Heading to college with stylish (and practical) dorm room tips

Wrenda Goodwyn • special to the Fort Myers News-Press • June 1, 2019

Some things you never forget. No matter how many years have gone by.

Like when I walked into my dorm room my first day of college in North Carolina. I took one look at the small, all-beige room with very used furniture and tried to convince myself that it would be okay. Even then, I wanted everything around me to be as pretty as possible.

My mother took one look and said, “This will be fine.”

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And she was right. It was “home” for two years and I was happy there. It didn’t take much to pull it all together.

Each year when I think about writing an article on dorm decorating, I am in awe of the choices available and how, on a budget, you can make a room (with a roommate) look spectacular.

And a good source also helps. So, I set out to find a high school graduate heading off to college in the fall to give me a few key tips on what’s important.

Katie Donlan, heading off to college , says your dorm room should reflect your personal style.

Katie Donlan, heading off to college , says your dorm room should reflect your personal style.

Katie Donlan, just graduated from the Canterbury School in Fort Myers and will be heading off to college in late summer. Prior to graduation, she did some work for me as part of a school project so I took advantage of the chance to find out what’s most important to college-bound students leaving home for the first time.

Katie’s tips

Storage. Since dorm rooms are usually very small, maximizing space is a must. In my dorm room I plan to have my bed raised in order to use the space underneath as extra storage.

Photos. I think for incoming freshman one of the hardest parts is leaving friends and family. To help with this, I plan on bringing lots of photos of my friends and family to decorate my space.

Comfort. When planning a dorm room, the most important factor is comfort. After all, the majority of time spent in your dorm room is when you are sleeping. But it can be cute as well as comfortable!

Greenery. Adding a small plant or some flowers to a room adds a lot of character. It is also proven that plants help reduce stress!

No nails wall décor makes decorating a snap with a scallop framed pin board and wall organizers. Photo: Pottery Barn

No nails wall décor makes decorating a snap with a scallop framed pin board and wall organizers. Photo: Pottery Barn

Your own style. I think the best rooms are those that are truly representative of who you are as a person. For me, I will add lots of blues because that is my favorite color. I will also make sure to include a few pieces of whale decor because whales are my mom's favorite.

Wrenda’s tips

Gone are the days of walls covered in posters and bean bag chairs for seating. Today, a dorm room can be functional, done on a budget, reflect your personality and of course, a pretty space to return to at the end of the day.

Don’t forget about the roommate. If possible, it’s nice to coordinate a color palette before you arrive at college.

The bed is the thing. Since you will use your room to study, entertain and sleep, the bed will also be your seating area. Where to save: sheets for the bed which is usually single and extra-long. Where to splurge: the comforter. This is something you may wish to take with you when you leave the dorm whether it’s to an apartment or other housing. And make sure the fabric can be washed! Add a few pillows and a throw. Done.

Under-the-bed storage, a pretty and practical comforter, wall décor and a comfy chair all help to pull the dorm room look together. Elevate the look of your sleep space with patterns and paisley! Pottery Barn bundles everything from mattress pad to pillow insert to duvet with all the basics you need to make your best bed. Photo: Pottery Barn

Under-the-bed storage, a pretty and practical comforter, wall décor and a comfy chair all help to pull the dorm room look together. Elevate the look of your sleep space with patterns and paisley! Pottery Barn bundles everything from mattress pad to pillow insert to duvet with all the basics you need to make your best bed. Photo: Pottery Barn

No clutter zone. Space is at a premium so get creative with storage. Put hooks over closet doors for extra hanging space. Use baskets and trays to keep things together. Add a full-length mirror that leans and hang purses and jackets over the corners.

Shed some light. Very important. If there is a fluorescent light in the middle of the ceiling, lower the wattage or replace it with an inexpensive light fixture. Have a really good desk lamp for studying and at least one more lamp for the nightstand.

Pick a color! This task lamp has style and smarts. Three pivot points extend to the proper position, then lock into place. The flexible arm lets you direct light exactly where you want it. Photo: Pottery Barn

Pick a color! This task lamp has style and smarts. Three pivot points extend to the proper position, then lock into place. The flexible arm lets you direct light exactly where you want it. Photo: Pottery Barn

Personalize. Try to bring one (small) piece of your own furniture. Maybe a nightstand or a chair to soften the standardized look of the room. Ask if the piece you are replacing can be stored.

Walls. My favorite. Add a framed, fabric-backed inspiration board for photos. String lights with led photo clips. Use fabric or peel-and-stick wallpaper as an accent on the wall behind the bed.

Tie it all together. With a rug. It’s a nice accent that makes it seem like a home and you can definitely save on this item. Think: Home Goods or Target.

Relax and enjoy. These are years that you will never forget. Study. Have fun. And create lifelong memories.


Wrenda Goodwyn is a Southwest Florida interior decorator, A.S.I.D. associate and certified gold member of the Interior Redecorators Network. She helps homeowners throughout Southwest Florida with timeless, affordable ways to create beautiful spaces and solves decorating problems. Her article appears the first Saturday of each month. For more information visit her website at spectacularspaces.com. Call her at 949-1808 or e-mail wrenda@spectacularspaces.com. For more decorating tips, articles and photos, visit spectacularspaces.com/blog