The essentials of dorm decor

07/25/2014 1:37 PM

07/26/2014 6:22 AM

The storage, bedding and kitchen departments of Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and other stores are hopping this week with incoming college freshmen preparing for their first home away from home – the dorm room.

Kids who have just graduated from high school usually hit the shopping a little early because they’re so excited to be heading off to college, said Angie Hobbs, a resident assistant at Fairmount Towers dorm at Wichita State.

And while the options of colorful trash cans, comforters, shower caddies, toss pillows and desk lamps are endless, the size of a dorm room is not. So we talked to Hobbs and a male RA at Fairmount Towers – Chris Wiebe – to get some design tips to help new students make the most of the small space and help it feel like home.

On the walls

“Oh my gosh, your room is so cool” is a reaction Wiebe gets from lots of students, who ask his advice about decorating.

“I like to cover every inch of the wall. It feels homey and down-to-earth. Color helps me,” said Wiebe, a veteran dorm dweller who hails from west Wichita. He continues to live in a dorm even though he’s 24 and a “senior” senior studying business management.

“I love the interactive feeling that I get here,” he said of dorm life, and he loves meeting students from different cultures. Because the days of a student are so busy, being in the dorm lets him slip in some social life whenever he has a minute, he said.

“You can just go out in the hall – ‘How’s it going?’ or you can set up a board game for the night.”

For hanging things on the wall, college students swear by Command strips, which can hold a variety of things – even a wooden rack of hooks for hanging bags in Hobbs’ room – and can be repositioned and moved without hurting the wall.

“I put up hooks everywhere. Hooks are my thing,” said Hobbs, a junior accounting major from Ost, a farming community east of Cheney Reservoir. Over-the-door hooks hold jackets.

The things students most often have to run out and buy on move-in day are hangers and power strips, Hobbs said. She’s hung a power strip on her wall near a doorway with Command strips for easy access.

Wiebe has a large, cloth wall hanging from Third Planet, a store at the mall, over his bed. A history buff, he has three flags from the Revolutionary War lined up on the wall above his desk. An Irish flag with grommets fits onto a tension rod to serve as a curtain over his window.

“Posters help,” Wiebe said. A poster sale on campus held by the Student Activity Council last year soon after school started drew lots of people, he said.

For her main art, Hobbs has a large vinyl wall decal of a tree with a saying that her family members all have in their homes: Like branches on a tree we grow in different directions but our roots remain as one. Hobbs cut out the letters and the tree with an X-Acto knife from wall decals of other subjects. But you can find ready-to-hang decals in all kinds of sizes and styles at Target and Hobby Lobby, for example, she said. The cling-y decals are easy to move and leave no marks on the wall.


Wiebe has several lamps to avoid turning on the harsh ceiling light. For atmosphere at night, sometimes he’ll just turn on a glass Shockers lamp sitting on his desk.

He also set up wireless remote switches to a couple of the lamps so that he can turn them on and off with a wall switch at the door or with a remote attached to his headboard.

His affinity for lights reaches to a color-changing light strip that he’s tacked up around the shelves of a display case that he made. “I just like lights.”

Floor lamps help roommates isolate light, especially when one of them is trying to sleep while the other is studying.


Dorms provide some basic furniture, such as a bed, desk and drawers. But laptop computers have changed the old style of studying.

“I notice most college students don’t use their desk. I usually sit on my bed or I’m at the library,” Hobbs said.

Because WSU’s beds can be lofted, as high as the top bunk of a bunk bed, floor space is opened up underneath for more storage. Hobbs raises her bed high enough to be able to stow her desk under her bed.

Wiebe did the opposite of stowing his desk – he bought a larger one and added it to his room. “I’m a bigger guy,” and the larger one is more comfortable. He uses the desk not only for studying but for holding his stereo and a computer monitor.

Wiebe uses his dorm-issued desk partially to hold the display case he made for some favorite collectibles and books. He also has repurposed a piece of furniture that was once in his grandfather’s office, turning it into an entertainment center that holds his TV.

Because they are RAs, Wiebe and Hobbs have their own rooms, but students who are roommates often put their desks in the middle of the room facing each other, creating separate wings, Hobbs said. Roommates who don’t get along very well often get room dividers, “so it’s pretty much like two separate rooms,” she said.

Hobbs’s furniture additions to her room are a narrow bookcase, foldable and collapsible chairs that can be stowed when not in use, and a little side table.


Students usually bring small appliances for food and drink prep and storage, but check guidelines for your own residence hall before shopping. Friends University, for example, provides a microwave.

Wiebe and Hobbs each have a microwave and a little refrigerator (Hobbs has two; one of them is a small, tempered-glass beverage fridge).

Coffee lovers probably will want a coffeemaker. But hot plates, toaster ovens and toasters are not allowed in most dorms; again, check regulations for specific schools. Bed Bath & Beyond has on hand copies of residence-hall guidelines for several area colleges.

Homey additions

Fairmount Towers is carpeted, but Hobbs has added an area rug on top for more comfort and extra color.

Wiebe and Hobbs also are liberal with their use of paint. Hobbs bought a file cabinet for $4 and covered it in chalkboard paint – a good, cheap paint that also can be written on with white or colored chalk. She spray-painted her fridge black. Wiebe painted a fan and a storage piece that sits under his bed a bright orange.

The DAV is a good place to shop, Wiebe said, and he also looks for sales at Gordman’s and Hobby Lobby. He puts up Halloween and Christmas decorations.

“I try to find stuff that fits the room and then adjust it,” he said. “Whatever makes me feel at home, I’ll add to it.”

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