Here are tips on decorating an off-campus residence

For many college kids, the dorms are home for all four years, and they're happy campers. But for many others, the opportunity to move off-campus, into an apartment or house, is a welcome lifestyle change. • Along with more autonomy and privacy, living off-campus means setting up and taking care of a kitchen, bathroom, common space and more. So once the keys are in hand, here are some tips on decorating the off-campus nest.

Planning your space

Typically, kids choose a group of friends to live with to share costs. Once the home's been secured, have a group discussion about what the common spaces will look like, advises Sabrina Soto, Target's home style expert. Come prepared with a list of things that matter to you, but "be willing to compromise," she says.

There are sure to be taste differences among housemates, so it might be best to keep common spaces neutral. Janice Simonson, an Ikea design spokesperson, points out an added bonus to doing so: "A monochromatic or limited color scheme can go a long way towards visually calming a small, crowded space."

Paint is a good way to bring color and life to a room, if the landlord permits. If not, look for wall decals and posters. Instead of tacking up art with pushpins or tape, use inexpensive frames for a more grownup look.

Double check on existing window treatments before heading for the curtain aisle. If you've got to buy, get twin packaged drapes, interesting fabric shower curtains in pairs, or easy stick up blinds.

Filling the gap wisely

First, see what you can scrounge from families and friends or get secondhand. Find out if your space's current renters — often graduating students — are willing to leave large items. Fill in the holes with inexpensive pieces that can take some hard living.

Simonson advises "multi-tasking."

"Invest in pieces like a sofa bed with slipcover that can convert to an extra bed and features storage underneath," she says.

Side tables can be grouped, and also used as seating. Shelving units do double duty as space dividers and clutter busters. Inexpensive mirrors can work as art, space expanders and convenient primping stations in a houseful of kids.

If your sleeping space is now larger, consider getting a full-size bed.

"But invest in new bedding," Soto advises. "It's where you can really have fun with color, and define your personality."

Bath accessories with punch will make 8 a.m. classes easier to face. Kids' departments have whimsical items such as woodland-creature soap dispensers and girly textiles. Urban Outfitters has city map and batik-printed shower curtains that would suit a unisex bath.

Transition spaces like entryways need decor, too; get a console or bench to drop keys and mail, with a small accent lamp for late-night homecomings. Add some art and a washable rug.

Think about what you'll actually use and don't overbuy in the appliance department, or in electronics. And leave any treasures in a box or at home with your parents.

The kitchen

A full-size kitchen will be new for most college renters. It can either be a super-size, cereal-soda-and-ramen depot or a place where fun, healthy meals come from. Buy items that are durable, microwavable and dishwasher-safe.

Walmart offers a good selection of stoneware dinner sets for under $30; Target has inexpensive, practical, white dinnerware and the Room Essentials' colorful utensils collection. Off-price stores such as Homegoods have several high quality brands for more serious cooks.

Here are tips on decorating an off-campus residence 08/04/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 4, 2012 5:30am]

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