Dorm rooms don't have to be drab - East Valley Tribune: At Home

Dorm rooms don't have to be drab

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Saturday, August 5, 2006 7:50 am | Updated: 2:18 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If you’re going away to college this fall and plan to live in a dorm, you’ll likely be spending a great deal of time eating, sleeping, grooming and studying in a small white box — unless you decorate. This may be your first chance to get creative with decor. And it could be a bit overwhelming.

“Everyone is so bombarded with interior design and decorating,” says Shari Hiller, co-host of HGTV’s “Room by Room.” “There’s so much information and so many ideas out there. Everybody wants to get involved. It’s fun. It makes you feel good. For some of them this is a lot like a first house. It may be the first time their mom didn’t decorate for them.”

Decorating a dorm room presents challenges most homes don’t — they’re small, they’re crowded with plain furniture, you have to share — often with a stranger — and you can’t paint. Hiller, however, has some tips on creating a look that’s comfortable and an expression of your personality. If you can’t paint or pound nails into the walls, Hiller suggests using hooks with adhesive backing that remove cleanly from the walls. From those hooks you can hang tapestries, curtains, magnetic boards, posters and anything else you can dream up.

Rugs also add texture and color to a room. One of the key features in Hiller’s daughter’s dorm room was a rug that was as close to wall-to-wall carpet as they could find.

“The first one we found was the most beautiful pastel colors. Don’t do that,” says Hiller. “We visited on the first weekend after she moved in, and it was already trashed. Then we bought another one — dirt brown. As long as it’s neutral, it will work.”

Which leads to another point about decorating dorms: They are hightraffic areas. Students “pretty much live on their beds,” says Hiller. “Two sets of sheets is a great idea — for more than one reason. Everybody you know comes in and plops down on your bed.”

One of the most difficult issues to tackle when decorating a dorm is how to mesh your preferences with your roommate’s. At Arizona State University, students are encouraged to talk with one another before moving in so that they can coordinate.

“The best scenario is to get ahold of them through e-mail,” says Hiller. “Most colleges will give you an e-mail address so that, if you don’t know them, you can talk with them a little before moving in. I strongly suggest that.”

If you and your new roommate find that you have vastly different tastes, don’t fret. “You can at least use the same colors,” says Hiller. “You may end up with a beautiful mix-and-match scenario.”


Shari Hiller of HGTV’s “Room by Room” says chairs, especially folding chairs, are great in dorm rooms.

“Chairs can take up a lot of room when you’re in tight quarters, but when the TV is going and everyone is sitting down, you want to have some handy.”

Tracy Union, a former residence assistant at ASU, says she made her room comfortable by bringing keepsakes from home. “If you bring something that is personal to you, then, when you get in from class and you see it, it makes you think, ‘Ah, I’m home.’ ” She suggests throw pillows, blankets and throw rugs to up the cozy quotient.


“The biggest issue with dorm rooms is the clutter,” says Hiller.

The solution: Storage boxes. She suggests wrapping cardboard boxes in fabric as an inexpensive alternative to store-bought storage. “You can choose (a fabric) that exactly matches your room,” she says.

If you’re in the mood for a do-it-yourself project, build extra shelves.

Hiller and her co-host, Matt Fox, helped some students build a shelving unit around their minifridge to hold plates, paper towels, water and food staples.

If this sounds too ambitious, Hiller says you can use a pre-made bathroom rack around your fridge or desk.


Hang curtains, or even shower curtains, across a wall with a little wire or twine to add a colorful wall or two.

“People are so into scrapbooking these days,” says Hiller. “You can get that layered look on your walls by cutting out photos, backing them with matting and pinning them all over the curtain.”

This year, in her daughter’s dorm room, Hiller will use homosote (pressed paper) board to add color. The inexpensive board is easily cut with a utility knife. By cutting it to the right size, Hiller will fit the board between the corner of the room and the doorway trim, so no nails are required. She suggests covering the board with a fun felt material because it’s cheaper than other materials, and because the felt and paperboard combination makes a great surface for tacking up notes, photographs and posters.

“You’ll be left with a 7-foot surface to hang stuff up on,” she says.

ASU dormitory guidelines

Bring: Extra-long twin sheets, comforter, blankets, towels, toilet paper, shower curtain, alarm clock, cell phone, computer, toiletries and sunscreen, hangers, storage items, TV/VCR/DVD player and stereo.

Don’t bring: Hot plates, open-coiled electrical appliances, candles, halogen lamps, George Foreman and similar grills, or pets.


Shari Hiller

HGTV’s “Room by Room”

  • Discuss


GetOut on Facebook


GetOut on Twitter


GetOut on Google+


Subscribe to GetOut via RSS

RSS Feeds

Your Az Jobs