DIY: 10 tips for decorating your dorm room, plus more ideas

Those cold, drab dormitory rooms are things of the past — or at least they can be. Leaving your parents’ cozy home for a room with two beds, boring furniture, plain walls and cold floors can be a shock for freshmen. Adjusting to challenging classes is hard enough without having to deal with anything-but-warm living conditions.

Atlanta interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, the associate producer and on-air designer for Movie & A Makeover on TBS, knows how to turn a room inside-out. You don’t have to pay a professional to do the work, though. Flynn gives us some DIY re-decorating tips, based on his signature stamp on a University of Georgia dorm in 2007. You can take these concepts and make them fit your budget.

You may not be able to paint your walls, but you can use the advice on color schemes. Maybe you can’t fit a sofa in you room, but you can get a comfortable chair instead of using your bed for seating. No hanging lamps? What about cool, decorative ones instead of the boring lighting in the room. You get the idea. Good luck:

Turn your boring dormitory into a colorful living space. Photos: Brian Patrick Flynn

Turn your boring dormitory into a colorful living space. Photos: Brian Patrick Flynn

1. Don’t paint the walls in school colors: “It’s cliche,” Flynn said. “Use a complementary color, and the school colors as the backdrop. In this design, he used turquoise as the primary color, and red and black as accents.

Note: If you can’t paint your walls, don’t sweat it. Use the color theme suggestions to add some pop to your room decor.

2. Go modular: “This way, you’re not locked into one thing.” Flynn likes the idea of using couches that can be used in L-shapes, for instance, to give you options in a small space. “Three years later, in your apartment, you can change the way it’s laid out.” Sofa beds, because of their versatility, are also good options.

Note: No room for a couch? How about a comfortable, cool chair? That’s far better than using your bed for your primary seating. This club bean bag chair for about $54 from Wal-Mart is pretty cool.

3. Build a loft: If you’re allowed the latitude to make changes in the room, consider adding an inexpensive loft area using plywood, 2-foot-by-4 foot support boards and bedding. Flynn said it is not difficult at all to attach these to the wall. It takes a little more work than plopping down on a twin size bed, but if you choose this option, you’ll have more space for a living room-like feel below.

Note: A stretch for a lot of people. But if need more room, try using concrete blocks or RackRisers to lift your bed, giving you more space.

4. Lighting: Lights can dramatically change the tone of a room. You can purchase nice lamps for little money. You can also go in Flynn’s direction. “When I was 20, I never would’ve thought of this,” he said. Buy a plug-in pendant and ’swag’ the cord into the wall. Attach the chain or wire to a hook in the ceiling, swag it into a corner and use the outlet. “This overhead lighting will make the space a lot more inviting and add more task lighting for study time,” he said. For an extra touch, add table top dimmers for about $12.

Note: This isn’t a bad idea, but if you can’t use a simple hook, look for a few decorative lamps at a yard sale. Your lights can make a huge difference in the room. Visit Target, Wal-Mart, Ikea, JC Penney and other similar stores to find one you’ll like.

A table with a center pole adds versatility.

A table with a center pole adds versatility.

5. Multi-purpose table: Using a table with a center pole can turn an ordinary desktop into a four-seat dinner table, creative space, game table or study area. The butcher block ones will run you about $100.

Note: Couldn’t possibly fit in your small space? You might purchase a couple nice tray tables that can stay up. You’ll enjoy not eating late-night pizza off your lap. This one is nice — and on sale for $65 — from Overstock.com. It doesn’t take this much; you can do a pretty simple one for $10 or so.

6. No more plastic crates: You don’t have to do away with them entirely, but cube ottomans look better and can be just as spacious. They look more like furniture than storage space, but serve as a good place to hold video games, books and other smaller items.

Note: These are affordable and sleek. Sure, you can do the plastic crates. But why unless you have to. I found this one on Target.com for about $40. This one is even nicer, for $52.

7. Cold floors, be gone: “This is so easy; you can roll it up like an area rug, and it’s super-duper easy to do,” Flynn said. He’s talking about Allure Stainmaster Vinyl Flooring. It’s a thin laminate that adheres to itself, rather than the floor. That makes it easy to put down. It’s about $25 a box, and an average dorm space might use about five-and-half boxes, Flynn said. “All you need is a blade knife to cut the ends to size and then snap each flat vinyl piece to the others.” Maybe your roommate would be willing to split the cost!

Note: If this is too much, look for a decorative area rug to give the room a more homey feel. You can find college rugs here, starting at $69, but you can go with a simpler rug for about $12-$15 from an area store.

8. No ordinary picture: Rather than taping photos to your wall or cluttering your limited space with picture frames, take your favorite picture and have it blown up to larger than poster size. It makes a bigger statement.

Note: Small pictures are nice, too, but this takes up much less space, and for about the same cost. Enlarging a picture shouldn’t cost you more than $10.

9. Comforter: Don’t skimp on your comforter. You’ll have to sleep under it every night, so make sure it’s something that feels good to you. Choosing a solid pattern will give you more decorating options than a comforter with bold patterns.

Note: You can find comforter sets at area stores, many of which are holding sales right now. JC Penney has this really cute one for 50 percent off through Saturday. It’s just $29.99!

10. Throw pillows: They nicely accent your room and provide comfort, as well. Plus, you can get quality ones without spending a great deal of money.

Note: Again, big statement, little money. This is an attractive three-pillow set on sale at Macy’s for $22.

Bonus: Outfit your closet with items that will make life easier, like plastic hooks for hanging towels and shoe organizers that hang on the back of the door.

Here are some other college dorm room tips:

Don’t leave home without these items

More decorating ideas; these on the cheap

Still more great ideas, like using plants and hanging curtains

46 comments Add your comment

Nick

August 12th, 2009
8:41 am

Yeah great idea if you go somewhere that allows things like this to happem. At most major Universities in the State, you can not hang things on the walls let alone paint them. Georgia State does not even allow you to take their supplied furniture out of the room so to do all these things would be nearly impossible given the obstacles in the room now.

This is for some fantasy design school not college…

JJ

August 12th, 2009
9:22 am

Yea, and who pays for all that stuff? The parents.

At my daughter’s college you cannot put ANYTHING on the windows. No nails in the wall, etc.

There isn’t enough room in her room for any furniture, like a sofa or dining table……..

This is silly……and expensive to say the least. Let them fix up their own apartments when they are out on their own, and off my dime!!!

jct

August 12th, 2009
9:29 am

Hello, what school is going to allow all of this? This is totally an unrealistic article if you are living on campus.

Rana Cash

August 12th, 2009
9:44 am

Actually, this was room was done at UGA in ‘07. Many schools will let you paint the walls — as long as you re-paint with the original color when you leave. The flooring is simple and can be done because it doesn’t adhere to the floor. You can also use area rugs. The hanging lamp requires nothing more than a simple hook; you can also use string lights. The cube ottomans? You can do that anywhere, even if it’s a tight squeeze.
The table and the loft might be trickier, depending on the school and what it allows.
Throw pillows? Lamps? Comforters? Plants? Photos? Posters? These are within reach for most college students living in dormitories. And they don’t cost a whole lot.

Rana Cash

August 12th, 2009
9:47 am

Let me add the sofa to the list of “stretch” items, along with the loft and table. Wouldn’t have fit in my dorm room. But having a nice, comfortable chair — something other than leaning against the wall next to your bed — is a good idea if you can swing it.

Becky

August 12th, 2009
10:04 am

Forget a dorm room, can he come oer and decorate my house?

bridget

August 12th, 2009
10:17 am

there are a lot of cheap ways to decorate a dorm in a way allowed by the college, but these are not them. colorful bedspreads, lamps (taking away the glare from overhead flourescents) and throwrugs are the best ways.

Keep It Real

August 12th, 2009
2:01 pm

What dorm rooms are they looking at… How in the world do you put a dining table in the room. Why would you build a loft in a dorm room? It’s hard enough trying to get your groove on in a regular dorm bed, now you have to worry about falling on the floor…

Whatever happen to the local carpet store selling carpet specific to your dorm and hanging a few pictures from the wall with 2 sided tape…

J

August 12th, 2009
2:23 pm

It looks really cool; too bad most universities won’t allow something like this. I mean, painting walls? We can’t even hang things from the walls…

Sara

August 12th, 2009
2:51 pm

Why not actually do some reporting and go to a real college campus in Georgia and see what real students are doing to make their new homes more comfortable! This article is totally unrealistic! There ARE a lot of good ideas out there that don’t involve painting and putting holes in the wall, so please don’t waste the reader’s time with something that can never be implemented.

KMP

August 12th, 2009
2:58 pm

Cool Stuff! The white dining chairs look like the ones I purchased from http://www.CoolChairz.com! I got a set of 4 for around $600.

lwa

August 12th, 2009
3:03 pm

Some schools offer the option of the student purchasing a loft bed. I did so in 1989 at VA tech. My roommate put her bed under mine and we were able to fit a futon in the room. It came with a small table and we used it as a coffee table. Some things can be done. Depending on how the window is shaped, you can get a tension rod and hang curtains. Depending on the size of the room, you can get an area rug that covers almost the entire space. Remember, a loft raises the bed and allow for more floor space. I have seen it work.

When my daughter is accepted to the college of her choice, one thing we will do is visit the dorms before school ends the previuos year and get some decorating ideas. You don’t have to spend a lot of money but I want her to feel comfortable in her new home.

JawJaw Dawg

August 12th, 2009
3:05 pm

Rana! Kudos to you and forget about the negative comments. I love it. I had a loft (yes Keep it Real!) back in 1984 at UGA…my roomate’s father designed and built it for us in our Reed Hall dorm room and it just about doubled our living space. We each had our bed and the telephone ((corded in those days) on a shared table area “upstairs” that connected are beds which were on separate sides of the room. Our desks were under our respective beds thus giving us plenty of extra living space. I’ve got two teen daughters and they are looking forward to making their first home away from home their own… even though it will be their dorm space. Fabric covered or painted wallboard/thin plywood/even scrap cardboard boxes taped together will work when painting walls isn’t an option. Two sided tape is a must. Stock up on plenty when moving in. I see the dining table as being a great substitute for desks. Choose one or the other. I think the table makes things more homey and civilized even though I ate at the dining hall or out most of the time. Lighting options are so fun these days. I think Rana made excellent use of the money spent. She wasn’t saying to spoil the kids with a lavishly furnished condo. She is showing how to glam up your dorm…good grief JJ. Some people need to lighten up and enjoy the “paper”. Keep the decorating ideas coming :-)

JawJaw Dawg

August 12th, 2009
3:06 pm

oops…our beds

Rana Cash

August 12th, 2009
3:10 pm

I hear you guys loud and clear! I’m updating the blog with ways you can turn Brian’s ideas into ones that suit your dorm room as well.
Whether you have a spacious room and a college that’s pretty lenient when it comes to this, or one that’s smaller and a bit more strict, the concepts here are applicable. Also, be sure to click on the links at the end of the post. More great ideas in each one!

Rana Cash

August 12th, 2009
3:13 pm

The chairs definitely weren’t $600! Cool, though, that you can get a similar look for nowhere near that cost.

Oh boy

August 12th, 2009
3:18 pm

Yeah Keep It Real- Getting your groove on IS most important when one goes to college… Uh huh- had many a roommate that did the same….. Shock

ihorizon

August 12th, 2009
3:47 pm

A good show to watch is Design on a Dime…Joy can show you how to redo a room under $500 or rearrange furniture! I wished we had HGTV when I was in college!!!

KGH3

August 12th, 2009
4:42 pm

We found an big old wooden wire spool from one of my Dad’s construction sites and glued a piece of luan plywood on it. Three coats of polyurethane and we had a nice round table for the center of the room. Thing did’t cost $20. That little table saw a lot of use. As far as hanging stuff on the walls – posters held up with blue-tack. My roomate found out that a beer cap would stick into the popcorn ceiling so he went nuts putting designs up there with beer caps. To think there were three of us in a space about the size of my walk-in closet.

brianpatrickflynn

August 12th, 2009
7:15 pm

Enter your comments here

D

August 12th, 2009
10:15 pm

Great ideas….I always decorated my dorm while I was in college…actually won 2 years inthe row for best room….I couldn’t paint the walls but my room mate (3years straight) would use a variety of tactics- we did hang nails (even though u clndn’t) nothing spackle doesn’t fix at the end of the year. We had a loft and lighting….we even had pets…rabbits and hamsters (no these also were not allowed)..but who followed rules in school…lol…Underneath our beds we made took regular throw pillows- some found at home and thrift stores and made cozy spots to chill…we did have a couch and desks…but who used desks anyway…they were to hold onto our other no suppose to have items such as a hot plate….Our goal was to hava an environment where we felt at home…plus be able to get our work done….why not…all the stress you can go thru in college…you need to come home to place of your own….I could not imagine keeping my room plain jane all thru the years…. Rana- good light article….

Christie

August 12th, 2009
10:20 pm

I need an interior decorator to fix up my apartment, does anyone know any in the Atlanta/Smyrna area with decent rates? Ill be looking for your response. Thanks

cara

August 12th, 2009
10:37 pm

My daughter is at West Georgia and you can’t remove any of the furniture, the ceilings arent hig enough to build a true loft. You can bunk the beds but it’s tight. Concrete blocks aren’t really toe friendly in the middle of the night. You can’t paint or really hang much on the walls without doing damage and losing your deposit. Who’s going to lay vinyl flooring on top of vinyl flooring? There is no room for a chair for guest. I’m not sure where you would put a dining room table…on top of the bed??? Cube ottomans…I think my daughter has about 12″ of space between the beds when they are pullled out. Lighting…she is a itty bitty desk and an even smaller dresser. We squeezed in a task lamp and that’s it. I don’t think we even had space in the power strips for designer lamps after the laptop, printer, task lamp, cordless phone, hair dryer, phone charger, iron and whatever else is needed. Tray tables were a neat idea but who eats in their dorm room like that? Don’t skimp on the comforter but you found one for $29.99..who wrote this article? Most of the dorm rooms don’t have closet doors so you can’t hang anything over the door. The main door is shared and who wants to look at anyones shoes the whole year? I think the throw pillows are a good idea but nothing new. These ideas aren’t even suitable for a student in an off campus apartment. The paint should have been the first sign of trouble from this designer. What a moron. He really missed the mark on this.

Spalding Drive homeowner

August 12th, 2009
11:01 pm

well a pic is worth a thousand words, no photoshop here. part of college is being creative, dont spoon feed your kid, they will be more popular if they a doa cool room on there own….

Voice of Reason #1

August 13th, 2009
12:37 am

This article made me wish I was 35 years younger and able to go back to college. I’d certainly do some things differently, like have more fun. I was Ms. Studious and Ms. Church-girl. I also was broke (poor family), so all this “stuff” looks great. My experience was a bare-bones dorm room. My conduct paid off; I have money now. But a few months of fun college living would be good. I like academic settings.

Interior Decoration Pictures

August 14th, 2009
2:15 pm

[...] tips to a T. Brun is a San Diego-based, award-winning interior designer. …   DIY: 10 tips for decorating your dorm room, plus more ideasAtlanta interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, the associate producer and on-air designer for Movie [...]

Sarah Davidson

August 14th, 2009
3:01 pm

Good job, Rana. I’m a UGA graduate and my roommate and I had a “designer” dorm room that we decorated on the cheap. Ours was always the room to be in for our neighbors. It IS doable, all you haters!

Renee

August 21st, 2009
4:40 pm

Nice…but totally unrealistic with the parameters the students have to work with. And even if you are allowed to paint walls, who wants to repaint walls at the end of their college year. They hardly want to clean their dorms like they are suppose to.

Rana Cash

August 21st, 2009
5:00 pm

Actually, this work was done in a real college dorm room. However, some schools are pretty stringent. That’s why I’ve also included some alternatives that keep in the spirit of the overall decorating tips.

Lauren

August 28th, 2009
7:23 pm

What a great post! Lovely ideas for all small spaces as they’re sophisticated enough for college graduates, too! Did you guys heard about Nate Berkus for HSN? The blog that I saw this link on always has good budget design stuff, http://tiny.cc/n9OFk
Nice small scale pieces at a totally low price point!! Love it! Good luck to all moms sending their kids off to school!

[...] DIY: Decorating your dorm room [...]

lil' wayne

November 26th, 2009
1:20 pm

i think its pretty good ideas. but i don’t know if bosten college is going to allow that sort of stuff.

lil' wayne

November 26th, 2009
1:21 pm

Enter your comments here

Lauren

November 28th, 2009
2:19 pm

I’m thinking of going to UGA and living in Reed Hall. Did they let you remove the furniture already in the dorm? And if so what did you have to do to get it removed.

[...] Build a loft: Instead of buying a new futon or loft bed, make your own with 2×4 boards. [...]

Jesse

January 18th, 2010
12:33 am

I love the idea of putting blocks under my bed to make it sit up higher! I go back to school tomorrow and will stop by Home Depot and pick some up. This will give me another foot of space under my bed. Great Ideas

[...] Build a loft: Give you and your roomie more room by lofting your beds. [...]

decorating tips dude

March 16th, 2010
5:09 pm

When it comes to using colour i would go for warm light colours
i mean doesn’t everyone want warm light airy room?

also if the place is a bit chilly use a sausage dog on the door and try to seal around windows and doors with a sealant that is paint able like a decorators caulk which is flexible for round the doors it also looks better rather than looking at cracks along the skirting boards you have smooth edges
tips Thanks for sharing
i like the idea about placing blocks to make the bed higher as im not the biggest fan of those really low bed they can be a pain getting up in the morning.

cheers,

Carolyn Moore

March 27th, 2010
11:10 pm

Enter your comments here

Michele

May 9th, 2010
11:25 am

$22 for throw pillows is a lot of money for a college student! Freshman might not think so, but upperclassmen know.

Hilary

June 15th, 2010
8:14 am

Enter to win a $500 gift card to Bed Bath & Beyond for your Dorm Decorating needs, from College Magazine! http://bit.ly/dobCu4

Decor 2 Ur Door

June 25th, 2010
9:55 pm

Great article.Love the ideas- especially the lighting ideas and lofting the bed. For more great dorm decor and bedding visit http://www.decor-2-ur-door.com.

[...] Click here for 10 Do It Yourself dorm decorating ideas for schools that allow its students to go all… [...]

[...] For dorm decorating ideas, click here. [...]

Hailey

August 30th, 2010
8:59 pm

Very interesting ideas! Also I recommend wall stickers – they are easy to apply and leave no damage! There is a huge variety of them online for different taste and budget.
http://www.surfacecollective.com has a 50% off sale , DORMTAT50 is a promo code .So cheap. Love it :)

woods

September 6th, 2010
7:53 am

I walked into my master closet the other day and took a look at the rows and rows of photo albums resting neatly on the shelves. Some of them are recent ones and some have been their since my marriage. I walked out into my apartment and examined those bare walls. I felt a pang of guilt.

I walked back into my closet and took one album off the shelf. All those years of my children growing up, if I had displayed those shining faces, what a difference it would have made in our lives. I stood there flipping through the pages, wiping away many a tear, lost in years back. After a while, having lost the sense of time, I closed the books and made my resolution. My children had grown up, they were teenagers now, but they were still young teens. As the old adage goes, I would not cry over spilled milk, but I would do something to correct that now.

Trying to come up with home décor ideas, I flipped open my laptop and did a search on home décor online stores and came upon a home décor store DecorativeGifts.net. As I scrolled through the variety of frames available, I found one or more suited for each one of the rooms in my house. Wow! What a nice selection! These home décor gifts would definitely thrill my daughter, I figured. I reviewed the photos that I would display, and carefully made my order.

It took just 3 days and my order was at the door. I slipped the portrait into the frame I had picked for my daughter, placed the beautifully wrapped gift in her room, and waited for her to come home from school. I spent the rest of the morning picking out snapshots for the other frames.

You should have seen my daughter’s joy when she saw that gift. After a bear hug, she slowly took the frame out of the box and together we figured out where to hang it in her room- right above her bed. What a difference it made- to my daughter and to her room!

Afterwards, I showed her what else I had purchased and we went from room to room, working our way through the house together. The joyous faces and fun filled memories, truly transformed my home!