Expert tips on transforming a drab dorm room into a stylish space that feels like home.
Leaving for college is bittersweet for high school grads — and their parents. Designer Jamie Schachtel of Jamie Schachtel Design Group (Jamieschachtel.com) knows: She’s getting ready to send her third and final child, Olivia, off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As she gets ready to say goodbye, Schachtel is helping her daughter find ways to make her new dorm digs as comfortable as possible.
“It’s extremely important [to make it] feel [like] home,” the designer says about setting up a dorm. (She adds that it’s equally important to keep kids’ rooms at home intact, if possible. “While they’re ready for a new start and to make new experiences, I think all of them want to come home to their rooms the way they were.”)
The challenge with dorm rooms, says Schachtel, is getting everything to fit into a small space — but adding nice aesthetics and a familiar touch can make a big difference. For Olivia, that means incorporating artwork that is meaningful to her and personalizing the space with picture frames and a customized bulletin board. “We’re painting a wood bulletin board silver and putting pictures of home and family on it.”
“[Going to college] is such a milestone,” says Angie Stephens, general manager and former manager of visual sales at The Container Store. “Anything you can do to create an environment that they love is a good idea, because it’s their new home.”
Pops of color can add personality. “Most of the decór choices are going to have to do with the bedding and the color scheme [based] around that,” says Stephens.
For Olivia’s space, Schachtel is putting her designer background to good use. Mother and daughter created a design vision board and found bedding from Urban Outfitters to incorporate brighter colors into the space. They got creative, purchasing interesting artwork to hang from the ceiling. “We found these abstract metal butterflies made from Coke cans, and will add them in black,” says Schachtel.
Once the design plan is in order, the most important thing to think about is making the most of the standard 200 square feet students are afforded in university housing. “A student will likely be sharing the space in a dorm, so it’s important to maximize the space that you have, like over the door, under the bed and in the closet,” says Leah Drill, spokesperson for Bed Bath & Beyond.
Drill recommends storing off-season clothing under the bed in storage bins. Using risers to give height to the dorm beds can create additional space, and some risers even have power outlets and USB chargers built in for convenience. Items that serve multiple purposes can be a huge help.
Schachtel agrees. “The best thing to do is have pieces of furniture that serve a double or triple function.” She’s making Olivia a custom piece for her dorm room — a side table that has storage space and can function as a nightstand or additional seating.
It’s the vertical space, however, that can make the biggest impact. Adding a hutch or storage above the desk, taking advantage of over-the-door areas and using stackable shelves and drawers in the closet are great ways to create extra room. The Container Store has shelving that takes up two feet on the floor but adds up to eight feet of vertical storage. “You want items that are modular that are going to work in the current space and in spaces down the road,” says Stephens.
Keeping organized is also important. “A dorm room is a living room, dining room, closet, den and bedroom, so it’s important to divide [it up],” says Stephens. And don’t forget the extras, like spots for laundry and toiletries. “Your toothbrush, dopp kit and shower things should be ready so you can grab them [to take to showers down the hall],” she says. For that, a simple caddy can do the trick.
Big-box stores make dorm shopping easy by offering college registries — perfect for a graduation party — and the option to pick up items from a store near the university, making the move more manageable. But before you even get started, check to see what’s allowed on campus. “Many schools have rules that limit the kinds of items students can bring into their residence halls,” says Drill. This could mean anything from microwaves and kitchen appliances to heaters and extension cords. It’s also important to check the size of the mattress before buying sheets, Drill says. Bed Bath & Beyond offers a college shopping checklist in stores and online. “It breaks down all the essentials students need to bring for their bed, in-room organization, bathroom, studying, snacking or relaxing in the new digs, and will help keep students on budget,” says Drill.
So as Schachtel prepares to be an empty-nester, Olivia will have a dorm room to die for. But when they pack up the car to take her away to school, the one thing they won’t forget? Kleenex.
Bedding: The 4040 Locust American flag twin XL Bed-In-A Bag Snooze Set has everything you need — comforter, pillowcases, sheets — in one. $169, Urban Outfitters, 921 Church, Evanston, (847) 492-8542; Urbanoutfitters.com
Storage furniture: Bosnäs footstool, $14.99, IKEA, 1800 E. McConnor, Schaumburg, (888) 888-4532; Ikea-usa.com
Throw pillows: 20-inch red dots gold dash pillow, $44.95, CB2, 800 W. North, Chicago, (312) 787-8329; Cb2.com