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Dorm Design Trends and Ideas

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It’s that time again. The tuition bills start coming in. The textbooks start piling up. Relieved parents start counting down the days in anticipation of a little more peace and quiet… and students ready themselves emotionally for due dates, slop from the dining facility, and doing their own laundry. With the dread of the coming semester, however, students embrace the independence of getting out of the parental home and into the dorm. Making a dorm room feeling like home, however, can present a few challenges. Due to their smaller size and the fact that these spaces are often shared, dorms can present quite a few limitations on design – particularly if strict rules govern wall hangings and painting. We’ve come up with a few dorm design trends and ideas, however, that you can use to enhance your space and brighten your surroundings for the start of the school year.

Dorm Design Trends and Ideas
  1. Utilize vertical space.

  2. One of the biggest issues we run into when it comes to dorm space is space itself. Many of us have a lot of stuff – and it’s incredibly easy to let the room get lost in clutter because there isn’t a home for everything. Getting creative with vertical space can provide more room for storage and introduce a bit more color into the room. You don’t have to default to bunk beds, however. Modular, stackable shelving is popular and can be assembled in countless ways to give the room more personality. To wake up the space a bit, paint the interiors and backs of bookcases or shelving units a bright color. Using room dividers is a great way to get color over a larger scale without having to paint walls, and these can also provide privacy for a workspace.

  3. Buy furniture with built-in storage.

  4. Often we are limited by how much furniture can fit into a smaller dorm room, but by purchasing furniture with built-in storage you can free up a bit more space. Obviously a large couch doesn’t really have a place in a dorm room, but don’t be afraid to find a comfy chair and pair it with an ottoman that can serve as a storage container. Alternatively, opt for a bed with pull-out drawers. Furniture that can be folded away can provide additional seating for friends stopping by without demanding too much of your valuable space. Even the chair to your desk can be an opportunity for additional storage. You just have to be creative and look for pieces that do double-duty.

  5. Embrace color with nonpermanent design elements.

  6. When you’re not allowed to paint, injecting color into the room on a large scale can be difficult. The focus, then, should be on nonpermanent design elements. Naturally, we think of bedding, which is generally the  focal point of any bedroom. Let bedding dictate the color scheme and feel of the room, but don’t forget about other décor. Rugs or curtains can really pull it all together and make a dorm room feel more like a home and less like a temporary squatting location. To avoid large barren walls, consider getting wall decals that follow the design theme of the space or hanging a series of framed photos. Inexpensive frames can be purchased at thrift or dollar stores and can be spray-painted to fit any color scheme.

  7. Keep it simple.

  8. We’ve all heard the expression “less is more.” It applies especially to dorm design – or décor in any small space, for that matter. The "less is more" principle is particularly vital when thinking about color schemes and consistency. Doing too much at once will ultimately make the space look even more cluttered, so sticking to two complementary colors is generally better than being all over the board. Certain colors complement –or detract from – certain styles of décor, as well. For example, if your bedding and curtains are "shabby chic," having a neon yellow clock will look discordant and messy. No harm can come of adding a couple of accessories, like throw pillows, in a contrasting color, and purchasing appliances and furniture in neutral shades will give you the greatest flexibility.

  9. Make it yours.

  10. Although we all like to follow trends that make our spaces look great, the most important thing to keep in mind is making your space fit your needs. Keep your study habits in mind when you design your space. Do you find yourself distracted in your room? Try to create more privacy with screens or put your desk in a quiet corner. Do you prefer studying in the library? Then focus the design of your room more on entertainment or relaxation. Your space is a reflection of your personality, and when you live with so many other people it is really important to maintain a sense of identity within your space.

Whether you are looking forward to the start of the semester or you are scrambling to find a way to hit the beach before the summer is over, decorating your dorm room is a great way to positively start the school year. Although you will hit some obvious limitations, your dorm room can certainly be your little piece of paradise if you have a bit of creativity and the right attitude.

Tara D Sturm

Tara is a freelance writer currently pursuing a Master of Urban Planning, Development, and Design at Cleveland State University. Her writing has covered a wide breadth of topics, but she particularly enjoys meaningful work concerning community development, sustainability, and design. Her articles, blogs, and musings have been featured in various online and print publications, and she hopes her words will inspire creativity and innovation as we work toward social and structural change.


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