How to decorate your dorm room so it feels like ‘a home away from home’

Rachel Grumman Bender
Beauty and Style Editor

Decorating a small space is a challenge — especially when it comes to those tiny college dorm rooms. But in an interview with Matt Forte on the Build Series stage, three designers — Rayman Boozer, founder of interior design firm Apartment 48; Stephanie Kimel, co-founder of Dormify; and Sean Biloski, partner and chief creative officer of Iron Oaks — offered up their best tips for not only maximizing the small space, but also decorating it so the room reflects your personality.

First, try to get a sneak peek of the dorm rooms at your college so you’ll know the space you’ll be working with. While most students in the past would only find out what their dorms looked like on move-in day, Kimel points out that “more and more colleges and universities are actually publishing what their dorm rooms look like,” along with school orientations that give you a preview of the rooms and older students sharing their dorm rooms on social media. Kimel notes this helps people “prepare more and buy everything that they need beforehand.”

But before you start that pre-college shopping spree, all three designers agree that the first step is to declutter before you leave home. “You don’t want to bring all the crap from your bedroom to a new place,” says Boozer. “So you just want to think [about] what you really need and bring that stuff with you because this is your opportunity to reinvent yourself. You can start fresh.”

Watch the full video below for more dorm room design tips:

Boozer shares that he approaches design by thinking, “What story do I want to tell?” and a new dorm room is the perfect chance to tell a new story that reflects who you are now as a college student. “This is a great opportunity because you’re moving someplace where nobody knows you,” he says.

If you haven’t used or worn something in a while, but aren’t yet ready to donate or recycle it, both Boozer and Kimel recommend “archiving” it — giving it to a family member or close friend or storing it in your parents’ home so if you change your mind later, it’s still there.

To make sure you have everything you need, several sites, such as Dormify, offer checklists to help college students and their parents figure out what exactly they’ll need to furnish a dorm room. Dormify also has a room “visualizer” that walks you through exactly what you’ll need, down to the number of decorative pillows. And if you could use some dorm room decor inspiration to suss out your personal style, the best places to start are Instagram, Pinterest and magazines.

Of course, you and your roommate may have different visions when it comes to room decor. To create harmony, Kimel suggests picking a “unifying color.” “So if they can agree upon a color, then they design their sides of the room however they want,” she says.

If you want a small space to look bigger, you can’t go wrong with white, says Boozer. “And then accent with other colors,” he suggests.

You can also create cohesiveness with your art choices. “You see a lot of dorm rooms and they have a lot of posters that are really random, but I think you want to pick a theme and just tell a story,” Boozer says. “Maybe it’s music or maybe it’s something like girl power…. They’re all different patterns and colors, but they’re still the same story.”

The designers also shared their top decorating tips. For Boozer, it’s all about repetition. “So you want to triangulate the space and repeat the same color three times or repeat a pattern, color, or a shape three times — tell a story by doing something three times,” he says. “It never fails.”

He adds: “People like to see things that make sense.”

For Biloski, he recommends bringing in some greenery by getting a plant. “I’m all about having a little bit of life in the room,” he says. “It adds a little green, which is a natural color.” If you don’t have a green thumb, Biloski says that fake plants work well, too, as long as they don’t look fake.

Above all, it’s important to create a comfortable, organized space that’s your oasis.

“You really want to make your dorm feel like a home away from home and somewhere you feel comfortable,” Kimel says. “Once you move in, you start classes, you’re meeting new people so you want to feel great in your room. You want to make sure all of your belongings have a home — so enough storage space so that your room is not cluttered on a regular basis. And you want it to feel like you. So you want it to be well-designed, personal, and for everything to have homes so that you can start and end your day in a great place.”

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