DECORATING : Dorm Room Is a Study in Smart Use of Space


Serious thoughts of a college freshman’s first home away from home often get lost in the rush to shop for campus clothes and to crowd in one last summer with childhood pals.

Too bad, because you’ll have to squeeze a lot of living--and studying--into a dorm room that is at best probably a minuscule single or barely big enough to share with another newcomer.

Most dorm rooms are initially Spartan, furnished with bed, bureau, desk and chair and, maybe, a desk lamp. Occupants supply comforts and color.

“The key to an effective make-over is to take advantage of every inch,” says Patricia Shaw, style director for the JCPenney home furnishings catalogues in Plano, Tex. “Start with colorful bed linens and matching curtains. They don’t take up any room but add a good deal of color and pattern to what is almost always a neutral space.”


A wall-mounted bulletin board is useful for class schedules and assignment deadlines. Some schools say no to nails in the walls. If so, prop the bulletin board against a wall above a dresser or desk. Or, if it’s light enough, try attaching it with double-faced tape.

If there’s space and money, buy a few storage cubes to stack as a bedside table. A floor lamp that can be moved as needed nearer the bed or next to the desk will provide extra lighting. A wicker trunk can double as a storage unit and extra seating.

As a luxury, consider an area rug next to the bed. Washable bath mats are practical and come in a range of sizes and patterns.

“I don’t know of any college students who will wash a rug,” Shaw says, “but they will bring it home to Mom’s washing machine.”


Bring family photos and mementos. They go a long way toward counteracting that institutional feeling.

“Make room for a wall of photos and poster art, no matter how tiny and crowded the room. The closet door can be another display place,” says Ro Logrippo of Burlingame, Calif., an author of books on design.

Lightweight foam-core board, available in art supply stores, makes a better surface than a wall. It can be mounted with double-faced tape. Lightly coat backs of photos and posters with a spray adhesive before sticking them on the foam-core.

Logrippo suggests using the desktop as an auxiliary bulletin board. Have a piece of clear acrylic cut to size and tuck schedules and other reference materials underneath.


In shared rooms, privacy is hard to come by. A folding screen can provide some visual privacy and serve as a tackboard surface.