Newswise — When it comes to decorating, organizing and personalizing a college dorm room — that pint-sized home away from home — a Baylor University interior design expert advises students to first study the space like they are studying for an exam, then have fun with it.

“For many incoming freshmen in particular, setting up their dorm room is an exciting rite of passage,” said Elise King, assistant professor of interior design in family and consumer sciences at Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

For the best experience, students should ask themselves important questions before they head to the stores to buy towels, storage bins and wall art, King said.

Q: What should students consider as they prepare their dorms?

A: Take note of the three conditions: lighting, storage, and workspace.

Lighting: How many windows do you have? What time of day would receive the best light? Do you think there will be any problems with glare or heat gain at a particular time of day?

Storage: What built-ins are already in place? Do they meet your needs, or do you need to bring additional storage? Think about the number of shoes you have and plan where you’ll put your clothes, both folded and hanging. The answers to these questions will help you determine what you need to buy; that way you’ll be less likely to purchase things that are trendy but not functional.

Workspace: Take inventory of your lifestyle and habits and design your space accordingly. Ask yourself the following questions: Where do you like to study? What environments are most productive for you? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you save money. For example, if you are in a dorm with a lofted bed or without a built-in desk, consider how you want to use that space. If you usually prefer working at a coffee shop to sitting at a desk, then purchase two inexpensive lounge chairs, a small side table and a rug. Make your own study nook, like at a coffee shop. Unused desks typically just collect clutter and you may even save money on coffee purchases in the long run.  

Q: How do you make your room tasteful/cozy/practical?

A: If you’re moving into a dorm room with a more institutional aesthetic — like fluorescent lights and bright white cinderblock walls — it can be challenging to create an environment that feels like a home. One way to combat a cold, clinical dorm is to introduce a few vintage pieces. If possible, don’t buy something that is new but made to look old. Instead, go to a thrift store, estate sale or antique mall and find a few items that have actually some age and patina on them. Look for artwork — you can always replace the frame — a bed frame, side table or desk. You’ll likely find higher quality pieces, such as ones made of solid wood, than if you purchase something new, and vintage pieces can make a bland room feel homier.  

Instead of posters, look for unique art pieces or wall hangings. Vintage finds are great for this as well. And ask your parents or grandparents if there’s anything interesting in the attic or basement. Wooden oars, old photographs, wood scraps and even fabric are a few free or inexpensive options. But don’t forget to make a plan for hanging your art before coming to campus. Find out if you can use nails or if you’ll have to rely on 3M strips or hooks. There are a lot of options for displaying your pieces, but you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared before you move in.

You’ll also want to ensure you have a special place to display photos, notes, or other memorabilia that reminds you of your family and friends from home. Traditional picture frames aren’t the only option. Magnetic boards or tack/cork boards allow you to change and add to your memorabilia with ease. Wire with metal photo clips are another possibility. Or you can consider making a photo display holder of your own. Browse a few vintage shops and see what inspires you.

Q: It all sounds like fun. Any precautions?

A: Before leaving home, it’s a smart idea to take inventory of any valuables you plan to bring, such as jewelry and electronics. Photograph the serial number of your cell phone, laptop, television and anything of value, then upload them to the Cloud and/or leave a printed copy a home. Check with your parents' insurance company to see if your dorm is covered under their policy or if you should consider adding a rider for certain items. You may want to buy a small safe to stash in a drawer or closet that can hold jewelry, extra cash or any other valuables.  

Another thing to remember is that if you’re sharing a space with a roommate, communication is key. Don’t start off on a bad foot because of differing budgets or aesthetic preferences. Instead, allow each roommate to personalize the space based on their functional needs and personal taste.

Finally, don’t stress over matching bedspreads and coordinating towels. College is about discovering yourself and being unique. Embrace differences and design a space that expresses your personality and not that of a catalog or brand. 


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.



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