Its getting close to back-to-school time and it seems so crazy that this will be the first fall that I’m not headed back to school!  Anyway, my little sister, Kelsey, is going to be a freshman in college this year and I’ve been having fun the last few weeks helping her with ideas for decorating her dorm room. It’s been making me reminisce back to my dorm room days. So I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and give some decorating advice from me and my freshman roommate (and super awesomely talented decorator friend), Sarah! Follow her on Pinterest and check out her great ideas for home, dorm, and apartment spaces.

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Sarah and I were roommates our freshman year and then had single rooms right next to each other our sophomore year. We really lucked out both years in that we stayed in older dorms that had slightly larger rooms with taller ceilings and pretty wooden shaker style furniture and pretty windows.

Here is a tour of our Freshman dorm:

when you come in brighter1

my side 2 brighter1

my bed brighter1

window and sarahs dresser color edit1

sink corner brighter1

sarah's side 3 brighter1

My side was the cream/pink/green/blue side with the large flower paintings and Sarah’s was the colorful one with the four art panels and clothesline of pictures. Looking back on this dorm room there are definitely things that I would change about my decorating. My taste/style/skills have definitely changed over the past four years. I still look back on this little room with fond memories though and it was really the first place of my own I really got to decorate.

One thing about shared rooms, if you are going to have a roommate, it wouldn’t hurt to contact them before move-in day (if possible) to coordinate your plans, color schemes, etc with them. Not that both sides of the room have to completely match or anything, but it might be nice to at least know what they have planned and coordinate somewhat, since things like curtains and rugs might be something that overlap both sides of the room, and if there is only one window, obviously only one of you can hang curtains on it. (and so only one of you brings a television or a refrigerator–space is limited!) It is also a good way to break the ice and get to know your roommate a little bit better before moving in together and it helps to feel like you already have a friend before you get to school. (especially if you are moving far from home for college)

Now onto our sophomore dorm rooms!

Sarah’s Sophomore Dorm:

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Sarah desk bed1

Sarah bed1

Sarah bookshelf11

Sarah end of bed sink1

sarah dresser11

I just love Sarah’s style and the way she mixes colors and patterns so effortlessly. I asked her if she had any advice on dorm decorating and this is what she had to say:

As far as color schemes go for dorms, I’m more of a fan of busy because the rooms are usually so bland, like really neutral, industrial, and cold. I used to think of my bed as like a scrapbook or an outfit, like how could I combine really fun colors and patterns to make it the focus of the room. I think as long as you pick one pattern, like a quilt, that is dominant, maybe a crazy, large floral print, you are kind of free to mix whatever other prints with it as long as it is a smaller print, like a stripe, check, polka dot, or even something more geometrical like damask. Freshman/Sophomore year, my quilt (wild floral print, pictured above) was from Anthropologie. Junior and Senior year I did a floral duvet from Urban Outfitters. Then I mixed fun vine sheets in a turquoise color from PBteen and a green and white damask quilt. Even though it was very busy, it livened up the boring room a lot! Pillows are also essential.  I liked a lot of them and all different sizes to make the bed more of a focal point…plus it kind of doubles as your bed and a couch.

I think rugs are a must! The floors are so gross in dorms. My Junior/Senior year they were laminate and almost identical to the floors in my 2nd grade classroom. Rugs make it so homey. Urban Outfitters has fun ones that are usually pretty big for not a whole lot of money. I’ve also found some at Target and World Market, and even the sale pile at Pottery Barn.

I’m also a huge fan of lamps. I found a lot of mine at dollar stores and just spray painted them a fun color or texture and bought nicer shades at Target or Pottery Barn.

Storage was big for me too. I bought tons of baskets and bins in all different sizes. Most of mine came from World Market and Target. I probably spent more on these, but I still use them! I also bought old suitcases at antique stores to double as storage and even tables. I stored school supplies and extra electrical cords and junk like that in them, and then stacked them up to use as a table. I also still use these all the time too.

I think you can find great stuff at antique stores, thrift shops, and flea markets for dorms. I usually went there looking for nightstands, big lamps, suitcases, chalkboards, picture frames, and trunks. Anything that can be used as storage or painted a fun color is a winner!

As far as art and other decor goes, I liked painting old frames fun colors and putting my favorite pictures in them. I liked to use my books as art too. They brought a lot of fun color to the room. I also liked to bring in plants in fun pots. Oh and curtains. Curtains are good way to bring in color, pattern, and texture. Plus you can jack up the tacky mini-blinds and just move your curtains back and forth to let in natural light. Pier 1 and World Market are both places that you can usually score good curtain finds. 

My biggest tips for dorm decorating would be:
1. use color, the wilder the better (bedding, curtains)
2. get a rug and fun lamps
3. storage (all kinds of baskets and bins–can’t have too many)
4. art, pictures, books (reminds you of home and brings in more color)

 Such great advice (and great resources!)

My Sophomore Dorm:

view as you walk in the door brighter1

back of the room smaller for blog brighter1

bedding 2 brighter1

my plant in the green pot brighter1

sink area 2 brighter1

shelf on sink 2 brighter1

desk brighter1

books brighter1

jewelry brighter1

I totally agree with what Sarah said! A few other things I’ll add:

If you are afraid of going too bold with mixing too many colors and patterns in your decor and bedding, try adding in different textures instead. My mattelasse/coverlet was a neutral cream color, but it had an embroidered floral texture all over it. I also had neutral cream sheets, but they had shiny lace edging on the ends. Use a fur throw, or a cool textured throw pillow or two. Pillows are a great way to do this as you can easily use different fabrics that give different tones/textures, like satin, velvet, burlap, sequinned, etc.

Dorm rooms can get cold (or hot) and you might not have much control over the temperature, so it’s nice to be prepared with layers of blankets and pillows to snuggle up in. Think fluffy comforter, throw on the end of the bed, and nest of pillows. My biggest tip as far as bedding goes is to buy a full size quilt or comforter for your bed. Most people’s initial reaction for a twin size bed is to buy a twin size, but since dorm beds are usually built up really high to accommodate storage underneath, a full size hangs down lower and helps to hide all that junk under the bed. It also is more practical as it can be used longer in a future apartment with a larger bed instead of only for a twin. King size pillows are almost the exact width of a twin size bed so I loved using a king size pillow behind/along with my standard size pillows to give my pillows more variation in size and presence.

Most dorms come furnished with a bed, dresser, desk and chair. Most don’t include a nightstand or bedside table. This is the one real piece of furniture that you get to choose for the space, so make it fun. Choose something with extra storage like drawers or shelves for books or baskets. Any extra storage you can get out of a dorm room is essential. Maybe paint it a fun color or choose something with curvy lines if the rest of your dorm furniture is boring. (Look at thrift stores or check Craigslist for a piece you can refinish, ask your parents or grandparents if they have one they aren’t using anymore that you could paint, or look at HomeGoods or Target for newer options)

Make everything multi-functional. In a small space, all areas have to multi-task. Make your bed comfy and fill it with lots of pillows and a throw blanket so that it not only functions as a bed, but a lounging area in the daytime. (Head to a fabric store and pick out a few of your favorite coordinating fabrics to make fun colorful/patterned pillows from) Your desk not only has to function as a place to do schoolwork and study, but it also becomes a make-up and getting ready station. Choose storage that easily accommodates both. (The white beauty storage piece on my desk was from PB Teen) Find a cool way to display your jewelry so that not only is it easy to pick out when you are in a rush to get ready for class, but that it also looks pretty and functions like a colorful art display. (Urban Outfitters has a lot of cool jewelry storage options) If you have a small sink in your room, find a pretty soap bottle. Everything ends up being on display in a dorm room, so choose pretty options for otherwise boring things.

I feel like the absolute most important thing about a dorm room though, is making it feel like home. Curtains make an amazing difference in a space, as do rugs, photos, colorful books, art, pretty glass bottles, etc. Lamps are perhaps one of the most important, as you can’t do a lot else to control lighting in a space. Overhead florescent lighting in dorm rooms casts such a bright (and annoying) glow, so choose softer lighting via lamps. (I don’t think I once used the overhead lighting in the two years I lived on campus! I hate florescent lights!) Last, but not least, I think every room needs at least one (or more!) plants. They add life and color and filter the air (which is great for dorms where germs get spread easily!) Make sure you check the tags on any plants you buy to make sure that the amount/type of sunlight they need matches the amount of natural light your room has. Plant pots/containers are another great way to bring in color/texture/pattern into a space.

Hope you find these tips to be helpful! If you have any questions about where we got certain things let me know. 🙂


  1. […] I’m so excited about how her room turned out and I’m so happy that I was able to be there to help her move in! Best wishes to her as she starts this new chapter in her life! I can’t believe how fast the last four years flew by, it seems like not that long ago that I was moving into my freshman dorm! (see pictures of that, here). […]

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