...On the other hand, if you're interested in serious decorating, here's a few handy tips. Admittedly, many of them came from my mother, but my mother is a woman of (in my opinion) exquisite taste.

What To Do With Walls

Walls are perhaps the most obvious aspect of dorm room decoration, since they are large, flat and conveniently located at eye level. Most students, being on a budget, take the cheap way out and paper their walls with movie and band posters. I have absolutely nothing against this approach, and if that's the effect you're going for, I say more power to you. However, if you're looking for something a little classier, here are a few recommendations:
  • Wall hangings... sort of like a miniature tapestry. My mother bought me a wool wall-hanging when she was in Ecuador a few years ago; it's woven in an Escheresque pattern of interlocking swans. It does a lot to detract from the flatness and lack of texture that most walls have, and it looks equally nice hanging in my apartment. Try and color-coordinate wall-hangings; otherwise they look tacky. I find that rich, dark colors work best. Wall-hangings can be expensive and hard to find, but this is the sort of thing that old hippies do cheaply, and if there is an open-air market or co-op anywhere near your school, you can find wall-hangings for cheap.
    Impartial has also suggested a cheap and attractive alternative: take an attractive sarong and attatch it to two broom handles, then hang and serve. Instant wall-hanging.
  • Actual, honest-to-gods art, rather than prints and posters. Many dorms don't allow you to nail things into walls, but you can get a kind of plastic hook that affixes to your wall with a thick sticky backing at your average Target or Wal-Mart. Art in and of itself can be expensive, but not if you're a smart bargain-shopper. Cruise consignment, junk and antiques stores; such places often sell cheap but reasonably tasteful (as in, technically competent if uninspired) paintings and drawings at affordable prices. Also, if you live in a large cosmopolitan city, try import stores in various ethnic districts. I have a passion for Japanese and Chinese art, and I've found some lovely paintings on rice-paper, as well as two stunning painted fans, for between $20 and $30 US each. Items like this add even the most threadbare dorm room some taste and class, and have relaxing and peaceful qualities. My best score, though, was an ink-and-foil print of a Kyphur cat on papyrus at an Egyptian imports shop in downtown Seattle for a mere $10. It's gorgeous in even a cheap frame. Keep art in mind; some of it is affordable, and even a little can add class and personality to your dorm room.
  • Two-dimensional sculptures can make walls more interesting, too. Bend some wire into interesting patterns and hang it up. For a more natural look, try pieces of wicker or something.
  • Two words: Black velvet.
  • Best of all -- bookshelves. I personally find books to be a valid and aesthetic form of decoration. They're functional, too! But don't use your beat-up old textbooks; use books you love, books you've enjoyed for years. Show off your diverse areas of interest; they can make great conversation-starters when people come over to visit. They can also show off what a snob you are, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a dorm situation. Make sure that the bookshelf itself is decent-looking, too.


Now that you've got the walls taken care of, worry next about the floors. Two main areas to concentrate on here are throw-rugs and carpeting. I don't recommend an expensive rug or a rug with an ornate pattern to it in a dorm situation; too much stuff gets spilled. But a few easily washable, robust throws can keep your feet warm in the morning and make you feel more at home. Oh, and be sure and cover all those annoying electrical, phone and data cables; nothing looks tackier than exposed cable all over the place.

Heh. Like I'm one to talk.

Flat Surfaces

Find a small table. It doesn't even have to be big; just a round thing, a foot or two across, with a single leg, is all you need. Now put some sort of covering over it, preferably something long and flowy and all one color. If you're so inclined, black velvet works nicely. Now put some interesting stuff on it. Objets d'art, knicknacks, what-have-you's. You know, stuff. Just make sure it's interesting stuff, or at least well-made. Maybe an interesting lamp, or a nifty pillar candle. Don't burn the candle, of course; it'll get wax on the velvet and annoy the dorm authorities.

You can also pull off this trick with any other flat surface, such as the desks provided in the dorm room, the top of your stereo or TV, or the top of your bookshelves. The idea is to have as little exposed, hard, bare surface as possible; you'll feel a lot more at home the less bare space you have.


Dim is good. Mood lighting is the name of the game here. Give your dorm room three lighting modes: bright, for fine detail work and serious studying; muted, for relaxation and hanging out; and romantically dim, for those fortunate evenings when the roommate is out and a member of the appropriate sex has chosen to grace you with his or her august presence. The first of these is usually easily accomplished by turning on every light in the room; standard dorm lighting must often be supplemented by one of those big standing lamps. The second is best provided by a couple of desk lamps, giving the whole room a pleasantly indirect light. The third is, of course, best done with candlelight, but this is sadly not usually an option. Try and find some odd-colored bulbs, or use a few hidden Christmas lights. Lava-lamps are tasteless, common and should be avoided. If your roommate has one, unplug it and shake it up, then claim that the maintenance personnel did it when they came to fix the phone outlet, or something.

In a pinch, if you're handy with eletrical things, colored LEDs can be an interesting touch.

General Suggestions and Warnings

Avoid curling, poorly-attatched posters on the wall; it's tacky. Clean often; your body will thank you, and so will your sense of aesthetics. You'll impress your parents, too. If you're going for taste and style, photographs pasted everywhere don't add anything; stick to a few nice ones and get frames for them, then hang them or have them sit on the above-mentioned flat surfaces. Finally, contrary to popular belief, beer ads will not impress girls, and the campus police will be more likely to raid your room if you're underage and have such a poster up.

If anyone has any suggestions, please message them to me and I'll add them here.