Dorm Decor — How to Make a College Dorm Feel Like Home

Maybe it’s because the place is called a “dorm” and not an “apartment”. Maybe it’s because “dorm” is short for “dormitory”, a word that makes me think of Hogwarts and other boarding schools for people between the ages of 11 and 18. Maybe it’s because the dwelling is used in conjunction with a specific institution (a university), as opposed to being a dwelling amongst the dwellings of people whose activities and occupations have nothing to do with yours. But for whatever reason, outsiders to the college experience, or even those people who graduated more than a decade ago, tend not to think of a college dorm as a home.

Home is where the heart is

Yet besides being where the heart is, a home is a place where you live on a longterm basis. It is the place where you wake up in the morning, keep your possessions, entertain guests, watch TV and update your social media, spend quality time with a loved one, and curl up under the covers after a long day. For me, the place where I do all of these things is an NYU dorm in the East Village. At New York University (NYU) I live 3,000 miles away from all of my family members in California. And because Manhattan is the second most expensive region for housing in the United States, my plan was always to live in a dorm for four years. Now I am on Year Three, and my plan has been going well. Along the way, I learned the three most important ways to make your dorm feel homey:

1) Move as many of your possessions as possible to your dorm

2) Invest in interior design hardware that is compatible with dorm regulations

3) Use empty space in unconventional ways 

I moved 90 percent of my California clothing items to New York and have purchased many wonderful things during my college years, and I keep all of it in one dorm room. I got the stuff out here by packing multiple 70-pound suitcases and shipping large boxes, but fitting everything in has been the greatest challenge by far. What changed everything was investing in command hooks and a portable clothing rack.

command hookscommand hookscommand hookscommand hooks

Besides being easier to use than a heavy hammer that could crush your fingers if you drop it, command hooks are great for college dorms in particular because they can be mounted and removed without leaving a mark on the wall (no paying for damages when you move out!). I have 50 command hooks in my dorm, and they can be used for every clothing item imaginable.

BELTS

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Lineup inspired by Christian Grey’s playroom

Command hooks work for all types of buckles:

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Small rectangle (Desa)   Large horseshoe (my mother’s)   Sash (Forever 21)

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Large square (Apt. 9)          Small horseshoe (vintage)  Large circle (Forever 21)

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 Snaps (Forever 21)    Hole punch (vintage)

SCARVES

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Scarves of all lengths and shapes can fit on a command hook:

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Infinity (Apt.9)                     Short  (Ben Berger)            Small square (Vintage)

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Large square (Grand Bazaar in Istanbul)  Silk (vintage Georgiou)  Pussy bow (Payless)

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Long and thick knit (Gap)

HANDBAGS

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H&M, vintage Kathy van Zeeland, vintage, Candies’s; Forever 21, vintage, Apt.9, Chateau, Sears

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Vintage Pylones; Loungefly Loves Hello KittyI came across this Hello Kitty command hook for $7 at Target.

NECKLACES

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One standard size command hook can hold at least 13 necklaces

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PORTABLE CLOTHING RACK

My dorm came with one closet, which is enough space for my jackets and coats. What about everything else? I found a two-rod,wheeled clothing rack for $27 at Kmart, and it is large enough to hold my dresses, jumpsuits, tops, skirts, jeans, leggings, and pants; in other words, everything that won’t fit in the standard closet!

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Dress by City Studio; skirt by Forever 21

MAKE USE OF EMPTY SPACE — THE TOP OF THE DRESSER

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While I am not allowed to remove this dresser, I can use it to display my jewelry.

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 Sunglasses by Foster Grant, Girlprops, Target, and St. Mark’s Place

Bow from American Apparel; Blue watch made by my mother, gold watch, vintage; Dried rose given to me by a boyfriend in 2012; Box of rings hand-decorated by my sister; Purse by Magid (from my grandmother in Istanbul)

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Left to right: Claire’s, my mother’s, vintage, vintage Ethel & Myrtle, Forever 21, vintage, Forever 21

Vintage, vintage Ethel & Myrtle, Forever 21, Forever 21, Barbie Girls, Forever 21, gift a friend brought back from Iran

Forever 21, vintage, my mother’s, my mother’s, my mother’s, Claire’s, Forever 21, H&M 

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Watch, vintage Narmi; Bracelets: gift a friend brought back from India, Forever 21, my grandmother’s, Macy’s, my mother’s, Macy’s, gift a friend brought back from India

Earrings, street vendor in Berkeley, CA; Brooches: vintage, vintage, vintage, vintage, gift from my grandmother in Istanbul, vintage 

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Sophie, gift from a friend, vintage Betty Boop, vintage Le Baron, Xhilaration, vintage Adrienne

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All of my rings are kept in my ring box; a small purse can store bracelets when it is not being worn

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  The top of a dresser can also store shoes. 

 Lamp, gift from a boyfriend in 2013; Heels: Forever 21, Style & Co., vintage Colin Stuart, vintage Caressa, Nina 

DESK SHELVES

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We line up our shoes on closet shelves, so why not desk shelves? 

 Fioni, vintage BCBG, vintage Nine West, Divided by H&M, vintage Style & Co

Nine West, vintage Linea Paolo, Rue21 etc!, Sbicca, Xhilaration

YOUR WORK SPACE

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     As you can see from the books, computer, and printer, this desk/shelving unit is primarily a space for me to do my work. Yet there are actually many ways to make your work space aesthetically pleasing, and even ways to store accessories!

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My “fun books” (non school-related)

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A vase of fake flowers is a romantic and permanent way to decorate a home. I found my four roses at PANY in Chelsea, a shop stocked entirely with fake flowers in hundreds of varieties. I found two matching vases for the flowers at Pier One. A vase without water also comes in handy for headband storage and display. Speaking of niche boutiques, Anna Belen in the Upper East Side is a cute shop that specializes in affordable headbands and other hair accessories. 

Headbands: Topshop, Anna Belen, Anna Belen, Anna Belen, Forever 21

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Shoes as bookends: Divided by H&M, Albano (from Istanbul); An Aldo clutch rests on the desk; fashion magazines

THE HEATER

The top of a long heater can be used as a shelf for shoes, provided that the vents are not on the top (mine are on the  front side).

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If your heater takes up this much space, you might as well make use of it! 

Forever 21, Aldo, Elle for Kohl’s, Forever 21, Shiekh, Alba

NAVIGATION

I have lived in New York for three years, and I still do not have all of the subway routes memorized! A large subway map on the wall acts as a display piece and helps me plan my routes in advance (so I never have to ask for directions).

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PETS

I can’t speak for every college, but NYU does not allow pets in a dorm, unless they are fish. So I bought a Grumpy Cat with an NYU scarf to keep me company!

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Grumpy Cat hates this picture. 

Once you are finished with all of your housecleaning, you can sit and relax!

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On me: Vintage A. Byer top, H&M tiered skirt, my mother’s pearl earrings, Forever 21 “Happy” necklace

On wall: MG Collection, vintage, vintage, gift from a friend, heart purse designed and sewn by me, Magid (from my grandmother in Istanbul), Mary Frances taxi purse

I moved into this particular room at the beginning of the last Fall semester, and am staying here for the Summer term. By the time the Summer term is over, I will have lived in this dorm room for a full calendar year. Seems like as good a reason as any to make a request that I stay in this room as a senior!

No matter what school you go to, how many roommates you have, or how long you plan to stay in a dorm, there is always a way to make your space reflect your taste, and to make your dorm feel like home.

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