Cramped spaces, blocky furniture, pasty walls – these characteristics of most dorm rooms can threaten to cramp the style of anyone trying to create a homey and inviting living environment. Luckily, all it takes is a bit of creativity and cash to transform any setup from bland and awkward to stylish and functional.
Elizabeth Reynolds and Kristin Yeskel, who both recently graduated from the GW fine arts program with majors in interior design, know the ins and outs of making the most of any living space. According to the designers, even those who are not artistic have many simple options for improving the organization and appearance of their room.
“People always end up sitting on their beds, so having small pillows and colorful throw blankets can help make your bed a nice place to read or relax,” Reynolds said. Coordinating bedspreads, comfy chairs and angled clip lights are other pieces Reynolds recommended for making a room look pulled together.
“Personalize your bedding in your favorite colors – jazz it up,” Yeskel said.
Since space can often be an issue when friends come to visit, Reynolds believes that every college student should have an air mattress for quick, inexpensive bedding that stores compactly. Bunking beds, putting your dresser in the closet and using bed lifts to store unneeded items under your bed can all open up space for a futon or table and more central living space.
“Clutter is a huge problem in dorm rooms, so weed out stuff as you go. Less is more in a dorm situation,” Yeskel said. “The Container Store can be your best friend.” Reynolds suggested storing anything you don’t use on your desk or other surfaces in the closet, and stacking and layering things like shelves, hanger rods, and shoe holders to maximize space.
For those looking to get creative with furniture and decorations, Reynolds recommended looking for funky furniture at flea markets and local sales, such as Eastern Market, near the Capitol and right off the Metro on the blue and orange lines. Ikea and Target also have a lot of interesting and inexpensive dorm room essentials like bulletin boards, lamps and picture frames that help personalize a room.
“Pick a style that both you and your roommate like – it looks more cohesive than if you go in two different directions,” Reynolds said.
There are now online tools for making collages, and many Web sites with original design ideas. One that Reynolds recommends is 2modern.com, where you can find removable wallpaper, stick-on borders and accent strips in funky patterns.
“Push the boundaries,” Reynolds said. “Grouped black and white photos make your place look a little more upscale, and bulletin boards are great for photos, reminders and schedules, as long as you don’t let them get too cluttered.”
Hanging up Chinese lanterns or covering the back of your desk with wrapping paper are other artsy ideas that can bring color and intrigue to a room and help offset blas? furniture. “If you’re crafty, cover an old table with decoupage magazines,” Reynolds said.
Yeskel, who studied and wrote her thesis on dorm room feng shui, suggests arranging your room in a way that will put you in a calm state and keep you secure. Feng shui, the ancient Chinese practice of placement and arrangement, is about “aligning yourself with the elements and balancing yourself with the earth’s energy instead of fighting it,” Yeskel said. Following the same artistic guidelines that Chinese restaurants use when they put a fish tank in the front of their store to bring prosperity to their customers, students can make small adjustments to bring balance to their rooms.
Yeskel has seen changes in the organization of a room make a difference in her own ability to concentrate. She recommends arranging your furniture so that wherever you are sitting or lying you never have your back to the door and can always see who is entering or leaving your space. Feng shui also suggests having something solid behind you at all times, which helps keep you grounded.
Making a distinct space for all of your activities also helps keep your mind focused on what you are doing, Yeskel said. Though students often do everything on their bed, this can make it difficult to sleep, because your mind then associates your bed with eating or working or socializing, and not just relaxing.
When decorating bare walls, Yeskel explains that putting up a large picture or poster of a vast landscape can greatly open up a space, as though the image is a continuation of the room and you are looking out into it. Overall, “put up what makes you feel good – surround yourself with your interests,” she said.
Melissa Dreyer, a sophomore living in a West End double, calls her room “a true reflection of our characters.” Though the room is small, she and her roommate Andrea Criollo feel that they have made it cozy. They store things under their beds or in cupboards so that clutter does not overwhelm the room.
As an older building, the West End already has quite a bit of character, which Dreyer and her roommate appreciate. They have covered their walls with pictures of family and friends, and though their styles complement each other, side-by-side Harry Potter and Abercrombie posters display their diverse personal preferences as well.
Said Dreyer: “As very high-energy individuals, we need something festive. We’ve definitely made this room our own.”