Dorm Room Decor

By Lesley Myrick

Create a hip college hangout

Parents, I hate to freak you out, but back-to-school season is just around the corner, which may mean sending your college-age kiddo away for the first time. As the mom of a 3-year-old, this milestone is still years away for me, but I’m sure it will be here before I know it. And while I’m currently in the middle of decorating my preschool son’s bedroom — and the nursery for our soon-to-arrive daughter — I still get excited about dorm room decorating this time of year too.

When I was 18, I could not wait to get out of the small square bedroom I’d occupied my entire life and into my own space. My first pre-college summer I scoured flea markets and garage sales for funky finds and used all the money I had from my part-time job to raid Ikea for the coolest accessories a teenager could afford.

I rolled into my first dorm room like a rock star — in my mind, anyway — and had the whole place unpacked, decorated and decked-out to my liking within hours: bed made, posters hung, string lights artfully draped and plugged in. My summertime design planning had paid off, and while I was still stuck with beige walls and bland carpeting, as most dorm-dwellers are, I had done everything in my power to introduce color, pattern, texture and my personal style into this new space. I was home. And I loved every inch of my modest new domain.

I’m going to guess that not every teenager is as prepared, or as into interior design, as I was. But I do feel strongly that creating a fresh space that feels uniquely “them” can really help with the transition from family home to first dorm and set your freshman up for success.

Sure, your student will probably be stuck with less-than-exciting flooring, wall colors and furnishings. But the key is to focus on what you can change with dorm room decor, not what you can’t. And there’s a lot that can be changed with a little creativity. So with that in mind, I’ve got a few ideas to help your college kid create a cool space that’ll get them through the year without putting any forbidden nail holes in the wall.

My biggest pet peeve when it comes to rented spaces is bad lighting. If the dorm has old-school fluorescent overhead fixtures, follow these instructions: Never, ever turn them on. Then run — don’t walk — to your favorite home decor store for floor and table lamps. Layering in new lighting transforms a cold, sterile space into a cozy one almost instantly.

Holiday lights and twinkle lights are also a fun dorm room favorite, for good reason. I mean, how much longer can you get away with a $10 strand of Christmas lights as legitimate decor? Embrace it while you can, college kids, and create a chill vibe with some cheap and cheerful lighting options. Your 33-year-old self will look back fondly on the plastic Ikea wastebasket stuffed with blinking white Christmas lights that you considered a “genius DIY light fixture” as a teenager (true story).

After the fluorescent lighting crisis has been averted, it’s time to bring in soft elements to combat the sterile student housing feel. Bedding, accent pillows, curtains (hung on a removable tension rod) and rugs can do wonders to disguise a bare-bones wooden bed frame, prison-cell style window or questionably stained linoleum flooring.

This is the place to let loose and have some fun. Bright colors? Sure. Funky patterns? Bring it on. A dorm room is a great place to embrace an eclectic, Bohemian vibe. Don’t fight the fact that it’s a small space with less-than-stellar bones. Just have fun layering in cool and casual textiles.

There’s not often extra space to bring in your own furniture, but if you can afford to sneak in a small-scale dresser or nightstand, I’m a fan of introducing flea market finds painted in fun colors. I guarantee there’s enough brown in the room already, so a zingy orange bedside table or crisp white chest of drawers can pack a stylish punch. Bonus points for the parent who finds cool drawer hardware to replace the boring wood knobs.

Oh, and that desk? The one you’re probably paying a lot of money for your kid to be studying at? If it’s a snooze-fest, don’t discount the importance of delightful desk accessories. Pretty school supplies have always been my personal weakness. Nothing draws me to a desk faster than a shiny brass stapler and a neatly arranged set of rainbow gel pens. It’s important to find joy and motivation in the little things, especially when being thrown into a whole new post-secondary world. If a matching set of polka-dot binders is going to make your teen want to hit the books, I say it’s a worthy investment!

But what about those students who couldn’t care less about beautiful bedding, funky furniture or pretty pens? They’ll probably still survive, albeit less stylishly. Looks like it’s time to send them on their way and trust you did your best to prep them for college life.

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