How can I Decorate a Dorm Room?

Michael Pollick

From a decorator's point of view, a typical college dorm room can be a true challenge. A dorm room is multi-functional, serving as a bedroom, study and living room all at the same time. The space may also have to be shared with a roommate with his or her own decorating ideas. There may be permanent fixtures which cannot be altered or removed. Certain standard decorating approaches such as interior painting or window treatments may not be allowed by the institution. Creating an inviting and functional living space in such close and sterile quarters may depend on the student's budget and personal tastes.

Some dorms may have a mini fridge.
Some dorms may have a mini fridge.

One of the first things you'll need to know before decorating a dorm room is the institution's ground rules. This information should be available from a housing director or dormitory supervisor, or even a returning student. Before you invest in expensive interior paint, for example, you'll need to know if the dorm room can be altered or if certain colors are not permitted. Typically, many colleges allow a dorm room to be painted as long as the maintenance staff can restore it to a neutral color easily. This means either learning to live with the present dorm room color scheme or using subtle painting techniques with muted tones to create a sense of warmth. Try a mottled faux finish with two shades of a medium-toned paint and a sponge.

Area rugs can add colorful accents to a dorm room.
Area rugs can add colorful accents to a dorm room.

Oftentimes the rule for a smaller dorm room is 'less is more.' A simple addition of a warm-toned window treatment, in dark reds or blues, can be enough to change the feel of a space. A small area rug with a complementary hue to the carpeting can define a living space. Even the blankets on the bed should be considered a design element in such a small setting. Coordinate the blankets with the rug and the window curtains to give the room a unified look. Even if wholesale repainting is out of the question, an accent stripe or decorative trim might give the walls some visual interest.

When it comes to adding artwork and posters to a dorm room, try to remain calm. One large element such as a print of Monet's Water Lilies should be enough to define a wall space, especially if surrounded by a few smaller pieces of framed artwork. If at all possible, invest in a poster frame and use temporary hooks to avoid damaging the walls. A loose poster attached to the wall with masking or scotch tape is a decorating disaster waiting to happen. Few adhesive tapes can handle the job of holding paper to dorm room walls, and eventually the poster and/or the wall will be damaged or discolored.

If you really want to use visual art in your dorm room and money is tight, befriend an art major. If you see something you like in his or her portfolio, ask if you can display it in your room. Beginning artists may appreciate the exposure, and you can add or remove pieces to keep your dorm room decor interesting. Think three-dimensionally as well. A well-placed sculpture doesn't take up much space, but it can add serious mileage points to your reputation as a supporter of the arts.

Discussion Comments


Think outside the box to make your dorm special. Hang fabric over pvc for an inexpensive wall tapestry.


Love vinyl wall art for dorms as it is customizable and removable. Great color pop! Create your own designer dorm bedding online.

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