10 Dorm Room Decorating Ideas for a Personalized Home-Away-from-Home

Turn a cookie-cutter dorm room into a stylish and functional spot to study with these tips from the pros.

Moving into your school's dormitories is an exciting opportunity to let your personality shine. But there are also some ground rules for decorating a dorm room. "You're not going to completely take away the fact that it's a dorm room," says Amie Freling of interior design brand Meme Hill Studio. Freling has firsthand experience brightening up student housing, including her daughter's cozy freshman dorm room. She says the key to successful dorm room decor is planning ahead. Residence halls offer a ton of information prior to move-in (some even have virtual tours) and knowing the layout and rules will prevent disappointment and wasted time and money down the road. Learn how to transform a utilitarian dorm into a personalized home-away-from-home with these dorm room decorating ideas.

1. Define your entryway.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, staying safe and healthy on college campuses will be important this fall, and setting up your entryway with a few essentials can help stop germs at the door. Although space is likely limited, you can turn even a sliver of wall space into a designated entryway. Mount a few hooks where you can hang up your face mask or ditch a jacket on your way in the door. Many dorm rooms don't include a private bathroom or sink where you can wash up, so station hand sanitizer near the door so you can clean your hands when you return from class. If you have room, hang a small mirror on the wall next to the door or lay down a doormat for an extra homey touch.

Plan ahead: Most residence halls have restrictions about putting holes in the walls, so opt for self-adhesive, damage-free hooks that don't require tools or nails to hang.

contemporary dorm room with two beds and desks
Kristin Leitten

2. Choose one item to inspire the room.

When decorating a dorm room, Freling suggests starting with the bedding or an area rug, as those two spots are prime visual real estate. Whether it's a beloved comforter making the journey to school or a brand-new rug, one focal point item will help kickstart decorating. Opt for a low-pile rug that camouflages dirt and wear and is easy to spot clean. Bedding should also be low maintenance.

Plan ahead: Furniture and floor dimensions will help you determine what size rug to purchase. An indoor-outdoor rug is an easy-care option but might not be as comfortable on hard tile, so consider your dorm's flooring material, too.

3. Focus on the bed.

Between doing homework, hanging out, and sleeping, students spend a lot of time in bed. A twin upholstered headboard adds cozy style while providing back support for studying and watching TV. Freling used zip ties to attach a headboard to her daughter's metal dorm bed frame. An oversized backrest pillow can do the same thing with the benefit of easily relocating to the floor, a futon, or a study session in another room. Students need good sleep, so quality bedding is also a must. "A good night's sleep makes for a happy student!" says Freling. In addition to looking good, a favorite cozy throw or pillow can bring comfort and joy into this new environment, bolstering student wellbeing.

Plan ahead: Most, but not all, residence hall mattresses are twin XL. While a regular twin comforter from home might work, new sheets will be needed.

4. Sneak in additional storage.

An alternative to lofting a dorm bed is raising it just a few inches or even a couple of feet off the ground. This adds storage without sacrificing the comfort of a near-ground-level bed. Some bed risers even have additional perks, like supplying plug-ins to the center of the room. Also, look for storage pieces like small ottomans that double as seating for guests. Bonus points if they tuck under a raised bed when not in use.

Plan ahead: It might be hard to determine the height of a bed frame until it's lofted, so you can leave under-bed storage purchases for later.

black mason jars on writing desk
Adam Albright

5. Add fun (and functional) lighting.

Most dorms only have a single bleak ceiling light. Cheer up the room with ambient lighting, such as a fun floor lamp, string lights, or paper lanterns. Then, incorporate task lighting to accommodate activities like studying late while your roommate sleeps. Look for clamp-on lights for beds or a desk lamp with a USB charger in the base.

Plan ahead: Check for restrictions on halogen bulbs or string lights. Buy the appropriate bulbs before move-in, especially for specialty bulbs that are hard to find near campus.

dorm room desk and closet area
Kristin Leitten

6. Play with furniture arrangements.

Get creative with your dorm layout. In her daughter's dorm, Freling moved a dresser into the open closet, which freed up space in the room. Beds can be placed towards the front or back of a room, staggered, across from one another, or in an L shape. Whether a bed can be lofted is also a big consideration. A lofted bed opens space in the floor plan for an additional seating area.

Plan ahead: Find out if beds can be lofted beforehand. If allowed, lofted bed frames are frequently provided by residence halls and requested by the student prior to move-in.

7. Introduce greenery.

"Potted houseplants are great for improving your room's indoor air quality and creating a welcoming environment," says wellness design consultant Jamie Gold. One study even found that a houseplant can help you stress less. Try an easy-to-care-for variety, like a low-light houseplant. Succulents and bamboo can also add a low-maintenance natural look and texture.

Plan ahead: Prior to starting school, get into the habit of watering or pruning to help the routine stick in the middle of a busy semester.

8. Disguise clutter.

If your dorm has an open closet, cover it up with a tension rod and a curtain panel or fabric shower curtain. Cutting visual clutter makes a dorm feel more relaxing environment and a little homier, too. Freling applied the same idea to a raised bed: fashioning a simple bed skirt from folded curtain panels, then using safety pins to attach it to the bed coils to cover storage underneath.

Plan ahead: Check the height and width of the closet to secure supplies with the correct lengths.

wallpaper on closet door
Courtesy of Chasing Paper

9. Refresh existing features.

Wood furniture is a staple of many residence halls, and it can look pretty worn. "Applying removable wallpaper to wood and wood-toned pieces is a great way to make over old dorm room furniture," says Chasing Paper founder Elizabeth Rees. Just be sure the wood is sealed, says Rees, or it will peel off the finish when removed. Removable wallpaper is also a stylish update for particleboard pieces. "As long as the surface is smooth, clean, and dry, removable wallpaper can be used to transform and breathe new life into old furniture," says Rees.

Plan ahead: Update existing furniture before moving into your dorm room to ensure you have all the needed supplies. Knowing the measurements of wood surfaces within your dorm—and if they are sealed—might be tricky in advance, so leave these decisions until move-in.

dorm room bed area with wall decor
Kristin Leitten

10. Personalize walls.

Walls are an opportunity to showcase what's important to you and create a surrounding with positive memories, whether that's through photos, posters, tapestries, album covers, or jerseys. And unlike bedding and rugs, you can wait to decorate walls until the rest of the room is in place. Freling recommends using easy-to-remove self-adhesive strips for hanging. "Just make sure you purchase the correct size and weight limit for your wall decor," she cautions.

Plan ahead: Residence halls have lots of rules around what can and cannot be hung, where, and how it's attached to the walls, so adhere to your dorm's guidelines before hanging artwork.

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