Creating a Stylish Dorm Room

Decorating a dorm room or college-provided housing can be a tricky thing. It’s easy to see that small, cramped space as something destined to be completely void of color and style. But that doesn’t have to be the case! Still, there are now almost countless ways to dress up a dorm room without taking paint off the walls or blowing an already tight budget. Read on for three of my favorite tips for making your dorm feel a little more like home.

1. Use the things you love

Duvet cover and pillows from Pottery Barn Teen
Duvet cover and pillows from Pottery Barn Teen (

Even if you’re sharing your room with someone else, you’ll feel a lot more at home if you make a conscious effort to bring in a bit of your personality. That’s why my first suggestion is to use the things you love in your décor. When you’re buying supplies, look for your favorite colors or patterns for bedding rugs, towels, and so on. Don’t be afraid to go wild: this is your space, so if you’ve always wanted a chevron bedspread or polka dotted towels, do it!

Decorated desk in a dorm room — keep your memories close!

Not everything in a dorm room has to be new, though: you can bring stuff from home, too. A favored pillow, stuffed animal, or the laptop stand you use every day can come with you.

Just don’t go overboard: too much “stuff” can make the space seem cramped. Consider getting under-the-bed storage boxes where you can stash away your things until you really need them.

2. Get thrifty

This one might take some time and patience, but the payoff is worth it. Instead of spending a fortune on non-essential furniture – like side tables, laptop stands, extra chairs, or even storage – go hunting at thrift stores or bargain outlets. What’s available at these stores changes weekly, if not daily, and you can sometimes score brand new or gently used items perfect for making your dorm feel a little more like home.

Spray painted chair from Young House Love
Spray painted chair photograph from Young House Love (

To get really good at this, you may have to start looking for potential rather than perfection in the pieces you want or need. Keep in mind that some furniture can be sanded or primed and repainted, or merely spray-painted, to change the color. (And I LOVE the look of spray-painted accent pieces, especially in bold colors.) And remember that you won’t be stuck in a dorm forever, so you may want to look for things that you know will be useful after your time in school is up.

One final tip: don’t forget to ask your family members or friends if they have any old furniture lying around that they’ve been meaning to get rid of. They might be happy to have you take it off their hands! Again, look for potential, put in a little work, and your room will be the envy of all.

3. Don’t forget the walls!

RoomMates Wall Decals
Wallpockets wall decals from RoomMates (

Every dorm varies in what is and isn’t allowed, as far as the walls are concerned. Most schools are fine with tape, removable adhesive (like 3M hooks or poster putty), and maybe a few thumbtacks. Others may insist on no holes whatsoever. And if you’re living in an apartment or off-campus housing, you may even be permitted to paint and use nails or screws, as long as everything is returned to its original state at the end of the school year.

No matter what your situation may be, don’t forget to decorate your walls. Think of them as blank white canvases that are awaiting your personal masterpiece. Put your thinking cap on and get creative when it comes to filling that empty space. Here are a few ideas:

  • Purchase a small cork memo board and pin photographs, notes, letters, cards, or other memories of home to it. It’ll be great to look at if you get lonely, and the hand-pinned look is always charming.
  • Hang groups of like things in one spot that might not be expected. I’m talking about plates, baskets, embroidery hoops… even action figures! You can make a gallery wall with way more than photos.
  • Wall decals are especially great for dorms and apartments. They’re available almost everywhere, in a ton of styles and sizes, and are typically very inexpensive. Look for the removable and reusable kinds that will allow you to take the decals with you when you move.
  • Posters are cheap, easy to hang, and take up a ton of space. But if you plan on using poster putty to hang them, test it in a small space first to be sure it doesn’t leave behind a greasy residue. (I speak from experience here.)
Removable wallpaper mural from York’s “Risky Business” collection

Finally, wallpaper isn’t out of the question, if you’re careful: try framing a sample and hanging it on your wall as a unique piece of art. You can also use wallpaper to line drawers or cover plain shelves. You can even use it to cover books, if you want! But if you really want your dorm to be dramatic — and who doesn’t like to get people talking? — look for wallpaper sidewalls and murals printed on our special SureStrip material. SureStrip is easy to apply, and is guaranteed removable with no damage to the walls, so you won’t have to worry about damage or losing your security deposit. Just apply the paper or mural in strips and enjoy, and when it comes time to move, simply peel it away.

Do you have any dorm decorating ideas you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts!

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