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Dorm room decor: comfy, practical and not too crazy

When you enter the room where your grown child will live for at least a year (if not longer), it’s a blank slate. You can’t imagine the sensory deprivation those cinder block walls might cause. But remember — it’s not YOU who will be occupying this space. And it’s definitely NOT home to your child. It’s simply a place where he or she sleeps, studies, and learns a bit about being an adult.

Realtor’s Rachel Wolfe says that while it’s tempting to plaster the prison-like walls with little photos, they can overwhelm a small room, making it feel cluttered and hodgepodge. She advises to look for thrift store frames with glass and matting, and swap in the best of your art using framer’s tape. Says one designer, “Create a gallery wall, using sticky-backed Command Strips to hang the art without poking holes you’ll answer for at the end of the school year.” Wolfe shares common collegiate décor blunders as well as tips for working within institutional limitations to make a dorm room the highlight of the residence hall.

A great-feeling dorm room is not a study in the dichotomy of tastes between two vastly different roommates. Wolfe shares advice offered by Christina Hart, founder of New York’s StudioH: “While no 18-year-old wants to text a future roommate to coordinate the purchase of every last binder clip, you also don’t want to look like you’re living in two completely separate spaces.” A small room is best decorated with a single vibe, according to Karen B. Wolf, a New Jersey-based designer. There are downsides to a cacophony mismatching colors, and different peel-and-stick wallpapers that meet halfway and beds set at varying heights.

So steer your child toward neutral, textured bed coverings that would dovetail with whatever their future roommates brought. Once they get settled, a trip to HomeGoods (to select throw pillows, artwork and rugs) might be in order. Use Pinterest for some ideas.

Stepping out of bed onto cold, linoleum tiles or decades-old carpeting is not fun for anyone. While you can use a bath mat or rely on a crusty shag area rug lifted from your house as a temporary solution, look for an affordable, durable jute or rattan mat that extends under both beds and can hide the less-than-appealing flooring, offering the feeling of a wall-to-wall carpet.

Bedding is important, so don’t cut corners on this, even though it’s tempting to go buy the one-and-done sets from big box retail stores. Opt for neutral, dark colors to disguise Cheeto crumbs and errant highlighter marks. Use lots of pillows -- such as a large bolster, a medium-size standard pillow for sleeping and a fun-shaped statement pillow for a great combo.

Consider getting creative with where organization is concerned. One designer said she liked to use a tidy, three-drawer dresser as both a night stand (with a large surface top to hold lamps and accessories) and extra space for clothing and other small items. A storage ottoman at the end of each bed will add an extra place to lounge as well as to store spare bedding.

How about holiday decor? Now is the time to think about it, but you may want to lock up your own lights and decorations before your college kid pilfers them. Instead of making the room look like a disco, buy some small warm, yellow-toned (easy on the eyes) LED string lights and conceal them while bringing in a proper light source, like an adjustable-neck, dimmable reading lamp for the desk or bedside. Thread the holiday strings behind a bed or mirror, so the light will reflect off the wall and give an ambient glow.

Wolfe lists a few epic fails shared by these designers:

  • A dad-built bed that was supposed to resemble a princess castle for his daughter’s room.
  • A family photo printed on the bedspread and pillow
  • A wall covered from floor to ceiling in beer bottles
  • A matching bed set, vanity, carpet, wall décor, hangers, the whole enchilada in hot, hot pink and zebra print
  • A dorm room wall covered in faux fur

Realtor, WSJ, TBWS

Family, Misc