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Maximize your dorm room style by using every inch of your space—including under the bed.

August has arrived, and it seems like every Target and Bed Bath & Beyond has been ransacked by college students on the prowl for dorm necessities. The sorority girls have staked out the beauty and makeup aisle, the techies are comparing the latest desk chairs and lamps to see which will get them through the upcoming all-nighters, and freshmen are up to their necks in products and supplies they probably won’t end up using (more on that later). Basically it’s a free-for-all, and one that results in the same old dorm room—tight on space and lacking the personality that makes it feel like home. What's a person with cinderblock walls to do?

Now that I'm returning for my junior year at Rice University, I'm practically a veteran, and with an interior designer for a mom, you could say I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves. First off, don’t wait until the week before classes start to do your dorm shopping. Everything will either be a mess or sold out. Do some research beforehand and figure out exactly what you need and will actually use, so you don’t end up stockpiled with items that will just collect dust and take up space.

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Why You Should Add That Personal Touch

It may only seem like this is a temporary living space, so you don’t really have to worry about decorations and all that jazz, but if you think about it, you could be spending up to four or five years (excluding holidays hopefully) in a dorm room. That's a lot of time in a prison cell-like room that's cold and bereft of any personality. People underestimate how a cozy and homey room can serve as an oasis of sorts when you feel like you’ve been trudging through an endless slog of studying and overall school stress. Adding a personal touch to your dorm room can be tricky on a tight budget and with limited space, but it’s definitely doable. 

To Loft or Not to Loft

One of the first things you have to consider is whether or not you want to loft, or raise, your bed. Personally, I think lofting your bed is the way to go because the area underneath creates more room for storage—or you can use it as a study space/hang out zone like I did.

I debated putting my desk, a chair, lamp, and some drawers underneath to make it a homey office, but I opted for a more chill and unique approach. It works for me because as an English and Psychology major I’m usually just typing away on my laptop, but if your studies involve something that requires you to write or draw out problem sets, I wouldn’t use this approach as your study space and would opt for the desk idea instead.

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Chilling out in The Cove

All Hail The Cove

I call my study space below my bed “The Cove.” Not quite sure where that name originated, but it’s pretty accurate. Before I lofted my bed, I set out some foam padding with a rug over it so I wouldn’t be lying on concrete, then placed my trusty bean bag and lamp within. We placed the bed on top of a bed lift set with outlets, and curtains were hung over a metal rod that I wedged between the metal bed frame and mattress. I added a personal touch by stringing firefly lights in the metal frame above, and just like that The Cove was born.

Little did I know that this setup would become famous around my dorm and that hundreds would flock to behold and binge-watch Netflix with me (okay maybe not hundreds, but quite a few). The Cove is my pride and joy, and has even been upgraded with a hammock—yes, a hammock—tied to the frame underneath it so I can swing my stress away. As you can see, The Cove contains endless possibilities.

Your Comforter Is Key

The comforter can be seen as the home base when it comes to dorm decorating. You want everything to mesh with the vibe your comforter is giving off. Basic solid-colored comforters are simplest for achieving décor harmony, but sometimes you just want something fun and crazy to spice things up. In that case, be careful to not add many more statement pieces or your décor will compete—too much in a small space just comes off as a mess. Think back to your elementary school art classes and stick with the accent colors and their complements on the color wheel to define your palette for the rest of your décor.

Sleep’s Best Friend

Curtains are probably the most underrated dorm room necessity. Not only do they add to the décor (without taking up any space), but they help you get more much-needed sleep. Again, choose curtains that compliment your comforter and going opposite of your comforter design. If you have a simple comforter, maybe get some floral curtains in the same color scheme; if you have a patterned bedspread, get solid-colored curtains that match. 

The Tri-Way Ottoman

Even on a tight budget, it's worth it to invest in a handful of quality furnishings. One of my favorite purchases is an ottoman bench I bought that doubles as storage. Not only is it a great place for any visitors to take a load off, but I also store all of my non-perishables inside it and use it as a stepping stone (or, when the mood strikes, a spring board) to climb onto my lofted bed.

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Forget the Pet Rock

Since you’re probably not quite ready to take care of a pet (let alone yourself have the time—adulting is hard), try a succulent plant! They’re adorable and relatively easy to care for considering you can just stick them by your window and don’t have to water them every day. If that’s still too hard, you can just get a pet rock, that’s cool too. 

More than Visual Vibes

Music will become your best friend, if it isn’t already. Whether you’re studying or singing in the shower, you need a way to bust out the tunes. I have a record player and a waterproof speaker that are perfect for all occasions. The record player is the quintessence of music with substance, and it doubles as cool décor—you just have to stock up on vinyl. The speakers are obviously perfect for wherever you go and nowadays you can just sync them up to your phone and you’re all set. Either is perfect for some atmosphere when you’re studying or having some friends over for King’s Cup. Just don’t be that person that blasts their music to the point that you can hear it down the hall, for everyone’s sake. 

Drop It to the Floor

Rugs are a must. They instantly liven up the room and add personality and comfort. Just be aware that college life can get messy, so think long and hard about that cream-colored fuzzy rug you’ve fallen in love with. I fell in love with a cuddly, off-white, furry rug myself and maintain it by rolling it up when I have a lot of people over and by vacuuming it once a month, so it is doable! 

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Wall Candy

Wall art can make the difference between whether you smile and take a deep breath of relief when you walk in, or whether you just sigh in exasperation from a rough night of studying. Art is something that is totally up to your choosing and taste, as it becomes an outward expression of who you are. Whether you want to cover your walls in memories by putting up pictures of friends and family, or want to have an array of posters, there are virtually unlimited options at stores like Urban Outfitters, Target and Pier 1.

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If you don’t want to spend big bucks and you have a creative edge, search Pinterest for some DIY craft ideas. I personally love watercolor paintings and have them hanging throughout my room and I’ve even seen someone hang origami cranes from their ceiling. If you aren’t too snazzy when it comes to anything artistic, find a friend who can paint and offer them a coffee or specialty boba tea at your next study sesh in exchange! You can attach art to cinderblock walls using washi tape, or 3M makes tons of sticky yet removable options.

The New Welcome Mat

Now that we’ve covered the interior, there's just one more area to cover. Decorate your door! It’s the first thing everyone sees, so why not give them a little taste for what personality lays inside? Wrap it in wrapping paper, use decals, hang a dry-erase board so people can leave cute notes (or more likely, this being college, some drunk doodles), or use different colored strips of washi tape to make a geometric pattern. Just don’t forget to change it up for the holidays! 

Don't Sweat It

Don’t worry about making everything matchy-matchy—it usually works out better if you choose a color palette but mix things up a bit so it’s not monotonous. Your dorm room is your one constant throughout your college life, so choose a setup that will serve as a refuge and an expression of who you are.

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