Last year, my daughter Elizabeth and I collaborated on bringing function and style to her bland college dorm room. I’ve listed the sources for all of the items at the end of this post. You’ll also find some dorm room hacks in this post that I think are a first of their kind!
Like most dorm rooms, this one was a small, narrow space (think train car) with a window at one end and a door at the other. Our first goal was to add much needed storage and organization, while working within the rules and limitations of the college (no holes in the walls, no paint, no permanent changes). Second, we wanted to bring some style to the space so that Elizabeth would feel comfortable in her home away from home. And as a fashion blogger @ThreadsSheSaid, she needed a fairly neutral backdrop for her photography.
To maximize space in her “train car” style room, we had the maintenance personnel raise the bed to the mid height setting. This allowed us to put the 3-drawer unit supplied by the college under the bed. We then flanked it with two 36” wide plastic 3-drawer rolling units from Target which filled the space nicely.
Next we addressed desk storage. The desk had only one narrow shelf across the back so I decided to go vertical with a diy “hutch top”.
Hubby to the rescue. He used 2 x 6 boards for the sides and shelves and plywood for the back. We measured carefully to be sure it would fit perfectly between the vertical upright pieces of the desk and be the same depth as the existing desk shelf. To stabilize it he added blocks of wood (secured with screws) to each side and the back that slide over the vertical side pieces of the desk. If you don’t have a handy hubby to build one of these, a thrifted book shelf could also be retrofitted for this purpose. With the addition of the “hutch top”, Elizabeth now had a space for textbooks, her collection of plants and a few decorative pieces as well. We also added this clamp-on lamp from Ikea for additional lighting.
We squeezed in a multipurpose rolling cart just below her window. These carts are so versatile and have great style. Ours is from Target but you can also find them at Ikea. This gave her more storage for heavy text books and notebooks, as well as space for more plants!
Inside the small closet we used two rectangular canvas totes to sort laundry and clothes to be re-worn. These totes from the Container Store are great because they have a wipeable lining, handles for easy carrying and they can be scrunched down flat when not in use.
Shoe storage was also an issue so here we went vertical. We purchased a shoe rack from Target that is meant to hang on the back of the door. Since we needed the door space for a mirror, we opted to hang the shoe rack in her closet. But we needed a way to hang it on the inside wall without putting any nail holes in the wall. Hubby to the rescue again. He cut an MDF board the depth of the closet. He then used tie wraps to secure it in two places to the wire shelf above. We then were able to hang the shoe rack off of the board. Perfectly secure with no damage to the walls!
On the back of her dorm room door we hung a full length mirror. This one is from Target. We really liked the style of it with the rounded corners and the gold-color finish.
Dorm rooms typically have a lot of metal surfaces so we added some heavy duty multi-purpose magnetic hooks wherever we could. This one, which we attached to the bed frame, is from Home Depot and holds up to 20 lbs.
Now the fun part Our color palette for the room was white, gray and shades of blush. The walls and carpet were a light tan color (they look more yellowy in the photos than in actuality). Since we couldn’t change them we covered them where we could and ignored the rest.
There was 1 large window in her room that let in nice light. The blind was supplied by the college. We added a tassel garland (a diy project that we did for Elizabeth’s graduation party) as a makeshift valance. Small 3M command hooks worked well for securing it to the outer frame of the window. Take note: 3M command hooks are a college student’s best friend!!!
Elizabeth enjoys plants and I appreciate their air cleaning qualities (especially in a dorm!) so we added a few hanging plants. Here again, we couldn’t put any nails into the walls. My husband simply cut lengths of 1 x 2 boards, painted them white and screwed in hooks at one end. These boards slip in between the window and the blind header and are cantilevered, meaning there’s more board supported than there is hanging over. These boards worked great and didn’t do any damage to the wall or window!
The gold hangers were originally intended for candles but they worked perfectly as plant hangers. I found these at a thrift store, along with the macrame hanger.
For wall decor, 3m command hooks in a variety of sizes are the answer. On the long blank wall, we hung two cactus prints. I purchased the files on Etsy. For a Christmas gift, I had the files printed at print shop and then professionally framed with white wood frames at Hobby Lobby. These will be used in Elizabeth’s room at home when she is not at college so they were worth the cost.
On the wall above her bed area, we added a cozy, boho vibe by hanging a throw by Nate Berkus for Target that I found on clearance for $11. I love all the texture. We also strung up some white lights to add ambiance. Note: not all colleges allow these lights.
The carpet was stained and drab so to camaflauge it, we added 2 area rugs. The first was a white and gray runner. And the second was a small tribal pattern rug in colors that compliment her white/gray/blush color scheme and incorporates the color of the carpet (that was a happy accident).
I overlapped them slightly. Not only do they help cover up the stains, they also define the “sleeping zone” and the the “study zone”. Both were purchased for half price at Target.
The bedding was mostly things we already had – gray flannel sheets, a hypoallergenic white comforter, faux fur pillows purchased from PBteen years ago. The rose colored pillow is from Target. The blush silk pillow was thrifted.
Because we elevated her bed, Elizabeth needed a step to get up to it. We found this cute little stool at Hobby Lobby on clearance. We also draped an Ikea faux sheepskin over her chair to hide the drab brown fabric and add texture and coziness. The ruffled laundry bag is from Urban Outfitters — functional and decorative, too!
The flower pots were a fun project that we did together last summer. We purchased the pots from the $1 section at our local Habitat Re-store. Elizabeth gave them a boho/glam feel with black, white and copper craft paints.
The tiny air plant and macrame hanger are from Etsy.
We dedicated one corner of her desk to makeup by corralling everything on a marble lazy susan that I thrifted at the Jersey shore. Mugs are nice for organizing makeup, pens and pencils. I found the “hello gorgeous” mug at Target and thought it would be cute for makeup brushes.
Here’s a source list for just about everything we used in our dorm room makeover:
cactus planner Urban Outfitters
ruffled laundry bag – Urban Outfitters
marble desktop accessories, hello gorgeous mug, marble white board, desktop mirror, hanging copper mirror, full view mirror, rugs, rolling cart, concrete/copper planter, picture frame, concrete lidded container, clock, shoe rack, rolling storage units, throw/wall hanging, rose colored pillow – Target
faux sheepskin = Ikea
clip-on light – Ikea
fur stool – Hobby Lobby
magnetic hooks – Home Depot
cactus print on desk, plant hangers, fashion books, marble lazy susan, silk blush pillow, blush throw – thrifted
large cactus prints – Etsy, here for similar
custom framing – Hobby Lobby
mini macrame hanger and air plant – Sew Nifty Thrifty
Umbra canvas totes – Container Store
letter board – Letterfolk
Please email me if there is something I forgot to source!
It is bittersweet when the first one goes off to college. I hope you and your child can enjoy the process of decorating their first home away from home!