Denim fashions may be all the rage this fall, but Erica Green cares more about dressing up her dorm room than dressing up herself. Green, 19, an incoming...

Share story

NEW YORK — Denim fashions may be all the rage this fall, but Erica Green cares more about dressing up her dorm room than dressing up herself.

Green, 19, an incoming junior at Goucher College outside Baltimore, plans to spend more than $500 on furnishings, from bright blue butterfly chairs and rugs to a TV-DVD combo unit.

“I can envision the room. I have been thinking about it for days,” said the Columbia, Md., resident.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Plenty of college students are joining Green in the fun of dorm decorating.

The trend has been a boon to home-furnishings stores and big chains such as Target and J.C. Penney, which are expanding their dorm-room décor beyond basic lamps and boring white organizing bins.

Retailers are offering a brightly colored array of products and high-tech furnishings like ottomans that vibrate to music.

Even basics have undergone makeovers — backrests and bean-bag chairs now come in lime-green faux fur, and milk crates have been replaced by aqua-blue mesh cubes.

Merchants are also adding services to help students and their parents spend their money more easily. This fall, Target will begin offering free roundtrip bus rides from at least seven university campuses to nearby stores. Bed, Bath & Beyond and Linens ‘n Things feature dorm registries on their Web sites.

Retailers are catering to a sophisticated generation that grew up with high-tech gadgets and decorating shows, is used to personalized items and wants to create a customized haven.

“They are used to having a lot of their own stuff, and they kind of expect to bring that personalization to college,” said Susan Schulz, editor-in-chief of teen magazine CosmoGIRL! College students have grown up customizing their cellphones and Web pages and are used to having furniture collections designed for them, she said.

“These kids really have the tools to express themselves and create their own style,” said Schulz.

According to the National Retail Federation, college students spent $2.6 billion in dorm-room furnishings in 2004, not including $7.5 billion on consumer electronics like computers and TVs.

Students spent on average $260 on dorm décor, and another $509 on consumer electronics, according to the federation.

“College students have money to spend, and stores are going all out. They have wandered into a gold mine,” said Ellen Tolley Davis, a federation spokeswoman.

The biggest spenders tend to be freshmen and also juniors, many of whom move into single rooms or off-campus apartments.

Green spent about $300 during her freshman year, but now that she won’t have any roommates this year, she has more freedom to decorate.

Penney’s hot sellers include bright blue curved rockers in cotton fabric, hot pink paper lamps and boom-cube ottomans, which feature built-in speakers that vibrate with sound, according to Debra Schweiss, trend director for Penney’s home division.

At Target, popular items include what the store calls “chef-made dorm fridge packages” that combine a mini refrigerator, hot pot, iron, coffee maker and sandwich maker.

Wal-Mart is doing well with such items as storage boxes in suede, pillows in faux poodle fur and microsuede comforters.

While there’s a lot of excitement over decorating, students are stressing out over how to cram all their belongings into small rooms.

“We only have one desk, and everything I have has to fit into it,” said Peter Austin, 18, an incoming freshman at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. He hopes to be able to fit his new laptop computer, printer, keyboard and lamp on it.

Austin wonders where he’s going to put his TV, mini-fridge and stereo. Not to mention the DVD player he’s thinking about buying.

“They have more of a challenge because they have more stuff, and they want to bring it all,” said Casey Priest, vice president of marketing at The Container Store.

The retailer offers “dorm room experts,” who give students storage tips over the phone and create a customized organization plan, then post a shopping list in a password-protected area of the store’s Web site.

Meanwhile, Best Buy is pitching sleeker consumer-electronics products that conserve space, like LCD monitors that double as a TV and computer monitor, or MP3 players along with stereo style speakers, according to Tracey Malone, a Best Buy store manager in Manhattan.

This fall, Best Buy will furnish model dorm rooms at 10 colleges to showcase its products — featuring such technology as home theaters in a box, desktop computers with flat-screen monitors and MP3 players.

“A lot has changed since their parents came to college, but the dorm-room size is still the same,” said Kevin Cockett, a spokesman at Best Buy. “Students really appreciate what sleek technology can bring to their dorm rooms.”