Settling into a new place can be stressful — especially if it’s your first home away from home. Here’s how to make it your own.
With summer at an end, college students across the country are taking up residence in campus housing, many of them for the first time.
Getting comfortable in a tiny, bare-bones room is no easy feat, but there are things that can be done to make it feel more like home. We asked interior designers — some of whom have made dorm design their business — and resourceful college students to share their tricks for living in a very small space. (Studio-apartment dwellers take note: Many of these tips apply to small homes of any kind.)
Rearrange the furniture
Play with the layout to figure out the best use of your space: “You never know how it would look to put the desks back to back or to move a dresser into a closet,” said Amanda Zuckerman, 27, who founded Dormify, an online shop for small-space decorating, with her mother, Karen Zuckerman. “Little shifts can make a huge difference. Assuming you have some help, of course, to assist with the grunt work!”
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Hack the bed
“This is the focal point of your room, since it is probably the biggest piece of furniture in your room and where you will be spending most of your time,” Zuckerman said.
Consider adding a decorative headboard. If you want to do it yourself, you can find dozens of videos online offering detailed instructions on how to make a headboard using little more than some plywood, quilt batting, fabric and a staple gun.
There are also plenty of online options for sale, in a wide range of fabrics and colors. Some, from sites like Room 422 and Dorm Decor, even come equipped with adhesive hooks or Velcro, and built-in charging stations.
Many dorm-room beds can also be turned into bunk or loft beds, freeing up the space below for desks, seating or storage. (Be sure to check with your school to see if your bed has the proper stabilizers before raising it.) If your bed isn’t made to be lofted, you can achieve a similar effect using bed risers from Wayfair and Bed Bath & Beyond (starting around $20).
Go bold with fabrics
“If you’re living in a small space, prints and color are very forgiving,” said John Robshaw, the bedding-and-fabric designer known for his block-printed textiles from India.
With your bed serving as a sofa, desk and even, at times, a dining table, “it will get dirty and beat up,” he added. “A three- or four-color print hides a lot of reality.”
Don’t forget the windows
“The curtain is something everybody sort of skips,” Robshaw said — and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
“You can use printed sheets and make a decent window curtain by having a rod-pocket sewn by your dry cleaner down the street,” who can also cut the sheet down the middle and hem the bottom, he said, all for about $20.
If you want blinds, he suggested using a bamboo one from Pearl River Mart, which he hung in his first apartment, a small railroad flat in the East Village.
Cover the floors
“There are a lot of cheap options for digital printed rugs to hide those funky dorm floors,” Robshaw said. And it is much cozier to step out of bed onto a soft, new rug than cold linoleum or the well-worn wall-to-wall carpeting found in many dorms.
Invest in flexible furnishings
Instead of buying a commonplace poof or bean bag for guests to sit on, look for pieces that can do double duty, like Room 422’s Croc Storage Cube ($185) or Dormify’s collapsible storage cube ottoman with hidden shoe compartments ($39).
“It is a great way to save space, but also a perfect place to sit if a friend comes over,” said Talia Eskenazi, a 19-year-old high school graduate from the Upper West Side, who shopped at Dormify before starting at the University of Miami last month. “I can even use it as a step stool to reach the high shelf in my closet.”
Eskenazi also bought a $29 body pillow that she plans to use to create more seating by turning her bed into a sofa. “I want my friends to be able to come into my room and hang out,” she said.
Upgrade the lighting
Swapping out those fluorescent dorm fixtures may not be an option, but you can offset the harsh light by adding a floor or desk lamp. Restoration Hardware has a wide selection of styles aimed at students, from Edison bulbs to task lamps that will hold up until it is time to move into your own apartment. String lights and lighted accessories, like illuminated chalkboards, can also add warmth to a room. And when you move out, you can take all of them with you.
Consider removable wallpaper
Temporary wallpaper or wall decals — designed to peel off as easily as they go on — can quickly transform a space. Etsy offers a wide selections of prints, from botanical to murals. Just be sure to check with your school first, to make sure removable wall décor is allowed.
Over-bed-shelving, made to fit between your bed and the wall, is sold by sites like Dormco.com and Dorm Decor, priced from less than $100 to about $450. A wall ladder is another easy way to add shelving. And Dorm Decor sells an $85 Bed Rail Cubby with an attachable PowerCube that has a surge protector, two USB ports and four outlets, for easy storage and access to all your electronics.
Don’t go overboard
In a small space, less is always more.
Keep furnishings minimal, so as not to crowd the room. And balance out the art on the walls with white space, to keep the room from feeling cluttered or busy: If you create a gallery wall of photos or mementos from home, leave at least one wall free of frames.