11 DIY Ways to Light Up Your Dorm Room (Without Burning It Down!)

No one wants to be that person, ya know?



Find a set of string lights that feel more "college" than these. I'll wait.

College is the best. Living in the dorms? Not the best. (An opportunity for emotional and intellectual growth? Perhaps. But, the best? Not even a close second.)

The bunkbeds, the unflattering fluorescent lighting and, of course, the prehistoric communal bathrooms — suffice it to say that dorms are a far cry from the comforts found in the childhood home. Our go-to way to remedy a classic case of dorm room dreariness is to add warmth via lamps, pendants and string lights and more. Flip the switch and bring some much-needed cheer (and style!) into your dorm with these lighting ideas.

What's Your Sign?

Create modern art that doubles as ambient lighting from plywood, trim and twinkle lights.

Photo by: Rustic White Photography, LLC

Rustic White Photography, LLC

This question is more than just a bad pick-up line. In fact, it is exactly the question you need to ask your future roomie before harnessing your star power and creating this crazy-cool constellation light board! Cross your fingers for astrological compatibility, then get down to business. Add their constellation alongside yours for a striking star centerpiece that both of you are sure to enjoy. Color me obsessed, you guys. 

String 'Em Along

Cozy Family Room Features Playful Lighting

Cozy Family Room Features Playful Lighting

Whimsical lighting steals the show in this cozy family room. Behind the sofa, string lights gracefully adorn the wall, and above the armchair, a lighted art installation adds a cool, crisp pattern to the space.

Photo by: Claire Esparros for Homepolish

Claire Esparros for Homepolish

Ah, string lights. I consider these bad boys to be the cornerstone of every successfully-decorated dorm room. There are endless ways to use them and they work for each and every design style imaginable. Forego the boring strand and string up your Edison-style bulbs in a fun, layered pattern like designer Claire Esparros did here.

Dorm Sweet Dorm

Girl's Bedroom With Coral Dresser and Light Blue Accent Wall

Girl's Bedroom With Coral Dresser and Light Blue Accent Wall

A beautiful coral dresser separates the twin beds in this shared girl's bedroom. Floral throw pillows add a mix of great colors and echo the pink border of the bright bed linens. A light aqua accent wall with sunburst decoration brings life and light to the design.

Photo by: John Woodcock Photography

John Woodcock Photography

Usher in the warm and cozy vibes from home with a classic table lamp. I find that traditional lamps evoke a more settled feeling in spaces that tend to feel transient and temporary. We all know that feeling settled = feeling relaxed. And relaxation, my friends, is of upmost importance during a stressful school year.

Flameless FTW

Add Candles

Add Candles

Nothing adds mood and warmth as easily and inexpensively as flameless candles. Displayed on a stylish gold and glass tray to enhance the candlelit ambiance, this small touch transforms a room.

Photo by: Red Arrow Industries

Red Arrow Industries

Candles make spaces smell like all things good and pure in this world and they give off the most calming, transcendent glow. Problem: College freshmen are forced into a sad, sad reality — a reality in which they are banned from burning candles. No need to forgo their glorious glow, though. Solution: flameless candles. They last forever, never melt down and ultimately grant spaces that same, soft lighting that regular burning candles do. (Without the risk of burning down the building!) To make these flameless beauties look a little less faux and little more chic, arrange candles of varying heights on a gorgeous mirrored tray.

Spell It Out 

How to Use Icicle Lights to Make a Light Box

How to Use Icicle Lights to Make a Light Box

Light up a room with a DIY marquee-inspired light box sign. This one was created using a shadowbox frame and a strand of colorful LED icicle lights.

Photo by: Emily Fazio ©2016

Emily Fazio, 2016

Who doesn’t want to read a positive affirmation that quite literally illuminates their room? Stick a light-up board on your desk and switch out the message throughout the year. Add uplifting quotes, remind yourself of deadlines or even add a bit of school spirit during football season. (Mine would read: “Go Vols, Y’all!”)

Neon Nightlight

Add neon signage and saturate your space with an urban, eclectic and colorful glow. This prickly, neon green nightlight adds effortless design-savvy and up-for-anything vibes to a dorm. I believe that kids these days refer to the look achieved here as “#goals” – and I can see why. #Goals, indeed.

Make It: DIY Neon Sign

Oh So Boho 

Breezy White Bedroom Feels Whimsical, Feminine

Breezy White Bedroom Feels Whimsical, Feminine

The handmade bedspread brings a soft pattern and texture to this bedroom. A unique rock light fixture hangs above the bed, which is decorated with a wood breakfast tray and patterned throw pillows. A wood chair with a hot pink pillow adds a bright pop of color against the neutral and white tones. Fresh flowers and sheer curtains complete the look.

Photo by: codyulrich.com


You can go the simple route with a pendant light, sure. But, sometimes you’ve got to kick it up a notch, am I right? Do just that and make an over-the-top statement with a beautiful, beaded chandelier. From glam to bohemian, beaded chandeliers are suited for all kinds of design styles and will up the wow-factor in even the dreariest-of-dreary dorm rooms. Just be sure to get the go ahead from your roomie beforehand, of course.

Twinkle + Tulle 

The word on the street is twinkle lights and tulle are the top trending combination for headboard backdrops this upcoming school year. Throw this easy DIY backdrop behind your headboard for a low-cost, high-style upgrade that produces just the right amount of soft lighting for any bedtime reading. (Or, Netflix binges. I'm not one to judge.)

Double Duty Desk-Lamps

Pink and Gold Girls' Bedroom With Feminine Nightstand

Pink and Gold Girls' Bedroom With Feminine Nightstand

This quintessential girls' bedroom features a stylish pairing of gold and pink hues. A gold metal lamp sits atop a soft pink nightstand with a ruffled edge and gold legs. White and gold polka dot bed linens dress each of the twin beds, while the pink and yellow upholstered headboards add a finishing touch.

Photo by: YouthfulNest


If you’ve done any shopping around for lighting, you understand lamps can be rather costly. My top tip for cost-effective dorm lighting is to forego the traditional lamps all together. Go in with your roomie and purchase two sleek, reasonably priced desk lamps. Place the pair together, between the beds and utilize them as bedside lighting. The results will emulate the same look as the duo-lamp featured above, but for far less money. 

Make Your Mark

DIY Marquee Initial Sign Lights Up Kid's Bedroom

DIY Marquee Initial Sign Lights Up Kid's Bedroom

HGTV Magazine: For this marquee-inspired sign for her 4-year-old daughter's bedroom, mom Mandi Gruber drew a letter d on a 2-foot-by-4-foot piece of plywood and used a jigsaw to cut it out. (A lumberyard that has a jigsaw can cut it for you if you draw the shape.) Then she drilled holes for the lights. To make the d three-dimensional, she stapled flexible MDF around the outline. The bulbs inserted in the holes are a string of globe lights from Target. Step-by-step instructions for this project can be found at HGTV Magazine online.

Photo by: David A. Land

David A. Land

Or rather, “Make Your Marq”. Add a funky, whimsical marquee light that mirrors your youthful, sprightly spirit. Bland dorm walls will welcome a large, colorful marquee fixture and the personality it packs along with it. Many marquee-lovers select the first letter of their first name, but the options are truly endless.

Pendant Perfection

Pull out all the stylish stops with a dangling pendant light. This subtle addition provides a polished, intentional design for your dorm. Opt for a modern chrome piece, an industrial wire fixture or go boho with a rattan pendant, instead.

40 DIY Dorm Room Decor Ideas

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Wall-Decal Chair

Add a mid-mod look to a non-upholstered chair with a colorful wall decal that will peel right off. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Courtesy of the blogger

Light-Up Sign

Create a neon-inspired sign that spells out your favorite word of the moment. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Courtesy of the blogger

Personalized Desk Accessories

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. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Painted Animal Bookends

Transform everyday materials into sturdy, colorful bookends to dress up your bookshelves. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Dowel and Brass Plant Stand

Use budget-friendly hardware, like wooden dowels and brass fittings, to create a modern houseplant stand. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Wallpaper Decal Fridge

Don’t fear grime! This peel-and-stick wallpaper is 100 percent wipe-clean. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Courtesy of the blogger

Pom-Pom Blanket

Add a playful touch to your favorite blanket with thick and fluffy yarn pom-poms. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: David A. Land

Personalized Wall Photo Mural

A customizable, 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. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Washi Tape Decor

Washi tape comes in a rainbow of patterns and is easily removable without leaving damage or residue. It's the perfect material to use to decorate a dorm room and personalize college belongings. Get decorating ideas.

Marbled Fabric Pillow Cover

Dress up a crisp, white duvet with custom marbled pillow covers in your favorite hues. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Curtains Decorated 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 windows. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Low-Maintenance Plants + Flowerpot Painting Ideas

Just because you live in a dorm room, that doesn't mean you can't bring nature inside. 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 your temporary small space. Get the step-by-step instructions + painting ideas.

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 room. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Cross-Stitch Painting

Make an easy cross-stitch painting without getting out your sewing supplies. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Fabric Pouf Ottoman

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 room. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Vintage Book Planter

Turn an old book into a one-of-a-kind planter by cutting a hole into the book, lining with plastic and adding your succulent. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Beaker Lamp

Use glass flask, flask stand, Edison bulb and glass plate to create an industrial beaker lamp perfect for a sophisticated study space. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Zach Desart

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. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Custom Corkboard World Map

Make a custom world map corkboard to mark where you've been and where you plan on going. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Multipurpose Message Center

Keep yourself (and your roommates) organized with a stylish and multi-functional message center made from round cork trivets, patterned fabric and chalkboard paint. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Herringbone Tray

Keep perfume, makeup and jewelry stylishly displayed with this custom tray. Paint wooden chips in the palette of your choice, then place them in a herringbone pattern on the base of your tray. Watch the step-by-step instructions.

Photo By: Amy Hussar © 2014, Scripps Networks Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Floating Desk

Create a streamlined, custom floating desk that is aesthetically pleasing, efficient and packed with storage. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Clay Trays

Keep knickknacks organized with these colorful, easy-to-make clay trays. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Photo By: Jessika Creedon ©Jessika Creedon 2013

Fabric + Chalkboard 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. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Paper Dahlias

Dress up blank walls with oversized paper dahlias in a variety of hues using scrapbook paper or leftover wrapping paper. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Wooden Crate Jewelry Display Boxes

Give old wooden crates a brand-new purpose by turning them into jewelry display boxes that will showcase your stunning collection and keep it organized, too. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Wallpapered Dresser

Find an inexpensive dresser with flat-front drawers at a thrift store or discount retailer, and spice it up with your favorite patterned wallpaper. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Framed Wipe-Off Board

Every 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. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Bulletin Board Headboard

Create a beautiful headboard that does double duty as a bulletin board or jewelry display. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Metallic Rope Basket

Combine rustic natural rope with metallic ribbon to create a trendy and versatile basket that's perfect to keep small accessories organized. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Several Small Rugs = One Large Area Rug

The key to getting a custom look from off-the-shelf area rugs is to combine several together, giving the appearance of a large, custom-sized version. Get the step-by-step instructions.

Dressed-Up Wastebasket

Dress up a plain wastebasket with decorative paper. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

Basic Bookend Upgrade

Transform basic, metal bookends with wooden arrows and gold spray paint. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

Binder Transformation

Dress up plain, white binders with a trendy decal. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

Turn Rulers Into Frames

Turn standard rulers into picture frames to showcase your favorite photos. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

Polymer Clay Photo Holder

Use polymer clay and 22-gauge wire to create a modern photo holder. Instead of a heart, you can bend the wire into a star or a hexagon. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Stuart Tyson/Studio D

Bracelet Planters

Gold metallic wax dries fast and gives these wooden bracelet planters a rich luster. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Courtesy of the blogger

Pineapple Bath Rug

This pineapple rug is glued, but it's tough-wearing. Plus, it can go in the washer and dryer. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Stuart Tyson/Studio D

"Dye" a Pillow Cover

Use a Sharpie and rubbing alchohol to create a tie-dyed effect on a white pillow cover. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Philip Friedman

Trunk Makeover

Update an old trunk with colorful paint in this season's hottest hue. Get the step-by-step instructions from HGTV Magazine.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger

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