking a light load when moving in. Things will accumulate during the course of the year, so be prepared to take back more than you brought.

Sophisticated Girl's Bedroom

Sophisticated Girl's Bedroom

Don't Forget These 12 Essentials

Upperclassmen have these recommendations for freshmen for items to take to their new dorm rooms. They also advise buying furniture for storage that is durable enough to withstand four years of moving. Most of these items can be found at big discount stores.

Dorm Room Must-Haves

  • Big storage bins
  • Storage with pullout drawers
  • Hamper
  • Shoe rack that can hang in closet
  • Organizational material for desks (letter sorter, pen jar, etc.)
  • Small trash cans
  • TV wall mount
  • Bed risers (These sit under bedposts, lifting them high enough to create storage space underneath)
  • Something to hold dirty dishes until you're ready to wash them
  • One or more fans for rooms without air conditioning
  • Tote for toiletries
  • Throw pillows to jazz up your bed and futon
Closet Door Shoe Rack

Closet Door Shoe Rack

The upstairs bedroom is the only area in the loft that has closets. In order to take full advantage of their interiors, Erin outfitted the backs of the doors with full-length shoe storage. This frees up precious closet space for sweaters and bags.

Next Up

Dorm Life Realities Every Freshman Needs to Know

It's not parties and sleepovers every night.

Low-Maintenance Plants for Dorm Rooms

These succulents aren't just beautiful, they're super low-maintenance, too. Plant them in bright, hand-painted pots and they instantly become the perfect addition to an apartment or dorm room.

Make Your Desk Accessory Set

Use various containers like Mason jars, vases and tin cans to create a matching desk accessory set that will keep all your school essentials organized and within reach.

Turn a Flea Market Frame Into a Wipe-Off Board

Every college dorm room needs a wipe-off board for messages from friends and to jot down to-do lists. Use a flea market frame and a funky fabric to create a one-of-a-kind message board that will make your space look chic.

How to Make a Recycled T-Shirt Rug

Don't throw away those old T-shirts — they can easily be turned into a one-of-a-kind doormat to decorate the inside of your dorm room.

How to Ombre Dip-Dye a Duvet Cover

Transform a simple set of white bedding into a fresh and modern masterpiece with your favorite color dye and just a few hours.

How to Make a Fabric Pouf Ottoman

A multipurpose decor item, this fabric pouf can be used as an ottoman, extra seating for guests or as a coffee table with a tray on top. Use a fun, patterned fabric that matches the other decor in your dorm room.

How to Make a Multipurpose Room Divider

Separate your spaces with a multifunctional room divider that is upholstered in a patterned fabric on one side and painted with chalkboard paint on the other.

How to Make a Personalized Wall Photo Mural

This printable wall mural makes a bold statement without the need for paint or wallpaper, perfect for apartments and dorm rooms where temporary decor is a must.

Customize Store-Bought Curtains With Ribbon Trim

Use fun pom-pom trim and colorful ribbons to update an inexpensive pair of ready-made curtains into a custom decoration for your dorm room.

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