Dorm Decorating Ideas and Tips

For parents getting ready to send their kids off to college, memories of dorms probably consist of tiny, cinder-block rooms with a set of bunk beds, two desks and maybe some posters on the wall for decoration. But today’s dorms have come a long way, and so has the comfort and style level students expect.

Many schools now have dorms that are more like condos, with a central communal living space and separate bedrooms. Students expect to have all the comforts of home in the dorm as well: televisions, DVD players, audio systems, computers, microwaves. And they’ll want to add style and personality to their dorm rooms as well.

Of course, everything that goes into a dorm room has to come out at the end of the school year, so any decorating that students do has to be easily removable (so no painting the walls a lovely shade of purple).

And, college students being, well, college students, all this decorating has to be accomplished on a tight budget.  Most people I know are helping to pay for their education, so there’s not a lot of money left over for all the stuff we’d like to have for our rooms, says Karla Geissler, a senior at the University of Wisconsin. Here are a few ideas that parents and students can use to jazz up a dorm room and still have money left over for pizza.


For the most part, furniture in dorms is standard issue boring. Why not add some fun to the mix with an inexpensive, colorful chair from retailers like Ikea or Target? An oversize ottoman is a good way to add seating capacity to a dorm room. It can also serve as a table, and some ottomans have removable tops for added storage room as well.


In your own home, accessories are the little touches that make a big impression. Carry that idea over to your student’s dorm room as well. A nice lamp not only serves a practical purpose, but can add style to a room as well. Even something as basic as a wastebasket can be funky and fun. Accessories are great because they can make a big change in the room, but they don’t cost a lot, says Geissler.


Because dorm rooms are small, beds tend to be the biggest piece of furniture in the room. Instead of thinking of them as an eyesore, think of them as a fashion accessory. With the addition of stylish sheets and a colorful comforter, the bed can become the focal point of the décor. Choose accessories in colors that coordinate with the bedding for a finished look.


Walls can be the hardest part of a dorm room to dress up, since you probably won’t be allowed to paint them. Does that mean your student is stuck with an institutional beige  paint job?  No way, says Todd Imholte, president of Environmental Graphics, a company that specializes in wall murals that are easy to put up and just as easy to take down at the end of the year. Our Hawaiian Sunset and Manhattan Lights murals are particularly popular with college students, he says. The murals are approximately 8 feet by 13 feet, and can either be wrapped around a corner or trimmed to fit the dorm room wall. All it takes to install a mural are some basic wallcovering tools; the mural comes with specially formulated paste that makes it easy to hang, and easy to remove without damaging the wall.


Windows offer one more opportunity to add color to the dorm room. Even if the window comes equipped with shades or blinds, adding inexpensive curtains is an easy way to dress up the room.  Since students don’t have a ton of money, we have to get creative, says Geissler.  As many college students have discovered, that creative touch is what makes a dorm room home. It’s great to have a place that you look forward to coming back to at the end of the day, she adds.