By Billy Clouse
Originally published in Revolt — Vol. 1, Issue 1
Oh, dorm rooms. It may suck to have to cram your entire life into a tiny little space, but it’s also a creative challenge. In most cases, you can stuff as much as you want into your room without a problem. Making it look good, however, takes some effort.
We’ve all seen those perfect dorm room photos in magazines, and although this is technically the same medium, it’s a little more down-to-earth.
Instead of throwing hundreds of dollars at the room, I’ve compiled some cheap ideas to make the most of your small space.
1. Make a mood board
This may seem like an unnecessary step in designing your space, but it will pay off in the end. A mood board is a place where you put together the theme for your room — the color scheme, styles, decorative elements. For example, if you’re going with an ocean theme, you would likely want to avoid buying bed linens that are red and green.
When making a color scheme, however, you should make sure it’s flexible. Keeping with a nautical idea, you will likely want to work with multiple shades of blue. This way, you don’t have to make sure everything is the exact navy swatch you picked out originally. Adding an accent color, such as orange, coral, yellow or red can give the scheme more life. Make sure to include some neutrals in your palette to break up all the color.
If you plan to decorate a lot for the holidays, you might want to consider neutral colors for everyday items so the new decorations don’t clash. While an orange hamper might be a nice pop of color, it’s difficult to work it into Christmas and Valentine’s Day decorating.
2. Add personality
No matter how much you decorate, your room won’t feel like home if you don’t have anything personal. Photos of yourself and friends can breathe life into a space.
Balance these personal items with quirky pieces. Unicorn figurines, geometric terrariums or brass pineapples can show off just as much, if not more, about you than your photos can.
3. Do it yourself
Part of being a college student is seeing how much you can buy for virtually no money. Although this usually applies to food, most students want to save money on decorating.
Art fills up walls nicely, but it can be expensive. Creating your own can drive down the cost significantly, and everyone has some type of artistic ability. If you aren’t a gifted painter, draw something. If you aren’t a talented graphic designer, craft with paper. If none of these seem like good options, you can find websites with free art online that you can print.
4. Work on it over time
Although the idea of a fully-furnished and decorated space is desirable, the costs can add up quickly. Start with items you already have and buy a few complimentary pieces. As the semester progresses, you can find fun and unique items around town. TJ Maxx and Ross have discounted items, and there are a number of thrift shops in Cedar City. Bulloch Drug is also a good spot for unique finds.
5. Make the most of the bed
Depending on your dorm or apartment, your bed needs to double as a place to sleep and a place to sit. Serving both purposes is easy if you arrange the bed correctly. Most people think to put pillows near the headboard, but few use the side of the bed against the wall for body and accent pillows. By placing them there, you can make a temporary couch that can easily be transitioned into a place to sleep at night.
Beds are also a great way to establish a color palette or theme. If you don’t have a specific color palette that you want to keep the whole year, use neutral linens. This way, you can add pillows and throw blankets to create a pop of color or establish the theme.
6. Bring in life
Unfortunately, most dorms won’t allow you to have a pet, even if it is the most adorable thing the world has ever seen. Because of this, you’ll have to settle for the second-best thing: baby plants.
They are relatively easy to take care of, especially if you have succulents. All they really need is sunlight and a little bit of water. Having them also gives you an excuse to buy terrariums and other succulent holders, which can add some personality to your room.
If you don’t want to deal with anything living, faux plants are a better option. More often than not, these plants look real and require absolutely no upkeep, which is perfect for someone with a busy schedule.
7. Use decorative storage
Especially in small spaces, storage is one of the most important things to include when decorating. However, you don’t want to just throw a bunch of cardboard boxes on a bookshelf. Crates, boxes and bins can add color and pattern to your space, or you can go with something more plain and let them blend into the background. Either way, these items allow you to toss a bunch of not-so-appealing things out of sight while still having easy access to them.
Bed risers are another idea to provide more storage. They’re available in many stores, and some options provide built-in outlets. Since you won’t be able to see underneath the bed in most cases, you can use whatever containers you have on hand.
8. Find creative ways to not break rules
Most apartments and dorms have strict rules, and many of them are for good reasons. However, there are ways around them. Very few places will allow you to put nails or pushpins in the walls, but you can use Command hooks instead. This temporary option, as well as mounting putty, allow you to decorate walls without damaging them.
In addition to nails, most places won’t allow you to burn candles. To get around this, you can find flickering tea lights for the look and air fresheners for the smell.
9. Decorate in unexpected places
Most people are used to seeing the bed and walls decorated, but you can add some punch by adding it in not-so-common places. For example, if your closet doesn’t have doors, consider organizing it in a visually-appealing way, such as by color or by style. Although a closet full of clothes doesn’t look inherently awful, it can look better if you organize it.
Another place to consider is the bathroom. Most people tend to leave these empty, but adding some art or color-coordinated towels can breathe life into this often-forgotten space. Something as simple as adding throw pillows and blankets to a couch can add to your dorm’s overall wow-factor.
10. Use vertical space
Furniture normally takes up floor space, leaving the walls relatively bare. Even with art, the room can look off-balance. One way to remedy this is by thinking vertically. Tall pieces, such as bookshelves or dressers, can add height to the room. These stand out especially when they’re placed next to long pieces.
Another way to add flare to pieces that aren’t large is by decorating with tall objects. For example, on a dresser, you can use a tall, thin lamp or vase to add height, and it looks even better if you have some smaller pieces next to it. This can make your space more dynamic and interesting.
Bonus. Focus on function over fashion
The appeal of having the trendiest apartment may be tempting, but there’s no point having it if you can’t do anything when you’re home. It’s more important that you can actually use your space than to have a good-looking one, because paying rent to show off your decorating skills is a waste of time and cash.
Don’t misunderstand this to mean that you should buy a hideous but functional desk. It means that you might not want to go with the item you fell in love with, but instead find one that looks nice and also can serve a purpose. A dorm room is useless to you if you can’t actually use it for anything.