Dorm Room Decor Tips

My daughter has a real sense of style. Unfortunately, her dorm room doesn’t. We want her to be comfortable but have obvious limitations on what we can change.  Any tips to spruce up her space without adding to our already sky-high college costs?
Lisa V.

Memories of my college dorm room are quite fresh, despite more years having passed than I care to admit! You are right to consider the limitations. You don’t own the space that you are improving and colleges rightly have limitations on doing anything that can damage the space for the next student (I remember all the repair work we had to do to fix up holes from darts that missed the dart board!).

Last year, nationwide spending on dorm decor and college apartment furnishings reached an estimated $5.43 billion, with young adults 18-24 spending an average of $159 each.* Ready to help students ace decorating difficulties and maximize the money they spend, designer Angelo Surmelis, host of the HGTV program “Rate My Space,” offers some expert advice on creative dorm room decorating on a dime.

“Color is one of the easiest ways to make an impact in any room, and dorm rooms are no exception,” he said. “Since painting walls is usually out of the question in most dormitories, finding new, inexpensive and creative ways to add color is the key.” Surmelis suggests the following ways to add color without ever having to paint:

*  Get inexpensive canvases and paint them all a single color or a few different complimentary colors. Cover a wall with the canvases for added interest and a great color focal point. They are also easy to repaint if you get tired of the color(s) you used. Group a few canvasestogether for major impact!

*  Fabric can have a similar effect while adding texture. Stretching colored or patterned fabric over canvases, cork boards or simple plywood boards cut to custom sizes and shapes will not only give your room instant color, it will give you an extra design element that can influence bedding, pillow and accessory choices.

*  Most paint and wallpaper stores have remnant wallpaper that you can purchase quite inexpensively. Frame interesting papers with ornate thrift store or flea market frames to give your room instant style that not only feels personal but chic and unique.

*  “Another big dorm decorating issue is dealing with the small space,” Surmelis added. “Since dorm rooms can be quite small (and are often shared), maximizing storage is essential.” He offers these tips on utilizing space:

*  Get stylish by utilizing furniture pieces that can double as storage–like ottomans that open up, beds with pullout drawers and storage in the headboards, as well as vertical storage units.

Use your walls to their fullest potential. Simple shelving or even cubes (that you can customize with paint or wall paper) can add instant interest while providing storage that keeps surfaces neat and clean. And salvage yards are a great place to find alternative brackets for your shelving–plaster sconces, for instance.

Tom Kraeutler is the host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show and the Home Improvement Editor for AOL. For more tips, sign up for Tom’s free e-newsletter here. Tom’s latest book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure, is available in bookstores everywhere and online.

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to spruce up the space.  An excellent resource is’s popular “Rate My Space” community. The Dorm Room gallery allows users to both showcase their dorm room d’ecor and to share advice on other student’s college spaces. (

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