In this post: Are you (or your kiddos) heading off to college this year? Need some dorm room decor ideas that look great, but fit into this uniquely challenging small space?
While the principles for great design are always the same (know your style, plan an overall look, and then decorate one space at a time), small apartments and dorm rooms create some unique situations when it comes to decorating in a functional way. Here are 27 dorm room ideas that will help you create a cozy retreat of your own in your new space.
Dean’s and my three kids are now 16, 18, and 21 (at the time of writing this post). And while they all still live at home pursuing their education (and creating small businesses of their own), they have many friends heading off to their first or second year of college and university.
This means we know many young adults that are looking for small apartment or dorm room decor ideas to cozy up the often otherwise institutional-looking spaces.
Add in things like not being allowed to change paint colors or make any holes in the wall and you’ve got a unique combination of restrictions to work with when decorating dorm rooms in particular.
But you definitely want the space to look and feel like you – and like your own home.
So, just how do you create an oasis in your dorm room?
Try these 27 dorm room ideas on for size…
01. Choose a color palette you love
So even though you likely can’t paint your space, you can choose a color palette that speaks to you fairly easily. And you can incorporate your chosen colors into just about everything else on this list.
Pro dorm room ideas tip: Try using an inspiration piece like a duvet cover or your favorite piece of art as a jumping-off point. And then pull other colors from that to use in things like desk accessories or throw pillows.
02. Layer your lighting
Lighting is super important when it comes to creating a great space.
For a dorm room or small apartment, try layering in several types of lighting to create a cozy, homey feel to your space.
In addition to the overhead lighting that is likely in your room, consider adding:
- task lighting like a desk or bedside lamp for late-night study sessions
- hang string lights (with 3M damage-proof hooks) for a little extra twinkle and a cozy factor that only string lights can bring
- use clip-on reading lights on your bed, if surface space is uber tight
- pack some battery-powered flameless candles that you can use any time
- consider adding battery operated puck lights to shelves for an additional layer of lighting
03. Fit in a comfy chair
If you’ve got room for it, bring along a comfy chair for your room.
Tuck it in a corner with a floor lamp and an adjustable laptop table.
Or get a folding chair, like this one, that can be tucked into your closet when it’s not needed.
04. Invest in cozy, easily washable bedding
Since the bed (and a desk) in most dorm rooms take up the majority of the space, it just makes sense to get bedding that is cozy and easily washable.
In a lot of dorm rooms, your bed also functions as your couch and hangout space. So you will want to be sure that it won’t stain easily and that it can be washed and dried in laundry machines.
Inviting bedding will also pay off big-time when it’s (finally) time to get some shut-eye.
05. Grab some fun pillows
Again, because your bed will likely be the “couch” as well, having plenty of fun, fluffy pillows will make your space so much more inviting.
Pro dorm room decor idea tip: Buy throw pillows that have a zipper on the cover so you can switch out the cheap foam insert with a fluffier, longer-lasting down feather (or down alternative) insert. They’ll hold their shape much longer, which means they’ll look and feel great all year (and beyond).
06. A leaning or over the door mirror
Handy for regular use, a full-length mirror comes in extra handy on those mornings that you accidentally oversleep and want to be sure everything is tucked in and looking right.
And over the door or leaning mirror, means no holes in the wall, while still giving you a full head-to-toe glance as you run out the door.
07. A leaning bulletin board
Speaking of leaning things, grab yourself an extra-large bulletin board that you can prop up on your desk.
This way you can still pin up art and other important papers, but you won’t break the school’s “no holes in the wall” policy – and save your or your parent’s security deposit at the same time!
08. Peel and stick decor
Whether it’s full-on floor-to-ceiling wallpaper or just some fun decals, peel and stick wallpaper can add a ton of personality and color to your dorm room decor.
09. Double-duty stylish storage
When looking for storage pieces for your dorm room, why not make sure they’re cute and super useful at the same time?
- Grab a storage ottoman or a rolling cart that functions as a tabletop and storage in one
- Use a standing bookshelf as a room divider (a little me-time away from your roommate anyone?)
- If there’s space for it, use a dresser as your nightstand
10. A cute rug
A cute little area rug will add texture and another layer of personality and coziness to your space, making your dorm room feel even more like home.
Plus it can be soft and cushy underfoot on those cold winter mornings when you get out of bed for an early class.
11. Add some greenery
If you’re good with plants (and can remember to water them as needed) add a few live potted plants to your desktop or window ledge. Choose plants that are low maintenance and that will thrive in whatever natural lighting your dorm room has.
If you’re more of a black thumb or don’t want the responsibility of remembering to take care of a live plant while you’re busy studying, grab one or two fake plants. Some can look very natural and will still add the appearance of life to an otherwise bland dorm room.
12. Hang long curtains
If you’re allowed to, hang long curtains (higher and wider than your window) to soften the look and feel of your space.
Bonus points for room darkening curtains that allow for sleeping in after a late-night class (or party).
13. Put up some wall decor
Wall decor is another way to show off your personality and create a welcoming room.
Use 3M Command strips that won’t damage the wall to hang framed art or posters. Or use that blue sticky tac stuff to stick up photos of friends and family from home.
Grab the Dorm Room Decorating Checklist
Grab the checklist below so you can take it with you while you shop and prep to leave for college!
14. Make your study space inviting
Create a cozy study nook by including desk accessories that fit into your color palette. Pencil holders, covered boxes, even candles, and old-school paperweights will again add layers to your desk space.
Add a desk lamp and some art as well as a blanket over your desk chair that you use just when you’re studying.
15. Add a Bluetooth speaker
There’s nothing quite like music to get you going. Whether it’s study music, sleep music, or party music a Bluetooth speaker that fits in with your decor is a great idea for a dorm room.
16. Carve vanity space from your desk space
You likely won’t have the space for a separate vanity for applying makeup before class or a night out, so help your desk do double duty with a few useful accessories:
- A stand-alone vanity mirror with built-in lighting (battery-powered or plugin) will help you see just how much eye shadow you’re putting on
- A few lidded boxes to store your makeup in when the desk is being used as an actual desk
- A cute container to put your makeup brushes in
With just a few thoughtful items, your desk will make a great vanity!
17. Double your closet space
Dorm room closets are awfully small. But you can effectively double their space by using double hangers or by creating your own with a pop tab hung over each hanger and then hanging another hanger on that.
18. Use magazine holders for other things
Grab yourself a few magazine holders to line up on your desk or a shelf. Of course, you can use them for magazines, papers, and books. But try using them for storing (completely cooled) curling irons, straighteners, and other awkward tall things.
19. Raise your bed
If your dorm room has a standard height bed, consider raising it with bed risers to add some additional hidden storage space underneath.
Then use that extra space to store seasonal clothes, shoes, extra books, snacks (make sure they’re sealed well to avoid attracting critters), or whatever you don’t seem to have space for elsewhere.
20. Bring a laundry basket or two
You’ll definitely want at least one laundry basket to toss your regular everyday clothes in.
But you may want to consider a second – perhaps collapsible – laundry basket for when you want to wash your bedding. That way you can still use your everyday basket for your clothes, and still have a way to haul your bedding to the laundry room at school (or home to mom and dad’s).
21. Create a mini kitchen space
If it’s allowed, create a corner of your dorm room for a mini kitchen space for those days you just don’t quite make it to breakfast, or you want to host a few friends.
- a mini Keurig
- a small microwave
- a mini-fridge
- 1-2 large bowls (for snacks like chips and popcorn)
- some cereal bowls, plates, and utensils
- somewhere to store snacks and condiments
- a couple of dish towels, sponges, and dish soap for a quick clean up
22. Don’t forget bathroom essentials
If you have a bathroom in your room, you can just bring your regular toiletries and towels and keep them in there.
But if you have to leave your room and/or use a shared bathroom, you will want to get yourself a bathroom caddy or something similar to cart your toiletries back and forth from your room.
You’ll also want a hook or two for drying your towels between uses. Over the door hooks will work if your room doesn’t have hooks and you can’t put holes in the wall.
Bonus Tip: If your towels don’t quite get the drying time they need and start to smell funky, try this tip for getting the smell out of stinky towels.
23. Use a mattress protector
Okay, so very likely you don’t have Lorelei Gilmore as a mom. And your mom likely won’t haul your mattress in the back of Luke’s truck to college for you. Which means you’ll be using the same mattress as many college kids did before you.
So, you’ll definitely want to bring along a padded mattress protector…to protect you from the mattress. 😂
If you can’t find a super comfy mattress protector, get the nicest one you can find on your budget, and then consider adding a feather topper over that (to put under your fitted sheet). Hello comfy, cozy bed!
Tip: Try to find a mattress protector that doesn’t make crinkling noises when you move! We recently bought one for our guest mattress and it’s nice and soft and quiet!
24. Don’t forget a fan!
A fan will come in handy when your dorm room gets stuffy and hot. But it can also do double duty as white noise while you’re sleeping or studying…and your dorm mates are well, not.
Tip: Look for a fan that DOESN’T say something like “now quieter” on the box. You really want one that will make at least some noise.
25. An alarm clock
While your phone’s alarm clock can be quite handy, you may want to consider a backup too.
A nice alarm clock can make waking up easier and more pleasant. And it can do double duty (are you sensing a small space theme here?) as a room clock too so you can see the time at a glance from anywhere in the room.
26. Odor absorber/scent masker
Whether it’s your roommates cooking, or the guys down the hall, interesting scents always abound in shared living accommodations.
Be prepared by bringing along some sort of odor absorber or scent masker. Try:
- making your own room sprays
- putting some baking soda in a mason jar topped by a lid with holes (trace the lid on cardboard and poke holes with a stick pin)
- using a diffuser to diffuse essential oils
- a wax melter and some natural wax melts (if that allowed)
- plain old Febreze sprayed as needed
27. Pack extra chargers and cords
And finally, you want to make sure you don’t have to sit in some awkward corner of your room, just to use your devices while they charge.
So pack extra chargers, extension cords, and power bars to extend your charging capabilities in your dorm room.