How to dress up a dorm room

How to dress up a dorm room

September 13th, 2018 by Michelle Higgins / New York Times News Service in Life Entertainment

College students across the country are taking up residence in campus housing, many for the first time.

Getting comfortable in a tiny, bare-bones room is no easy feat, but there are things that can be done to make it feel more like home. We asked interior designers — some of whom have made dorm design their business — and resourceful college students to share their tricks for living in a very small space. (Studio-apartment dwellers take note: Many of these tips apply to small homes of any kind.)

Rearrange the Furniture

Play with the layout to figure out the best use of your space: "You never know how it would look to put the desks back to back or to move a dresser into a closet," said Amanda Zuckerman, 27, who founded Dormify, an online shop for small-space decorating, with her mother, Karen Zuckerman. "Little shifts can make a huge difference. Assuming you have some help, of course, to assist with the grunt work!"

Hack the Bed

"This is the focal point of your room, since it is probably the biggest piece of furniture in your room and where you will be spending most of your time," Zuckerman said.

Consider adding a decorative headboard. If you want to do it yourself, you can find dozens of videos online offering detailed instructions on how to make a headboard using little more than some plywood, quilt batting, fabric and a staple gun.

There are also plenty of online options for sale, in a wide range of fabrics and colors. Some, from sites like Room 422 and Dorm Decor, even come equipped with adhesive hooks or Velcro and built-in charging stations.

Many dorm-room beds can also be turned into bunk or loft beds, freeing up the space below for desks, seating or storage. (Be sure to check with your school to see if your bed has the proper stabilizers before raising it.) If your bed isn't made to be lofted, you can achieve a similar effect using bed risers from Wayfair and Bed Bath & Beyond (starting around $20).

Go Bold With Fabrics

"If you're living in a small space, prints and color are very forgiving," said John Robshaw, the bedding-and-fabric designer known for his block-printed textiles from India.

With your bed serving as a sofa, desk and even, at times, a dining table, "it will get dirty and beat up," he added. "A three- or four-color print hides a lot of reality."

Don't Forget the Windows

"The curtain is something everybody sort of skips," Robshaw said — and it doesn't have to be expensive.

"You can use printed sheets and make a decent window curtain by having a rod-pocket sewn by your dry cleaner down the street," who can also cut the sheet down the middle and hem the bottom, he said, all for about $20.

If you want blinds, he suggested using a bamboo one.

Cover the Floors

"There are a lot of cheap options for digital printed rugs to hide those funky dorm floors," Robshaw said. And it is much cozier to step out of bed onto a soft, new rug than cold linoleum or the well-worn wall-to-wall carpeting found in many dorms.

Invest in Flexible Furnishings

Instead of buying a commonplace pouf or bean bag for guests to sit on, look for pieces that can do double duty, like Room 422's Croc Storage Cube ($185) or Dormify's collapsible storage cube ottoman with hidden shoe compartments ($39).

"It is a great way to save space, but also a perfect place to sit if a friend comes over," said Talia Eskenazi, a 19-year-old high school graduate from the Upper West Side, who shopped at Dormify before starting at the University of Miami last month. "I can even use it as a step stool to reach the high shelf in my closet."

Eskenazi also bought a $29 body pillow that she plans to use to create more seating by turning her bed into a sofa. "I want my friends to be able to come into my room and hang out," she said.

Upgrade the Lighting

Swapping out those fluorescent dorm fixtures may not be an option, but you can offset the harsh light by adding a floor or desk lamp. Restoration Hardware has a wide selection of styles aimed at students, from Edison bulbs to task lamps that will hold up until it is time to move into your own apartment. String lights and lighted accessories, like illuminated chalkboards, can also add warmth to a room. And when you move out, you can take all of them with you.

Consider Removable Wallpaper

Temporary wallpaper or wall decals — designed to peel off as easily as they go on — can quickly transform a space. Etsy offers a wide selections of prints, from botanical to murals. Just be sure to check with your school first, to make sure removable wall décor is allowed.

Add Storage

Over-bed-shelving, made to fit between your bed and the wall, is sold by sites like and Dorm Decor, priced from less than $100 to about $450. A wall ladder is another easy way to add shelving. And Dorm Decor sells an $85 Bed Rail Cubby with an attachable PowerCube that has a surge protector, two USB ports and four outlets, for easy storage and access to all your electronics.

Don't Go Overboard

In a small space, less is always more.

Keep furnishings minimal, so as not to crowd the room. And balance out the art on the walls with white space, to keep the room from feeling cluttered or busy: If you create a gallery wall of photos or mementos from home, leave at least one wall free of frames.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315