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Dorm room design goes a few degrees beyond the milk crate

"I don't really know how I want my dorm room to look ... but I know how I want it to feel," says rising high school senior and Dormify style advisor Chloe Gordon, contemplating her dream dorm more than a year in advance. "I want to feel at home, cozy, comfortable. Just because I'm away from home doesn't necessarily mean I have to feel that way."

It's a sentiment echoed by a new generation of college-bound kids who, empowered by the Internet and subsidized by mom and dad, are swapping out milk crate decor for deluxe dorm living that includes everything from Kate Spade storage boxes, Jonathan Adler accessories, hot pink mini-fridges and temporary peel-and-stick wallpaper to professional interior design consultations and concierge services.

Leaving the nest has "become a bigger deal," says Jeff Gawronski, product development director for DormCo.com, a site that sells "dorm essentials." How big? We spent $48 billion on back-to-college stuff last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

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Not surprisingly, retailers are happy to fan the flames. Bed Bath & Beyond is renowned for its free Pack & Hold service that allows students to shop for items at a store near home and pick them up at a location closer to campus. Target recently launched a college registry tool similar to those used for brides and babies; and any retailer worth its dorm-regulation twin extra-long sheets provides a detailed college checklist. Even Amazon is getting in on the act, rolling out Amazon Campus, on-site distribution centers offering free, unlimited next-day delivery for Prime members attending Purdue University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and UC Davis — with more locations to come.

However, it is not just stuff but style that savvy students are seeking. On Pottery Barn's PB Dorm website, the Design Your Own Bed feature allows shoppers to virtually test drive wall colors and dress a single or side-by-side twin beds with a chic selection of duvets, shams, sheets, quilts and throw pillows. PB Dorm also offers 30 inspirational vignettes, cleverly identified by room number, that provide visual tips for pulling it all together.

Along the same lines, Dormify, a dorm decor website and brainchild of formerly frustrated freshman Amanda Zuckerman, offers free online design consultation. "We ask a range of questions, from what is your preferred color scheme to what's your favorite beauty trend," says Zuckerman. Results help shoppers get started. "Plus, it provides ideas your roommate might like if you want to match."

In true digital native fashion, clients who take the company's design survey start by connecting through Facebook. If you have friends who are on Facebook and have taken the survey, you can compare your results with theirs — and perhaps even be influenced by their choices.

In fact, all those status updates and selfies may hold the answer to why decorated dorms have become the hottest thing since keg parties. "Students' tastes have evolved to be more sophisticated," says Bed Bath & Beyond spokeswoman Jessica Joyce, "especially with the sharing of ideas and inspiration through social media."

"Ten years ago, there wasn't Pinterest, there wasn't Instagram," says Madeline Fraser, co-founder and marketing director of Zoom Interiors, referring to the powerful influence of the visually addicting imagery sites. "Now there's a movement around caring about what your style is, caring about what you look like and posting it."

Clients of Zoom, which provides online dorm room designs, begin by filling out a one-minute "BuzzFeed-like" survey on the website followed by a free 15-minute phone consultation. "It's a great way to hash things out and learn all the details," says Fraser.

"From there we create Zoom boards, which in the design world are like mood boards, and lay out everything we're going to put in the space. … It really helps the client visualize what the space is going to look like. We work with them to revise and design," Fraser says. "Then, once they're happy with the design, we create a Zoom Cart, which is like a shopping list, order the items and coordinate deliveries to get it to the school on time." Zoom's flat rate dorm design price of $325 includes two Zoom board revisions (three boards total) as well as a guide for floor-plan layout, Zoom Cart and ordering.

At Dormify, students can check out a "Rooms" page and view 10 curated dorms based on varying style personalities, "You can buy the entire room in one click," says Zuckerman. "It couldn't be any easier."

Unless, of course, you hire a concierge to do the clicking for you.

Although they are not prevalent on the West Coast, student concierge services, especially those targeted to international students, are available on a retainer or project basis in the East. The Boston Collegiate Consulting Group boasts services that include everything from hiring interior designers or contractors to create the perfect room to furnishing a luxury apartment, or helping students escape the drudgery of dorm life altogether by purchasing their first place.

It sure beats milk crates.

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