...On the other hand, if you're interested in serious decorating, here's a few handy tips. Admittedly, many of them came from my mother, but my mother is a woman of (in my opinion) exquisite taste.

What To Do With Walls

Walls are perhaps the most obvious aspect of dorm room decoration, since they are large, flat and conveniently located at eye level. Most students, being on a budget, take the cheap way out and paper their walls with movie and band posters. I have absolutely nothing against this approach, and if that's the effect you're going for, I say more power to you. However, if you're looking for something a little classier, here are a few recommendations:
  • Wall hangings... sort of like a miniature tapestry. My mother bought me a wool wall-hanging when she was in Ecuador a few years ago; it's woven in an Escheresque pattern of interlocking swans. It does a lot to detract from the flatness and lack of texture that most walls have, and it looks equally nice hanging in my apartment. Try and color-coordinate wall-hangings; otherwise they look tacky. I find that rich, dark colors work best. Wall-hangings can be expensive and hard to find, but this is the sort of thing that old hippies do cheaply, and if there is an open-air market or co-op anywhere near your school, you can find wall-hangings for cheap.
    Impartial has also suggested a cheap and attractive alternative: take an attractive sarong and attatch it to two broom handles, then hang and serve. Instant wall-hanging.
  • Actual, honest-to-gods art, rather than prints and posters. Many dorms don't allow you to nail things into walls, but you can get a kind of plastic hook that affixes to your wall with a thick sticky backing at your average Target or Wal-Mart. Art in and of itself can be expensive, but not if you're a smart bargain-shopper. Cruise consignment, junk and antiques stores; such places often sell cheap but reasonably tasteful (as in, technically competent if uninspired) paintings and drawings at affordable prices. Also, if you live in a large cosmopolitan city, try import stores in various ethnic districts. I have a passion for Japanese and Chinese art, and I've found some lovely paintings on rice-paper, as well as two stunning painted fans, for between $20 and $30 US each. Items like this add even the most threadbare dorm room some taste and class, and have relaxing and peaceful qualities. My best score, though, was an ink-and-foil print of a Kyphur cat on papyrus at an Egyptian imports shop in downtown Seattle for a mere $10. It's gorgeous in even a cheap frame. Keep art in mind; some of it is affordable, and even a little can add class and personality to your dorm room.
  • Two-dimensional sculptures can make walls more interesting, too. Bend some wire into interesting patterns and hang it up. For a more natural look, try pieces of wicker or something.
  • Two words: Black velvet.
  • Best of all -- bookshelves. I personally find books to be a valid and aesthetic form of decoration. They're functional, too! But don't use your beat-up old textbooks; use books you love, books you've enjoyed for years. Show off your diverse areas of interest; they can make great conversation-starters when people come over to visit. They can also show off what a snob you are, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a dorm situation. Make sure that the bookshelf itself is decent-looking, too.


Now that you've got the walls taken care of, worry next about the floors. Two main areas to concentrate on here are throw-rugs and carpeting. I don't recommend an expensive rug or a rug with an ornate pattern to it in a dorm situation; too much stuff gets spilled. But a few easily washable, robust throws can keep your feet warm in the morning and make you feel more at home. Oh, and be sure and cover all those annoying electrical, phone and data cables; nothing looks tackier than exposed cable all over the place.

Heh. Like I'm one to talk.

Flat Surfaces

Find a small table. It doesn't even have to be big; just a round thing, a foot or two across, with a single leg, is all you need. Now put some sort of covering over it, preferably something long and flowy and all one color. If you're so inclined, black velvet works nicely. Now put some interesting stuff on it. Objets d'art, knicknacks, what-have-you's. You know, stuff. Just make sure it's interesting stuff, or at least well-made. Maybe an interesting lamp, or a nifty pillar candle. Don't burn the candle, of course; it'll get wax on the velvet and annoy the dorm authorities.

You can also pull off this trick with any other flat surface, such as the desks provided in the dorm room, the top of your stereo or TV, or the top of your bookshelves. The idea is to have as little exposed, hard, bare surface as possible; you'll feel a lot more at home the less bare space you have.


Dim is good. Mood lighting is the name of the game here. Give your dorm room three lighting modes: bright, for fine detail work and serious studying; muted, for relaxation and hanging out; and romantically dim, for those fortunate evenings when the roommate is out and a member of the appropriate sex has chosen to grace you with his or her august presence. The first of these is usually easily accomplished by turning on every light in the room; standard dorm lighting must often be supplemented by one of those big standing lamps. The second is best provided by a couple of desk lamps, giving the whole room a pleasantly indirect light. The third is, of course, best done with candlelight, but this is sadly not usually an option. Try and find some odd-colored bulbs, or use a few hidden Christmas lights. Lava-lamps are tasteless, common and should be avoided. If your roommate has one, unplug it and shake it up, then claim that the maintenance personnel did it when they came to fix the phone outlet, or something.

In a pinch, if you're handy with eletrical things, colored LEDs can be an interesting touch.

General Suggestions and Warnings

Avoid curling, poorly-attatched posters on the wall; it's tacky. Clean often; your body will thank you, and so will your sense of aesthetics. You'll impress your parents, too. If you're going for taste and style, photographs pasted everywhere don't add anything; stick to a few nice ones and get frames for them, then hang them or have them sit on the above-mentioned flat surfaces. Finally, contrary to popular belief, beer ads will not impress girls, and the campus police will be more likely to raid your room if you're underage and have such a poster up.

If anyone has any suggestions, please message them to me and I'll add them here.

With a little effort, a little money, and a lot of patience, you, too, can turn that bare 10' x 15' closet into a cozy domicile. Since dorm rooms run the gamut from jail cells to hotel suites, not all tips in this writeup will apply to every dorm. I'm basing this off the room in which I currently reside, in the dorms of UMR, but I'll try to keep it as nonspecific as possible

The keys to making a dorm room liveable are:

These can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but I'll try to outline the most common ways. First, floor space. By far, the most common way to increase floor space is to move the beds. Bunk them, loft them, whatever, but get them out of the way. Lofts really need to be in a separate node, but I'll go into them quickly here.

A loft is simply a construction, usually of wood, that lifts a bed or bedframe, or even a mattress, into the air. There are generally three types, bunk, hanging, and moveable. Bunk style are pretty self explanatory. It's like a bunk bed for beds that don't bunk. There's a frame that lifts the top bed into the air, with the bottom bed going underneath. A downfall is there are usually posts in the front of the loft, making it hard to get stuff under the loft that's larger than the bed, like couches. A hanging loft is usually some sort of rafter system with both beds up in the air on opposite sides of the room. The moveable loft is based on the hanging loft, but with the bed frames on pulleys so they can be lowered for sleeping.

Comfortable flooring is really only applicable in dorms that have tile floors. There, it's a good idea to put some sort of carpet over the tile. Carpet can be of the rug variety, or scraps of actual house carpet. Area rugs can be found in lots of places, while carpet scraps usually come from a home improvement store or a carpet store. Also, check with people moving out of a room. Sometimes, they'll have a carpet that they won't be needing and they'll be willing to simply give it to you.

Social capabilities are the most complex part of a dorm room. Remember, the most social part of a dorm room is the occupant. Ok, now to the room. Basic social features include more seating, extra sleeping space, and entertainment. More seating is usually accomplished by having extra chairs, a couch, or a futon. Having a couch or futon also translates into more sleeping space for guests and can be useful when you're just too tired to climb up into your loft. Entertainment can consist solely of a computer in some situations, or may be an entire entertainment system with a television, VCR/DVD player, console system, and stereo. I personally have a computer with a DVD drive and a TV card hooked up to a stereo. Go with what you can afford.

It's not hard to make your dorm room liveable. Follow the tips in this writeup and others, master a few carpentry skills, spend a little money, and you'll soon be happy with your current residence.

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