College dorm decorating has come a stylishly long way since Pottery Barn Teen launched rugby striped sheets and mini-locker side tables in 2003. But now, the kitschy fads are replaced with cool decor that suits endless dorm design possibilities. And, yes, bean bag chairs are still a staple. Savvy online retailers like Room 422, Dormify, and Society6 give college students a start at curating a room of their own (okay, probably a room they’ll have to share, but all the more reason to hone in those design skills). If you’re a college freshman, check out the college’s housing web page before you get too amped up planning a dorm room. Often, this new home will have certain rules about what you can and can’t bring. Candles, for one, are a big no-no, so don’t waste your money on a gorgeous candle vessel. Instead, opt for a diffuser like Pura, with scents from the new Nest fragrance collection like Blue Cypress & Snow and Autumn Plum, to keep college jitters at bay.
You don’t have to bend the rules, just scale back and improvise. “If your child has a vested interest [in design], get a floor plan of the room and see what they allow,” says Winnetka, Illinois-based Lj Savarie of Savarie Interiors. Even essentials can feel “couture” if you customize, Savarie says, and she knows her way around a dorm, having already sent three kids off to university. Laura Park also recommends using bedding in lieu of basic XL sheets. Here, 15 ideas to transform a college dorm room with chic work-arounds for dorm-living rules.
Rule 1: Don’t use nails, glue, wall hooks, or double-stick tape that can damage the walls.
A dorm design do: Command Strips are Savarie’s go-to for dorm decor solutions, and some strips even hold 20 pounds. Janet Thomasson, mom of three and owner of Thomasson Interiors in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, is a fan of Mix Tiles, ready-made frame with customizable photos that easily attaches and detaches to walls. A full-size leaning mirror is another trick Thomasson employs to turn an underutilized wall into functional decor.
Rule 2: Don’t paint the dorm walls, ceiling, floor, and furniture.
A dorm design do: Removable wallpaper comes in a myriad of options from densely packed florals to abstract rainbows, and it promises to add style to any dorm without a permanent footprint. Making your own accent space shouldn’t take more than two hours. This DIY diary on peel-and-stick wallpaper will show you how.
Rule 3: Don’t swap out dorm furniture.
A dorm design do: Make the most of the furniture, and think about how you can cleverly mask less than stellar pieces. Thomasson Interiors designer Serena Schupler, mom of four, had a ball scheming up dorm designs with her daughter last fall. “One of the first things Alex and I did was raise her bed and dress it with an extra-long bed skirt to hide storage and a mini fridge, creating a more sophisticated space,” she says. Savarie loves a custom headboard for her full-residential clients, and feels it can be as impactful in a dreary dorm room. Room 422 offers foam versions that velcro to the wall. Or you can go for a Leah Deux headboard-shaped pillow.
Another strategy to add personality is to go to a local home improvement store with the measurements of a dorm desk top and buy a piece of glass to make a cover. “Students can place their favorite photos underneath it and a decorative lamp on top for a really personalized touch,” Schupler says. Alternatively, place a piece of patterned fabric or a wallpaper sample (even cool wrapping paper can work) for a bright studying spot.