Learning CenterDorm Room Decor

Dorm Room Decor

The key to dorm room decorating and shopping for a first apartment is combining functionality with personality

Dorm Room featuring an EdgeStar Beverage Center

Dorm rooms and first apartments are that first opportunity for independence, and instead of looking at them as bland, cold beige spaces, look at them as a blank slate to express your personality. Because dorms and apartments tend to get many different tenants over the years, and see a lot of activity, they typically have some strict decorating rules in place and are crafted of highly durable and neutral materials. The same design rules we use to decorate large homes can be applied to decorating these small, starter spaces, with a little creativity added in to keep everything within guidelines and budget.

Set a Budget 

Whether you’re decorating an entire home or a single room, an initial budget is the perfect jumping-off point. Determine how much you have to spend on all the décor and keep a running tally of all things purchased. Start by shopping for the essentials and then see how much budget you have left over for the little luxury touches you want, but don’t necessarily need. 

What Comes with Your Dorm or Apartment? 

If you’re living in a dorm, make sure to get a list of what’s included in your room. Typically, basic furniture, such as a bed, dresser, desk, and chair are provided, but that can vary from dorm to dorm and from school to school. If you’re moving into an apartment, determine which appliances come with the apartment, such as refrigerator, washer, and dryer. If the apartment does not include a washer and dryer, ask if there is a communal laundromat on-site. While you’re at it, get exact dimensions of the space so you can shop in advance of your move-in date with confidence.

Decide on a Design Aesthetic 

The key to a beautifully designed, cohesive space is to choose a design aesthetic and stick with it. Take a moment to design a look that speaks directly to your personality. If you’re going to have a roommate sharing the space, there are two ways to go. You can either agree on one design style or you can each decorate half the space in the style that speaks to you.  

Choose a Color Scheme 

Just because you aren’t allowed to paint your space doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with color. Pick up some free paint swatches and find the exact shade of your walls. Using that as a base, go back and choose other paint swatches that catch your eye to come up with an over-arching color scheme for your room. You can take these paint swatches with you shopping to make sure you stay on track with the vibe of your space. 

Create a Mood Board 

Online is a great place to start the shopping process. Look up the products on your checklist online and start to create a mood board with items you love and the prices for those items. As you put the board together and work through the different items you’ll need, you can trade out items to get everything you need within a master budget that works for you.  

Start with Big Style Moments 

There are a few ways you can set the stage for the space’s design in a big way. The bed, seating areas, study areas, and cooking/dining areas are the four primary spaces in any dorm or apartment. 

Splurge on Bedding 

The bed is one of the largest pieces of furniture in the space, and as such, it acts as a main focal point of the room. This makes it a great place to invest a little extra budget. If the dorm comes with a mattress, chances are it’s not the pinnacle of comfort. You’ll arguably spend more time on your bed than anywhere else in the room, so make it a restful retreat by adding layers of quality bedding. Start with a mattress topper to add inches of soft support to the bed. From there, introduce a mattress pad, sheet set, comforter set, a blanket, and layers of pillows to make the bed soft, cozy, and inviting. 

Choose Functional & Fashionable Furnishings 

Whether you’re outfitting a study area, sitting area, or dining space, furnishings are everything. Being small on space doesn’t mean you have to skimp on style. When space is a concern look for furnishings that can be dual-purpose in design.  

A small side table can be a great place to set a drink next to a sitting area and also be the ideal place to enjoy a meal at home. In fact, a small table can be an absolute workhorse in the space. 

When it comes to seating, you aren’t going to have room for a ton of furniture, so each piece you choose is an opportunity to make a bold statement. Look for a super-comfortable chair where you can watch tv and unwind after a long day or pull up to a desk or small table and settle into a long study session. Chairs are super versatile because they are easy to move around the room, especially when you’re entertaining friends. 

Go Wild with Wall Décor 

The walls are one of the largest canvases in the space and a great opportunity for self expression. Use a combination of stylish and functional wall décor items to make the space work for you. A bulletin board or magnet board above a desk helps add a memo area to the workstation while an illuminated name sign over the bed provides a bright personal touch. When hanging items on the walls, make sure to adhere to the guidelines of the dorm or apartment. Some of our favorite wall décor ideas include: 

  • Magnet, memo, or white boards 
  • Framed posters 
  • String lights 
  • Textile wall hangings 
  • Wall-mounted name lights

Light for Your Lifestyle 

Frequently, dorms and apartments have harsh overhead lighting, which is great for illuminating an entire space, but isn’t ideal for every situation. Make the space work for your lifestyle by adding desk lamps or wall sconces near the desk or study area for task lighting that will allow you to work or study long into the evening hours.  

Soften Things Up with Textiles 

Apartments and dorm rooms can seem cold with all the hard, easy-to-clean surfaces. Giving the space a soft, inviting look is all about adding plenty of textiles. A large area rug on the floor makes it comfortable to kick off your shoes or even sit on the floor. Curtains, layers of plush bed pillows, and maybe even a cushion on your desk chair help to drape the room in another texture and pattern.

Introduce Technology 

Students and young adults have busy schedules. Introducing the right technology from the start makes every day run a little more smoothly. 

Small Appliances 

Having a small space doesn’t mean you can’t have all the daily conveniences you would have in a larger home. Today, there’s such an amazing selection of small appliances available, that you can truly customize your cooking zone according to your needs. Some of our favorite small appliances for dorms and first apartments include: 

  • Mini refrigerators: An ice-cold drink is always arm’s length away when a mini fridge is part of the dorm décor. 
  • Coffee makers: Stay caffeinated through the latest study sessions with a countertop coffee maker. 
  • Air fryer/digital oven combos: Whether you’re making toast or whipping up your favorite frozen meal, a countertop air fryer and oven combo gives you the versatility you need to fry, bake, toast, and more. 
  • Blender: If you’re more of a smoothie or protein shake person, a small, personal blender makes a great addition to a first collection of small appliances. 
  • Induction cooktop: If you don’t have access to a traditional stove, a personal sized induction cooktop is the next best thing. It doesn’t have heated coils or an open flame and only heats up when used with an induction pot or skillet.

Essential Electronics 

Make every day a little more convenient by making sure you have a few electronics on-hand.

  • Vacuum: It won’t take long to vacuum a dorm room, but they are essential. A compact vacuum is easy to tuck away and will make it easy to clean your space. Consider one with multiple attachments for use on your furniture, too.  
  • Steamer: When you don’t have space for a traditional iron and ironing board, a steamer is the next best option. Plug it in, add water, and use it to release wrinkles from all clothes packed in tight drawers and small closets. 
  • Portable speaker: Listening to music can boost mood and improve concentration. Making it a part of your daily routine is easy when you get a rechargeable portable speaker that you can use in your dorm, apartment, or on the go.  
  • Computer or tablet: Everyone needs a computer or tablet, whether you’re a student or a young adult that needs to pay bills and complete daily work. 
  • Fan: A small, portable fan is a dorm room must-have, when you don’t have control over the temperature of the room. They can improve air circulation, add a bit of white noise, and keep you cool on warm days. 

Stock the Kitchen

The kitchen or cooking zone of a dorm room isn’t all about the appliances you choose. You’ll also need a couple of essentials so you can prepare meals and snacks at home. Of course, how much you stock your kitchen will depend on whether you have a full-sized kitchen or a small cooking nook. If you’re in a dorm room, where space is limited, stick to the essentials, such as:

  • Bowls 
  • Plates 
  • Cups 
  • Coffee mugs 
  • Silverware 
  • Basic serving utensils

If you have an apartment kitchen where you have an oven and cooktop, you’ll expand that kitchen list to include:

  • Basic spices 
  • Pots and pans 
  • Cooking sheets 
  • Baking essentials 
  • Measuring cups and spoons

Bathroom Basics 

Whether you’re going to use a communal bathroom or are fortunate enough to have a personal bathroom, a couple basics are essential. If you are using a communal bathroom, add some kind of storage caddy to your list so you can take your bathroom basics to the bathroom and back easily. You’ll also need a robe, towels, and washcloths. Throwing in a few larger beach towels or a picnic blanket may help for study sessions on a lawn or a trip to a community pool. 

Get Serious About Storage 

When space is at a premium, functional storage solutions are absolutely essential. Keep every drawer, cabinet and closet perfectly organized by investing in functional storage products. Storage products help to not only maximize the square footage of a storage area, but to also keep everything nice and organized. Shop for home organization items specific to cabinets, closets, laundry, and the bathroom. 

Luxury Upgrades to Consider 

Sometimes, the real luxurious touches are in the extras. If there’s a little room left in your budget, consider adding little touches of luxury where you think they would benefit your lifestyle. 

Air Purifiers 

Whether you struggle with allergies or just want to improve your overall air quality, an air purifier can be a phenomenal investment in both dorm and apartment settings.  


If you’re lucky enough to have your own bathroom, a showerhead upgrade will turn every shower into a more luxurious experience. Typically, dorm room and apartment showerheads are pretty basic. Switching them out is an easy DIY project. Just make sure you save the old one to put back on when you move out.  

Personalized Final Touches 

Everyone is different. Sometimes, adding a bit of personality to your dorm or first apartment is about adding items that are specific to your interest, your hobbies, and your daily routine. Don’t be afraid to modify this list to include some of your favorite items from home. A first apartment is often a first foray into interior design, and nothing is permanent. Stay flexible, start with the essentials, and tweak things once you’ve lived in the space for a few days and weeks.