It’s back to school and thousands of young women and men are headed off to college for the first time, or returning as upperclassmen, though not necessarily to dorm rooms straight out of Architectural Digest.
But if you think your son or daughter needs to spend the school year bathed in beige (translation: institutional drab) drenched in Dacron, or stuffed into a corner behind a tower of boxes, you might want to think again. These colorful, creative, eye-popping though practical dorm room decorating ideas make the most of small spaces and can be designed to reflect your child’s individual personality without breaking the bank.
Bethesda, Maryland-based interior designer Carol Freedman of Carol Freedman Design, who’s created some of the Mid-Atlantic region’s most spirited residences, says it’s all in the eye–and certainly in the plastic under-bed storage boxes! Deftly gilding her first dorm room (her own) while a student herself and soon plying her craft among friends, Freedman revealed that on one occasion she thought she’d coordinated bedding colors and patterns ahead of time with a roommate.
“She wasn’t really listening,” Freedman quipped, explaining her roommate had ultimately turned up with a solid orange bedspread, and she’d brought a quilted bedspread for herself that was red, yellow, and black. The designer said she was able to resolve the situation because this particular dorm allowed students to paint on the walls. Accordingly she went about creating custom murals for both sides of the room that pulled in the widely varied colors of the bedspreads.
“It made a supremely unique and fun statement for very little money,” Feeedman said, “just the cost of the paint and some tape to define the spaces on the walls that ended up unifying both sides of the room.”
Years later where her son was concerned, Freedman said in his freshman year he was assigned a “triple” where three boys would be living in what was originally conceived as a two-person space. High-tailing it to the Container Store, Freedman said she bought “almost everything imaginable” (retaining receipts for easy return) because she’d not seen the configuration of the room, storage spaces, etc., and wanted to be prepared. Armed with hanging bags, closet doublers and triplers, rolling under-bed storage boxes, and over-door storage hooks, Freedman said the kids and their parents were immensely grateful because they were able to fit so much more into the limited space.
“Before you think about decorating your child’s dorm room, I’d think very seriously about the amount of space that’s available and how you’re going to optimize it with all the available items that are out there today,” Freedman affirmed, adding while you don’t always know about color and dimensions ahead of time, sometimes you can get that information from university housing offices. But if not, parents should go equipped with anything they can. “The best storage has more impact on comfort than anything you can do aesthetically,” she said.
In terms of decorating, Freedman said there are amazing websites that feature bedding. For kids’ dorms, she considers bedding first to select the color, patterns, and style that reflect the individual student’s tastes. From there she expands to posters, accessories, etc.
Favoring websites like the Garnet Hill and Pottery Barn for Teens, she identifies appropriate bedding and pulls colors from that for towels and other accents. Acknowledging that sometimes for boys colors may be limited to blue, black and grey, Freedman said it’s possible to choose bedspreads that use those colors as a foundation but also feature pops of orange or white, for example.
According to Freedman, a lot of colleges now have bedding programs where one can order sheets and towels online to be delivered to the dorm when the student gets there. In her experience they have sometimes proved to be rough and lacking in quality and won’t hold up well, so she cautions parents to scrutinize the product before accepting it.
On Amazon.com the designer said she found a favorite desk lamp by Lite Source for about $35 that comes in a host of bright colors, which she said provide a fun and punchy accent for an otherwise average room.
Finally, Freedman recommends scouring poster websites, including www.allposters.com, www.art.com and www.urbanloftart.com for art that reflects tastes or interests. This is a way to express one’s personality and truly personalize the space, she maintains, with the caveat that if roommates are not coordinating closely before they begin the school year, they may want to wait until they get there to decide on art. Walls are an area where size, dimension, color, and the number of posters ordered can clash and/or overwhelm the space rather than achieve a unified design effort.
With a little storage ingenuity and color coordination, transforming the dorm can be a fun and creative experience.