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Dorms can be decorated on a dime

Let's face it: The college dorm room may be the smallest space a sensible person will ever choose to inhabit. Creating a livable decor within those four walls is the ultimate challenge: For those of us who've been there and done that, who can forget soda-crate shelves, the mini fridge and those blocky, corduroy study pillows? Too often these quarters are shared with other students and come with their own stringent set of university-issue decorating rules like no nail holes or electric-blue paint (or any paint for that matter). As students head off to college next month, it's a good idea to map out some sensible dorm-room décor ideas ahead of time. For a few creative pointers, offers some solid tips, including maximizing closet space with organizers and accessorizing with necessities like an attractive reading light or file cabinet, which also doubles as a display surface for knickknacks. In an interview by phone from her Modesto, Calif., headquarters last week, Tammy Jo Schoppet, founder of, offered a myriad of tips for decorating a dorm room on a dime.

1 Recycle what you already own: Parents and students should take a good, long look at what they already have around the house. "Take what you have — but not too much," she says. "You don't want to bring everything you have, although parents might want you to!"

2 Fabric is your friend: If you have an ugly wall to contend with, consider using pretty fabric to liven it up, Schoppet suggests. Look for appealing patterns on the sale at sewing or discount stores. "You can also bunch it up and poof it up with rubber bands to make window treatments," she adds.

3 Raise the bed to lofty heights: If the college or university allows students to bring or build their own loft beds, do it. Schoppet's two daughters — one of whom heads off to college this fall — share a room replete with two IKEA loft beds. The space it frees up for studying and hanging out is unbelievable: "They both have room for their computers, even a piano keyboard," Schoppet raves. "My daughter who's going to college already plans to take the loft bed with her."

4 Buy hard-working furniture: Schoppet advises parents and students to shop for double-duty pieces like an ottoman that lifts open to provide hidden storage. An attractive foot-locker can be used as a coffee table; a plain-Jane model can be gussied up with a colorful throw. The best part is that it works overtime as a place to store extra clothes, study materials or sports equipment.

5 Make creative displays: Consider removable vinyl wall graphics or any "peelable wall decals that come right off," Schoppet says. They're cheap, temporary and colorful and allow anyone to decorate bland wall space in a matter of minutes. Pictures from home in coordinating, inexpensive frames make a homey display and soothe homesickness. Schoppet notes that pictures, mementos and other lightweight items can also be displayed on a memo board. Think about making your own, she says, from fabric and batting. Ultimately, Schoppet suggests determining ahead of time exactly what accessories you already own, what you need to buy and what will fit in the limited dorm-room space. Then, she says, "Edit and pare it all down" so that you don't overload the room with a lot of clutter. Even the smallest dorm room can provide a comfortable refuge when planned with an eye on maximizing storage and freeing up space.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at

Dorms can be decorated on a dime 07/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2008 11:07am]
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