It’s that time of year again. As college students flock back to Boston over Labor Day weekend for the start of fall classes, one-third will be moving into dorms, according to the city’s student housing trend report. And although student housing may be temporary, local designers said it pays off for students to make the space feel like their own.

Lauren Grant, owner of Lauren Grant Design, said personalizing a dorm room can be beneficial for a student’s mental health in the long run.

“I think anyone’s living space can influence them,” Grant said. “Your surroundings are so important for your overall mood and your outlook for the day.”

That said, Craig Tevolitz, principal of Platemark Design, noted that the basic furniture pieces typically found in dorms do not always make for a comfortable living space.

“Having things set up the way you like them is certainly a great way to lead to future success,” he said. “It could be a really relaxing space if you do it right.”

Tevolitz and Grant weighed in on how they think money can be best spent to spice up dorm room decor based on three budgets: $100, $500 and unlimited. Read below for a guide on where they recommended finding pieces that will take your dorm room to the next level.

This is a tight budget for decorating, but both Tevolitz and Grant agreed that simple additions to a dorm room can drastically improve the atmosphere.

Throw pillows

Craig-Tevolitz-Dorm-Decor-PillowsThrow pillows can help a space serve as seating, as seen here in this space designed by Craig Tevolitz. —Michael J. Lee
Swapping out standard pillows on a bed for throw pillows in a variety of shapes and textures can quickly transform a bedroom into a makeshift living room, Tevolitz said. “You can basically take your bed, push it alongside a wall, throw a bunch of throw pillows on it, and it becomes a sofa,” he said.

Price: $6 and up

Stores: T.J. Maxx, H&M Home


Lauren-Grant-Plant-DecorGrant recommends adding floor or desk plants to make a room come alive. —John Robson
Both designers said floor or desk plants can help reinvigorate a space. “They literally add oxygen to your space,” Grant said. “Even when I’m designing homes, I go in and add a few plants, and the place sort of comes alive.” She recommends purchasing ZZ plants or succulents, which need little maintenance.

Price: $5-$20

Stores: The Home Depot


Incorporating floor-to-ceiling drapery in a dorm room “makes a big impact,” Grant said. “It raises the ceiling, and you can add color or whatever the look is that you’re going for that way.” If there’s no curtain rod in the window, use Velcro tape.

Price: Options for $25 and under

Stores: IKEA

Poster frames

For more of a do-it-yourself approach to decorating, Grant said painting a poster frame is an easy way to showcase homemade art in the room. “I think art is really important,” Grant said. “You know, spray [the frame] gold, spray it whatever color you want, and then maybe make your own art.”

Price: $7-$35

Stores: Michaels

Washi Tape

Create custom designs on your wall, refrigerator, or the back of your door with colorful Japanese tape. “Take some of the utilitarian look of an item and try to make it look decorative,” Grant said.

Price: $5

Stores: Michaels, Blick Art Materials

If you have more wiggle room in your budget, consider pieces that can act as furniture and wall decals, Grant said.


Tevolitz said a trunk is must-have, versatile dorm room piece. “It’s a place to store all of your stuff, it’s a coffee table, it’s a place to sit, and you can transport all of your stuff in it easily,” he said.

Price: $55 and up

Stores: Target, Bed Bath & Beyond

Modern canopy bed

If using a different bed frame is an option, Grant said, the modern canopy bed trend will not only add style to a dorm room, but more seclusion. “That’s really fun, because it adds a lot of drama and height to the room,” she said. “But with a roommate situation, you are able to throw some fabric over the bars to create some privacy.”

Price: $110 and up


Tapestry/Removable wallpaper

Lauren-Grant-Accent-WallThis accent wall in a room Lauren Grant designed picks up the pop of color from the pillows. —John Robson
Tevolitz and Grant suggested creating an accent wall in the room for a pop of color, whether it is with a tapestry or peel-and-stick removable wallpaper. While the design should depend on your personal style, both designers agreed that bold is the way to go with an accent wall. Tevolitz also said suggested draping matching tapestries over dorm furniture to maintain consistent colors throughout the room.

Price: Varies


Floor Lamps

“Try to elevate the look of the space,” Grant said. “You can’t change the overhead lighting, so the arch floor lamps are really great. They kind of ends up almost looking as if they’re hanging like an above fixture.”

Price: $250 and up

Stores: West Elm

If money is no object, Tevolitz said, let your imagination run wild with customization in mind.

Matching linens

Having a cohesive look for bed sheets and linens can make the room feel more relaxing and organized, Tevolitz said, but feel the material before you purchase it. “I’m not a big preacher of thread count; you actually have to feel it,” he said. “Thread count is kind of meaningless. It’s the quality of the cotton.”

Price: $100 and up

Stores: Bloomingdale’s, Urban Outfitters


Lauren-Grant-Symmetry-DecorTwo chairs with matching throw pillows provide symmetry to this space by Lauren Grant. —John Robson
“One of the biggest ways to achieve a high-end look is symmetry and cohesion,” Grant said. If possible, she said, teaming up with a roommate to share a dresser as a nightstand and choosing colors and patterns to match on both sides of the room will make the space feel balanced.

Hire a designer

It’s not unheard of to have a dorm room professionally decorated. In fact, a Connecticut college student recently called Tevolitz to ask about his services. But if help from a designer isn’t in the cards, Tevolitz said to rely on friendly faces in home-goods stores. His favorite? Bloomingdale’s. “Go into the store and talk face to face with the people that work there,” he said. “They really know the product. Lean on them for advice on what the best products are.”
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