Dorm Decor: Celebrity Designer Q&A

Designer Stephen Saint-Onge is well known for interior designs that are affordable and accessible to most average homeowners. Here, he offers his suggestions to add some personality to college dorm rooms.
Room design by Stephen Saint-Onge

Q. What sparked your design interest on dorm room decorating?

Stephen: As Philips' Home and Style Designer, I am excited to speak from the heart about the marriage of design and technology -- no matter if it is in a home, an apartment, or a dorm room. I view dorm-room design as a great start to a young person developing their own personal style, because for many students, it is their first space away from their old room at their parents' home.

Q. Do you recommend bringing everything with you or purchasing items after a student moves in?

Stephen: Start with the basics and then live in the space for a while. Resources are all around so students can add as needed. Students can set the stage with the basics: technology, storage containers, bedding, studying supplies, lighting, etc. Simple is better and you can create a great-looking room with a cool mood without having it overloaded.

Q. Where should a typical student begin the process of creating a unique space in an off-campus apartment or a standard dorm room?

Stephen: Keep it simple. As a homeowner, a dad, and a husband, I always approach my work in design from that perspective. Does it make sense? Is it simple and easy to work with? How does it enhance my life and the lives of others?

I recommend students keeping items such as bedding and storage units simple and focusing on the technology that will meet their immediate educational and entertainment needs. Technology is necessary to empower students to be more productive, efficient, and competitive in day-to-day studies. It can also serve a dual purpose and should be multifunctional to help them enjoy leisure time, such as movie watching, music listening, even enjoying a simple cup of coffee.

Because today's students are the most tech-savvy generation in history, I see technology as one of the biggest trends emerging in dorm rooms. Students are seeking out sleek, streamlined, efficient, beautiful-looking technology that blends in nicely with their lifestyles and environments.

Q. Some schools require students to change dorm rooms every semester. In such a case, what are the best practical ways to add color and style that will be easily portable?

Stephen: Obviously bedding, throw pillows, and simple window treatments are fundamental to any room that needs to be picked up and moved easily. However, simple tricks like "removable wallpaper" can easily add a splash of color to whole dorm room or on even just one wall. Also, using tension rods or simple hooks to suspend drape panels on the walls can add some visual interest to a boring room. Draped panels even allow students to divide a shared space to give each roommate more privacy.

Of course, the technology students bring can easily be moved around. In fact, the "must-haves" mentioned above will most likely stay with the students once they graduate and move on into their first apartments.

It's important to create a home base for students so they don't feel like they are living in a temporary environment every day. Students may only be there for a semester, but they should still make it their own for that short time.

Q. What are some of the unique color combinations and themes or motifs that kids will find available for dorm decor this year?

Stephen: I think the possibilities are endless. As with home design, I urge people to follow what they love, not necessarily what is trendy or what everyone else is doing. There are some great stores out there that have selections that work well with anyone's tastes and budgets. It's all about being smart with what you choose and pulling it together.

For example, look at the technology as the starting point in the room and play off those cool pieces in the overall room design. The sleek black or silver colors of technology can create a great-looking space with a clean, modern feel. The wonderful thing is that technology can now blend into any style perfectly.

Q. What's your Top 5 list of furnishings every student needs for their first apartment (or unfurnished housing space)?

Stephen: I have seen some very creative use of outdoor furniture in first apartments. Outdoor furniture tends to be less expensive, is easy to move around, and looks great with proper accessories like colorful throw pillows, simple accessories, or a potted palm. It's a fun way to try a fresh take on design.

Before buying pieces, I always tell people to keep in mind that they may have these pieces for a short time and they will want to make "classic" choices. Choose pieces that have clean lines and simple, neutral fabrics so that you can add accessories and change them out as needed.

If students are moving into an unfurnished housing space here are some simple thoughts:

  • Basic sofa, or use a twin bed as a sofa/daybed with lots of throw pillows -- ideal for guests
  • Simple table with chairs for eating that can also be used as a work surface
  • Flat TV to save on space and look stylish
  • Simple, sleek stereo system, like the Philips MC235, for great music listening
  • Lamps and portable lighting, like Aurelles

Some of the best-looking rooms I've seen are simple, minimal and sometimes all white, yet the way they are pulled together is effective and stylish.

Q. What are some of the items/products that every student needs in their room?

Stephen: What I suggest to any parent and student as must-haves and this is sort of a checklist of sorts:

  • Philips 19-Inch Flat LCD Monitor: Here is an example of a product that can serve a dual purpose. You can use the sleek monitor as your computer screen, which makes it easier on the eye after long hours of studying, and as a television, saving on desk space. The look also adds to the "coolness" of a room and that is important most young people.
  • Noise-Canceling Headphones: Many students will have roommates and have to learn to adjust to different schedules. Having headphones that allow you to block out disturbances can be very valuable. All are designed to look great and enhance your listening experience. They are also very budget-friendly, providing an easy solution for peace and quiet.
  • Aurelle LED Candles: As a home base for a student, dorms need to be inviting and comfortable. Bringing in lamps with individual dimmers is helpful, but the accent of candlelight is always a must-have for most students. However, dorm regulations do not allow open flames. Wireless, water-resistant, allergy-free, and rechargeable, Aurelle LED candles provide the warm glow of flickering candlelight without the hazards or concerns.
  • SPC900NC Webcam: Webcams are an inexpensive way to keep in touch with family and friends. Students can save money on long-distance bills with face-to-face video-conferencing.

Q. What did your own dorm room look like when you were in college, and how did it change over the years?

Stephen: I always had apartments once I moved out of my parents' home. For me, being a creative person, I always had everything black and white to keep my spaces visually simple. I loved black-and-white photography and would use prints to make a statement as artwork (black frames with wide, white mats around the subjects). The bedding was all white and simple. The furniture was usually covered in white sheets and had a loftlike feel. My dishware and open kitchen shelving were also white. I think for a while I even used white sheets, pleated by hand with thumbtacks, as my window treatments.

The technology in my space was usually black, giving everything a clean look. I would always feel inspired, energized, and motivated walking into my space because it was not cluttered or overpowering. Students are starting a new chapter of their lives and it is a big deal. Moving from home can be stressful and also very exhilarating at the same time. A living area during this time will be what you make it, so make it the best it can be during this time of learning about life and yourself. Because soon enough students will graduate and hit the big time! Have some fun with the journey until that time.

  1. Go high-tech: Increase productivity, space, and efficiency by adding small, cost-effective technology to your room.
  2. Multitask: To save money and space, use multifunctional technology, such as a flat-panel monitor (I like the Philips 19-inch model) that serves as both a computer and television screen.
  3. Cut caffeine costs: Skip the five bucks a day at Starbucks by adding a coffeemaker, which allows you to easily make one or two cups of gourmet coffee at a time. Try the Senseo appliance line.
  4. Avoid clutter: Instead of lots of different frames scattered around the room, use a digital photo display and simply download your favorite pictures, creating an ever-changing photo show.
  5. Create soft, warm lighting: Most colleges prohibit the use of candles, but you can still have the soft effect of candlelight without the hazards of open flame by using Aurelle LED candles.
  6. Make your room inviting: Install a sleek, trim, 15-inch flat TV, making your space roomy enough to accommodate friends for Friday night movies and weekend sports events.
  7. Create a theme with linens and accessories: Drape the walls with fabric panels to add color and visual interest.
  8. Add creative touches to your walls: Removable wallpaper (available online) adds a creative touch and vibrant background.
  9. Block it out: Add a set of noise-canceling headphones so you can study or listen to music no matter what your roommate or neighbors might be up to.
  10. Call Mom via the Web: Cut down on high long-distance bills and let Mom actually see that you're eating well with weekly webcam visits.


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