Dorm Therapy

A Five-Hour Dorm Room Transformation

published Aug 23, 2018
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It’s not often that you get invited back to your college, given a very small budget and a camera crew and asked to design a fabulous dorm room for an incoming 2018 student. It’s flattering to say the least, but challenging at best. But, heck, I LOVED my college (go Oberlin!) and spent a good deal of time when I was there transforming rooms to make them livable and cool and to fit all my crap into them, which wasn’t easy.

My first year I had a roommate and kept it minimal. My second year I was given permission to move into a large janitor’s closet by myself, thus losing the roommate. For this small space, I built a loft bed and made a mattress (a bad one, I might add) out of straw and an old duvet cover. My last two years? I moved off campus and went all out on my rooms, which were in funky old houses.

But what did I do just a few weeks ago in Oberlin? I used five of my small space tenets, rummaged through the hardware store, the Ben Franklin, AND Target, and I came up with a lovely easy room for a new student. And BTW it’s definitely more feminine on purpose, but I’ve got no judgments and I’d totally sleep there.

The Five Small Space Rules

(which are applicable to Dorm Rooms)

1. Add Softness! Dorm rooms are hard, prison-like spaces due to the liberal use of cinderblock and having to be so durable. Adding textiles in the form of rugs, pillows, tapestries, and bedding will soften and warm the space tremendously.

2. Add Lights! Lighting is not only practical, but it also adds warmth and liveliness to an empty, drab room. How many? Three lights (at least!) to any room, and keep them all at eye level and below—the lower and closer to where YOU are the better. Twinkle lights are awesome in a dorm room. Use them a lot.

3. Bed is Main. With only a little space, your bed is the main event, so this is the place to make most cozy and big—at least to the eye. After a long day of struggling to keep up with your homework, a lovely bed is what you want to welcome you home. It is your retreat space, so bring nice bedding from home, insert a plush mattress pad to deal with the awful mattress, and build yourself a headboard whenever possible. It’s fun and easy.

4. Add Plants! Plants are the easiest way to bring extra life into a dorm room that might feel stale. Small pots on your windowsill or a small tree on your floor—any which way you do it, you’ll appreciate the difference it makes in the FEELING of your room.

5. Create Sacred Space. This is perhaps the easiest to do, but the hardest to explain. A room can be cozy, pretty, handsome, useful and/or organized, but it won’t be YOURS until you put something that is uniquely YOU into it. For this I look to something that is deeply personal and it usually consists of a photograph, piece of artwork, object or religious item that has deep personal meaning. It speaks to your highest and biggest self, and it is there to center you should you ever get stressed out. Call it an altar; call it a sacred space; it’s the smallest thing usually that does the biggest job.

So, I’ve put the before pic above. This room is right next to my old dorm, Burton, and it is just as small and drab as it looks. We didn’t have to do anything fancy with the camera to get it this depressing. BUT, check out the “after.” In only five hours (and with Nicole helping me), I think I was able to make it really nice and cozy, but also a bit funky so that it would appeal to a new generation of Obies.

Do let me know!

Best, M

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