Dorm Room Decor – Design on a Budget

It’s that time of year!  Both eager and not-so-eager students are returning to their college dorm rooms to settle in for a new school year.  Even students need a place to relax and recharge in between tackling new curricula and part-time jobs, right?  Our visual environments affect how we feel, even how well we are able to face each new day.  With tuition and books to pay for, few people have a huge budget for designing a dorm room.  But there’s no reason a college dorm room can’t be just as inviting as a room in your own home, and it can be if you incorporate a few important items.  Here are some ideas that might help.

Inspiration Board Dorm Room

 The Decorologist


Great bedding is the number one focal point in a small dorm room.  Forget the boring, solid comforters and choose a colorful pattern that you love, like this beautiful set from World Market.

473453_NADIA DUVET COVER & S/2 SHAMS World Market



The bedding will help establish your color palette for the space.  At that point, it’s easier to choose other items to coordinate – including pillows, rugs, and art.  If your college dorm room is the typical square box, choose a round or square rug to best fit the space, such as this one from West Elm.

west elm bullseye rug

West Elm


Of course, it’s essential that you create a great place to work and study.  A spare parson’s desk and a colorful desk lamp are fresh additions to a small dorm room.


Parson’s Desk from West Elm




Pottery Barn Teen

Storage is of utmost importance in a small space, and you need ideas for places to stash your books and stack your sweaters.  Simple but sturdy bookcases (like the Expedit model from IKEA) and similar storage units that go vertical will help you maximize the space you have.  Square and rectangular baskets from Michaels, The Container Store, or IKEA can corral smaller items and things you don’t want visible all the time.  A corkboard or chalkboard will help you stay organized and keep your to-do tasks right in front of you.


Container Store

Don’t forget to incorporate some playful art to draw your eye up, away from the often-messy floor.  Art like this from Target on a canvas-wrapped frame is inexpensive and light-weight, making it perfect for a dorm room.

butterflies art

butterfly art from Target



Finally, you will need to have a few cleaning supplies handy since your mother will no longer be cleaning your room!  You might want to pick up a colorful dust buster to make your chores less dull:

blue dust buster



If you keep your overall color scheme cohesive, your college dorm room can be a truly fabulous home away from home. Just choose wisely.  There are lots of inexpensive options that can give you a designer look without blowing your budget!

Inspiration Board Dorm Room


What are your favorite ideas for making a college dorm room feel like something special?



  1. Linda

    so much more fun and stylish than the gray cinder block linoleum floor dorm room I was in. I think back then we even had “school issued” bed linens that came in two colors…beige or gray. Love your ideas!

  2. Rhonda

    Great ideas! Having done three dorm rooms thus far, with two more to go, I can testify that Target and Bed, Bath, & Beyond cater to the college student and have good buys. BB&B will also ship your purchases to the college city at the local BB&B, and you don’t have to worry with packing all the stuff. A couple of ideas, though. Most college students (or their families, after paying the tuition!) would not be able to afford the parson’s desk from West Elm due to the expense. Also, drawers in the desk are necessary, since space and storage is at a premium in a college room. We’ve also discovered that less pattern is better and trying to coordinate color with your roommate helps to achieve a more cohesive look that doesn’t drive the eye batty! (Pun intended!) Always love reading your blog!

    • Rhonda

      Forgot to say, but most colleges provide the desk, fortunately. My second daughter is in an apartment this year, and we have scoured all the thrift stores looking for a small desk with drawers that will fit into her tiny room. Nothing yet…. But the thrill of the hunt has been fun!

    • Kristie Barnett

      Thank you, Rhonda! Very good insights, thanks for sharing!

  3. Kelly

    Great ideas Kristie. What a beautiful home away from home!

  4. Francie

    That bedding is beautiful! I almost never go to World Market, but this makes me want to stop by there soon.

  5. Sabrina

    That corkboard is soo going on my list of to do DIY’s. Just need some cheap cork and white paint 🙂

  6. Weisserose

    Dear Kristie,
    thank you very much for your great posts. 🙂
    I have a question that perhaps we could address on a future post: how to create a palette (and flow) for home, when one’s favourite colours are warm and dark – as for example, mine: brown, green, red? I aspire to a classic and sophisticated style – but my favourite colours are so… “autumn” = rustic???
    Thanks for your help. Have a nice day!
    Greetings from Germany,

  7. Patrick Winston

    Great stuff! My daughter is going to college in a few weeks and we’re looking into buying some things for her dorm. This is a great start, she will love that rug!

  8. Kelley

    These are beautiful, but in the dorms I lived in, all the furniture was already provided, and there was no room for any more. A rug, some bedding, and some posters taped to the concrete walls were pretty much the only ways to brighten up the place.

    • Kristie Barnett

      Thankfully, now you can hang art on those concrete walls with all the 3M products that are removable! Were you able to paint your walls? I remember doing peach and mint green in my dorm room in the late 80’s!

  9. Deb Trnka

    What is that fabulous blue/green wall color behind your idea board

  10. best

    Cool room for a teenager or student most it.

    Although guys like vryatli

  11. Kyle

    I always used rugs in my dorm rooms during my undergraduate. The typical linoleum floors are lovely and all (yeah right) but rugs were always a way for me to add warmth and color to an otherwise cold and bland room.

    It also provided me with a way to break up the room and feel like i had a distinct segment of the room to myself. My roommate was my best friend, but when you share a dorm room, it is nice to feel like you can still maintain your own space.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

paint color training course

Staging Certification

paint color training course

Color Certification

paint color training course

My Staging Book

paint color training course

Small Wall

paint color training course