An estimated 20 million students nationwide are expected to enter college this fall. This past year, 32,000 students were enrolled at the University of South Carolina, with the majority of those being female: 54 percent. A sort of rite of passage, especially for incoming freshmen girls, is the dorm-room experience. Increasingly in recent years, that adventure involves much pre-planning, discussion and shopping for just the right dorm-room look. In fact, so much emphasis is on dorm-decorating that the category has become a home fashion trend unto itself.
Mandy Summers, owner of M. Gallery Interiors, has a daughter, Samantha, at USC and a son, Lake, expected to head to college in the fall of next year. A 10-year veteran of commercial, residential and staging design, Mandy says style and function can be achieved no matter what the budget or decorative preferences. As most dorm rooms average 200 square feet, it is important to utilize every square inch.
The decorating process involves first taking stock of what can be taken from home and coordinating with roommates to determine look, colors, theme and layout. “You don’t want each person in the room bringing the same things if you only need one of something,” says Mandy. “There just isn’t room.”
Dorm rooms typically house two to four students, and floor plans generally include bunk and/or loft beds, a desk and a chest of drawers for each. Sometimes there is a private bath, where items can be stored, but often there is a bathroom shared by hall or suitemates, so storage of bathroom items in the dorm room is often necessary. Mandy advises using collapsible cloth boxes, available at many stores, to house rolled up towels and wash clothes as well as toiletries.
Students can decide ahead of time if they want to try to achieve a “matchy-matchy” look or just coordinated. “For example,” Mandy says, “if one student wants to bring some items in an aqua hue, another student may want to consider lime green or bright pink.” She says the key is to avoid a stark contrast, such as one side of the room green camo and another side pink paisleys. The color to avoid on bedding is white. “You don’t want your roommate coming in from soccer practice and throwing cleats on the white comforter,” says Mandy, “and you don’t want to worry about eating something in bed.”
Since the bed is the focal point of the room, it is the starting point. Mary Heath, a senior at USC majoring in early childhood education, says she had a loft bed her freshman year, which she loved. Her roommate “lofted” her bed as well so they could have more floor space. “We decided to set up our sides of the room the same way. Under my bed, we placed our chests of drawers, which gave us room to have bean bag chairs under my roommate’s bed.”
She advises students to try to arrange their rooms in a way that encourages neatness and organization since the space is so small. “We decided to put the mini fridge and microwave under my bed between the chest of drawers, and the television above my wardrobe so that it could be seen from both beds,” says Mary.
Allison Kay, a senior in mechanical engineering at Clemson, also elevated her bed freshman year — as did her roommate — so that lounge chairs could be placed underneath one, and the television, electronics and refrigerator could be housed under the other. “This really doubled the space,” says Jeannie, her mother. They used the collapsible boxes to store many items, including groceries, and found Velcro® containers at The Container Store to attach to the end of their beds that stored makeup.
Mary and her freshman roommate decided on a mix-and-match theme for their college living ambiance. They purchased solid turquoise comforters and then added tribal-patterned pillows and monogrammed pillowcases. “We hung hot pink curtains which kept our room dark when needed, but also gave us a pop of color,” she says.
Mandy recently decorated a girls’ dorm room in an eclectic theme stating the bohemian look is currently trendy, as is vintage. She leaned a wooden palette covered in burlap against the top of a desk and covered each bed in a bright solid matelassé coverlet. Pillows of various shapes, sizes, colors and material — including burlap — grace the beds. She included a durable, easy-to-clean, indoor-outdoor, Sunbrella fabric rug on the floor. Instead of the office rolling chairs, she chose black directors chairs with colorful fabrics and a monogrammed overlay.
The burlap-covered palette is a bulletin board, terracotta planters hold pens and pencils, and decorative thumb tacks stuck into the burlap are necklace hangers. Old coke bottles found at an antique store hold “funky” orange silk daisies.
It is important, Mandy explains, to get creative when it comes to space considerations. “It’s all about trying to reuse and repurpose as much as possible.”
Hallie Hardin is returning to Clemson as a sophomore and will have the same roommate. This past year, they purchased the same bed spreads to coordinate with their green and pink color scheme, but then each chose things for their sides of the room that reflected individual personalities. Much will remain the same in terms of their dorm look sophomore year. “We try to focus more on comfort than pretty and perfect. We need to be comfortable in this space we have to live in for many months, and we also need to be organized so that we can live in it.”
Sarah Drake, a recent graduate of Covenant Classical Christian School in Columbia and a freshman at Lander University in Greenwood, says that she and her roommate — a close friend — chose a color scheme of navy blue, white and coral as the backdrop for their first dorm-room experience. With colors selected, Sarah purchased chevron navy blue and white striped bedding, while her roommate found white and blue sailor striped bedding. “Our fuzzy rug helps cover the plain gray, tile floor and adds a cozy feel,” says Sarah. At IKEA in Charlotte, they found a wall bookshelf on which to place the television.
“I am very excited to have a coordinated room because if we did not plan something, there would be two different styles and it would just clash,” says Sarah. “Communication is a huge part in creating the type of dorm room you’d like to have.”
Sarah says it was important not to go overboard financially, however. She says they gleaned most ideas from Pinterest. Thrift shops, Hobby Lobby, Goodwill, dollar stores and yard sales are good places to look for items. For the bohemian look, especially, shops like Loose Lucy’s in Five Points offer tapestries of various colors, sizes and patterns.
“Dorm room decorating is so much fun and can be done without breaking the bank,” says Mary. “I definitely believe in buying local first, of course.”
One way to personalize a dorm room, as well as a bathroom and suite area, is to dress up the walls. Students should bring plenty of photographs of family and friends and pin them on bulletin boards, or display them in found repurposed items such as window shutters.
“Our walls were filled with pictures,” says Mary. “Not only is it a great way to remember friends and experiences, but fun, colorful frames can really pull together your decorating.”
Signs and painted letters are also ideal for dorm room walls. Mandy found a painted metal sign that reads “Beach” to hang above one bed in the dorm room she decorated, while a coral and blue painting of an octopus hangs above the other bed to further convey a beachy theme.
“One of my favorite parts about decorating my room was crafting with my roommate and suitemates,” says Mary. “We bought canvases to paint and hang in our rooms. We had so much fun decorating together once we moved in. Painting and crafting your own art is definitely a prevalent trend. Whether you’re an artist or not, it’s a great way to get to know your suitemates and hallmates during the first few weeks of school.”
A friend of Sarah’s painted the roommates’ initials on a canvas in coral with a blue and white background. That, along with a photo collage frame to which they both contributed, served as the primary decorative wall accessories in their room.
Maps of all types and sizes, as well as travel posters, make for unique wall art. Mandy even suggests hanging white lights or small lighted globes or shapes from the top of the wall and letting them drape a little to add interest to bare walls.
Also, students should be well stocked with thumb-tacks for hanging photos and art, since USC no longer allows putty or command strips.
Finally, Mandy points out that regardless of the style chosen for a dorm room, personalization and familiarity are key. Since many students are leaving home for the first time in their lives, they need to have connections to their past as they forge ahead. She suggests even taking along a favorite stuffed animal, pillow or blanket.
Mary shares that residing in a small space with someone proved to be a positive experience for her — one that was enjoyable, partially, because the two created such a welcoming, cheerful, well thought-out environment.