College can be a culture shock for teenagers making the transition from living at home to living apart from their family, especially when the new place is in a tiny dorm room among strangers. Any college freshman accustomed to having his or her own large room at home will need to adjust to a small space and, therefore, a new lifestyle.
Your dorm room should be a comfortable haven, conducive to both studying and relaxing. For that reason, you probably don't want to feel confined by filling the room up with distractions from your books. And because college is so social, you'll also want to be hospitable to guests who drop in from down the hall.
What's important to understand is that effective interior design is partly psychological. Of course, you can't change the actual dimensions of your dorm room, but the right choices can make it look and feel bigger than it is. We'll go over some of the most effective ways to deal with the space you're given and make a dorm room seem as spacious as possible.
Psychologically, it's generally true that dark rooms appear smaller, while bright rooms appear larger. Light makes a room feel open, inviting and cheery. So, one of the simplest ways to make your dorm room look bigger is to add more light.
Natural light is best, of course. We assume your college won't let you bulldoze a wall to make an extra window for you, but if you have a window, take full advantage of it. This means that you should avoid covering it up with dark drapes.
Whether you have a window or not, you'll need artificial light, of course, but you shouldn't rely completely on a standard-issue florescent overhead light fixture. For a good effect, add a few lamps around the room for both ambient lighting and task lighting. Ambient refers to general lighting needs for the overall room, but task lighting illuminates a particular area, like a desk.
Of course, it also matters what the light will shine on once you have it in the room. The next tips have to do with maximizing your light as much as you can.
You can only let in so much sunlight, or have so many lamps in a small dorm. But you can help bounce that light around the room by hanging a simple mirror. Designers love to use reflective surfaces in general to help brighten up a room, which in turn makes it seem bigger. Mirrors are obviously one of the most effective ways to achieve this effect.
But in addition to maximizing the light, a mirror doubles an image and makes it seem as though a room goes on. This is especially effective with floor-to-ceiling mirrors that at first glance seem like a doorway to another part of the room. This might not be possible in a dorm room, but any mirror will help, and the bigger, the better.
If you can, try placing a large single mirror on the wall opposite a window. This reflects the sunlight best, but can have the added effect of making it feel like you have another window in the dorm room.
Color is one of the most important interior design choices you can make, and dorm rooms are no exception to this rule. Based on the same principle that mirrors expand a room because they reflect light, bright colors can, too.
Of course, you'll probably inherit drab, off-white walls in your dorm room. This might be a relatively bright color, but probably not vibrant or inviting (not to mention that many dorm walls are simply painted concrete block, which is cold and uninspiring). If you're allowed to do so, painting your walls a bright color can cheer it up and maximize the light. Don't be afraid to be bold with a bright yellow, green, pink or blue. Some interior designers say cool colors work best for expanding a room, but bright is what's most important.
Check the handbook before you go out to buy the paint, though: Not all colleges permit students to paint their walls. Those that do might require that you simply paint it back before moving out. If your college doesn't allow you to paint the dorm room walls, get some large posters, paintings or tapestry that use predominantly bright colors. Another option is to cover your walls with removable fabric "wallpaper."
Some interior designers recommend getting a few pieces of furniture that are the same color as (or as close as possible to) your bright walls. A low contrast of colors in the room opens it up and allows the furnishings to disappear into the surroundings [source: Holt].
This one might seem obvious, but many designers say that if you want to make a room feel bigger, put less stuff in it.
After living at home all your life, you might wonder how you can do without your big dresser, bookcase and every piece of clothing you own. But it's best to use this time to prepare yourself for a complete overhaul of your lifestyle -- and this includes leaving a lot of stuff behind. This will be essential if you want to make your dorm room look and feel spacious.
Don't despair. Downsizing your life to the bare essentials will not only help your dorm room look bigger -- it can be healthy and therapeutic. College is a transformative time for many people, so it's a good time to reassess what really matters, and simplify down to that. And after all, you're at college to study, and if you plan to do much studying in your room, you should minimize distractions.
Along the same lines, you should cut the clutter out of your life. If you have messy habits, do yourself (and your roommate) a favor with a resolution to store clutter away out of sight in designated drawers or shelf baskets. Clutter can make people feel confined and agitated, but cleared floors and surfaces open a room up.
Some of the most fun you'll have in dorm life are the impromptu gatherings of several people cramming into a small dorm room. And as soon as your first guest drops in, you'll be glad you spent time opening up your dorm space. But you'll want to be prepared with plenty of places to sit. The problem is, how do you have a hospitable dorm room with plenty of seating when you've downsized your furniture to open up your space?
College students are usually game for sitting on the floor with small cushions. Bean bags are standard dorm furniture, but they tend to take up more space than they're worth. Modest floor cushions, on the other hand, can be stowed away pretty easily when not in use.
Designers also solve this problem by recommending foldaway chairs. These foldaway chairs are even more hospitable than floor cushions. You can impress your parents with them, and spare dear old mom and dad from having to crouch on your bunk bed. Small, simple wood or sturdy plastic chairs are preferable to large polyester chairs or cold metal folding chairs.
If you're not dusting regularly, you're letting all kinds of gross things drift around your living space. Get tips on keeping your dorm dust-free.
- Augustin, Sally. "Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture." John Wiley & Sons, 2009. (July 30, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=hoRooqUJwVsC
- Holt, Linda. "Does This Color Make My Room Look Big?" LindaHoltInteriors.com. May 15, 2012. (July 30, 2012) http://www.lindaholtinteriors.com/2012/05/does-this-color-make-my-room-look-big/
- Lowes. "Ten Ways to Make a Small Room Look Larger." Lowes. (July 30, 2012) http://www.lowes.com/cd_Ten+Ways+to+Make+a+Small+Room+Look+Larger_506205068_
- Mee, Brad. "Design is in the Details: Living Spaces." Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2005. (July 30, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=MzX1djPyVEUC