Tips and Tricks to a Fashionable and Functional Dorm Room

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Now that college students across the country have settled into their dorm rooms, reality has set in and many are now bemoaning how small and less-than-homey this new living arrangement can be. Through every decade, most college dorm rooms have this in common: their smallness. Divide that small space between two or three or four roommates, and it can get pretty tight.

But as online niche markets target teens moving to college, and as their decorating savvy grows, thanks in part to growing up with dozens of design and makeover shows, what they can do with those small spaces has expanded almost endlessly.

It’s not about just slapping random posters on white walls anymore. This year, it’s about color, creativity and comfort. On the practical side, it’s about cord management for all those smart phones, chargers, laptops and printers. And at their core, dorm rooms are about reflecting personalities.

“Your dorm room is most likely the first place that you can call your own and decorate the way that you want, so you should invest some time thinking through how you want the space to look,” said Stephanie Hayman, chief product officer at, which recently ramped down its third back-to-school season. “You want it to reflect who you are.”

Total back-to-school college spending this year is expected to top $48 billion nationwide, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-College Survey. Families will spend an average of $916.48 on dorm furniture, school supplies and electronics, according to the survey, which is about 10 percent more than last year’s average spend of $836.83.

Karen Hartman, who has worked for The Container Store for 26 years, says the college students have become savvier about dorm design.

“They’re just a lot more sophisticated,” said Hartman of college students. “And with the advent of web shopping, they have the world at their fingertips. They are not limited to what they were able at their local retailer.”

To deal with the lack of space in a stylish way, Hayman suggests choosing products that have multiple functions. sells a black collapsible storage bench for $69 that can serve as storage, an ottoman or a bench for extra seating; when not in use, it folds flat.

Adjustable bed risers, which go for as little as $20, can create anywhere from 3 to 8 inches of extra space under beds. Command adhesive hooks by 3M, which are weight bearing, also provide storage options for walls without marring them. Over-the-door hooks also serve as a place to hang jackets, umbrellas and laundry bags.

Hartman says to look for chances to use the room’s vertical space. Rod doublers, for instance, can maximize the use of closets, and a desk hutch can multiply surface area for books.

Power strips, she adds, are a must-have because “there will never be enough outlets, for sure.” To prevent a spaghetti-like mess of tangled cords, The Container Store sells a Mini CableBox with a power strip for $29.99 with openings on each end for cords.

For this season, Hayman said, bedding is trending toward neutral colors, with students bringing in loads of color with accessories like pillows. Throw blankets with fringes or chevron patterns add coziness and style to rooms. Reversible duvet covers have also begun popping up, she added, because “not only is this an awesome way to change up your look, it’s an easy way to coordinate with roommates.”

Walls also don’t have to be a messy amalgam of posters. Hayman suggests going for more of a gallery look. Instead of spending on frames, students can set off their art with borders of black tape. Removable decals, like those depicting a giant chandelier, trees or even a bike add uniqueness to walls. Funky corkboards for photos and notes can make Facebook pages tactile.  

To combine creativity with comfort, pick out a great chair. Universities often will take back a standard-issue dorm chair and allow students to bring their own, like bungee and beanbag chairs. With all that time presumably spent studying in it, a chair should look fun and feel great.

The biggest dorm suggestion Hartman has is to tote a checklist that has not only each item needed but also where it’ll be stored.

“Everything you take,” she said, “should have a place to live.”

Tags: dorm room, college, design, function