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Redecorate Your Dorm Room on a Dime

Turn student quarters into a home without breaking the bank.

Jennifer Leclaire

April 21, 2009

Redecorate Your Dorm Room on a Dime

Whether it's your first dorm or apartment, college pads are the epitome of self-expression. But, as a student, you probably need to discount your interior design dreams with practical décor.

"Since you are probably going to enter a small room with white walls, your goal is to decorate and save space," says Marie Bailey, Office Depot's family organization expert. "Look for stylish, multi-functional items, like study desks with shelving and rack raisers that can hold up your bed and give you extra storage space."

Your own private castle

Since your bed is one of the largest pieces of furniture, the color palate of your comforter could set the design theme for the entire room. This may be your most expensive purchase, or you could bring the one from home and spend your cash on accessories instead.

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"Your bed is your castle," says Mindy Greenberg, principal of Encore Décor an interior design firm in New York City. "It's where you do your homework. It's where you eat. It's where you sleep. It's where you entertain your friends, therefore it tends to get stained and dirty. Since nobody really likes to do wash, denims and darker colors are better for dorm living."

Need a quick bedside table solution? Amanda Williams, spokesperson for Springmaid Home Fashions, suggests visiting a flea market or yard sale for bargain furniture.

"You can replace the knobs, add a coat of paint or create an antique look with a few brushstrokes," Williams says. "You can also create a living space on your floor with a stylish accent rug. Place floor pillows on the rug and settle in with classmates for a study group or friendly chatter."

Posters are the most affordable solution for brightening those stark walls. With art and pop culture posters selling for as little as $7 online, you can give your dorm a new look without breaking your budget.

Light and lively

Good lighting is important during study times and a lively environment makes your new home away from home comfy and cozy.

"Lighting can be both fashionable and functional," says Gail Glover, a spokesperson for Binghamton University in New York. "A clip-on light or an arm lamp for late night studying is a necessity. Add mini-lights strung across the room for a cool but different touch."

Plants provide a touch of green - just remember to water them! Try to limit the amount of fragile objects you have. Things tend to break more easily in student housing.

"Natural tones always work well to warm up a space and provide good energy," says Jason Wood, residential design director for Educational Housing Services, a New York City-based service targeting college students. "Natural tones don't necessarily mean neutral tones, but, rather, colors found in nature such as sunflower yellow, grass green and sky blue. Balance among the tones of the colors chosen is key."

Don't underestimate the positive effect of color in the bathroom, either. You can substitute a festive shower curtain for the stark white industrial for just a few bucks.

Space savers

Finally, avoid clutter. Use corkboards to organize schedules, phone numbers and other notes. Multi-functional desk lamps can hold pens, scissors and tape.

Staggering bookshelves can offer privacy from your nosy roommate while also giving you extra space on top to store books. And an ottoman can offer extra seating for visitors or a hideaway for odds and ends.

"Less is more," Greenberg says. "Although I encourage students to bring things with them to make them feel comfortable, I urge them not to bring too much because it's a fresh beginning with new friends. You'll accumulate new stuff while you are there and you don't want to clutter up your room."

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